In a span of a week, the Montreal Canadiens have turned the dial on their crazy meter up to an 11. That’s even taking into account their impromptu appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. They went from losing their first championship series since 1993 to making both their captain, Shea Weber, and Conn Smythe Trophy-caliber goalie, Carey Price, available in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Needless to say, the Habs so much as making the playoffs in 2022 is now in question.
However, perhaps that’s simply because they’ll presumably be re-joining an Atlantic Division featuring behemoths like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers. While either one of the arguably two top pillars of the organization can conceivably be snatched away by the Kraken, it doesn’t realistically mean that they will. Their respective rankings on the following list of the likeliest Habs to be taken by the Kraken reflect that:
5. Shea Weber (D)
True, Weber means a lot to the Canadiens as their captain and (arguable) top defenseman. Even if you were to understandably give the title to Jeff Petry, Weber nevertheless anchors one of the Canadiens’ top two defensive pairings. Someone like that has to be attractive to the Kraken, right?
Well, in a vacuum, maybe. Weber oozes character and leadership and grit and intimidation and just about any other intangible buzzword of which you can think. However, there are other considerations the Kraken must make before simply stealing the biggest names away from each team.
For example, Weber is going to be 36. He’s lost a step. Not only that, he’s reportedly facing season-costing, if not career-threatening, injuries. So, the Kraken would be taking a huge risk that Weber is able to return.
Furthermore, even if all his longstanding injuries miraculously heal in time for opening night, his $7.86 million cap hit would take a serious bite out of the Kraken’s payroll, with Seattle obviously having to respect the same salary cap as everyone else. That’s a lot, roughly 10% of the projected flat $81.5 million cap, especially to devote to a player who could be on the verge of retiring, if not in the immediate future then relatively soon. Especially when there are several better alternatives.
4. Cale Fleury (D)
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the largely unproven Cale Fleury. A fellow right-handed defenseman, Fleury has untapped offensive potential. He’s got NHL size at 6-foot-1, 213 pounds, but in 41 games played in 2019-20, he managed a solitary goal (no assists). So, there’s room for him to grow as a 22-year-old defenseman who’s spent most of his career, including all of 2020-21, in the American Hockey League.
However, at only 22, Fleury is also just a restricted free agent. So, the Kraken would be in a good position to secure his rights for the long-term future. It’s a matter of the direction in which general manager Ron Francis wants to go. Does he want to try and compete out of the starting gates like the Vegas Golden Knights in their inaugural 2017-18 season or take more of a patient approach? If it’s the latter, Fleury is the probably the best option for him.
3. Carey Price (G)
On the other hand, if Francis and company are looking to sell tickets, Price provides instead name recognition as a Hart Memorial and Vezina Trophy winner. Furthermore, with Price being from neighboring British Columbia and having played junior hockey for the Washington State-based Tri-City Americans, he’d likely be a fan favorite already.
Of course, there’s a caveat in the sense that, like Weber, Price has significant injury concerns too. Hip and knee ailments could theoretically keep Price out of the lineup to start the season. As far as an expansion team on its maiden voyage would be concerned, that’s just for starters, too.
Ultimately, Price proved his worth these past playoffs as a still-elite goalie (at least come the postseason). Any team would be lucky to have him and, because he’s just 34 (relative to Weber’s 36 years of age), he’s probably the likelier selection between the two. That far from means he’s the likeliest Hab of them all, though.
There’s of course his $10.5 million cap hit, which could just as easily turn off the Kraken altogether. If that’s not enough, the Kraken only need to fill three goaltending slots (as opposed to nine defensemen). Remember, the Kraken are picking from 30 teams altogether. Price is far from the only decent goaltending option available. They include:
- Dallas Stars goalie Ben Bishop (who’s admittedly rehabilitating a knee injury),
- Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen,
- Minnesota Wild goalie Kaapo Kahkonen,
- Ottawa Senators goalie Matt Murray and
- Washington Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek just to name a few.
Plus, with the Kraken reportedly in talks to sign Florida Panthers goalie Chris Driedger, who’s a pending unrestricted free agent, that would be one less spot the Kraken would have to fill. As one of the NHL’s best backup goalies, Driedger is conceivably ready to challenge for a starting job. So, there’s little reason for the Kraken to devote an additional $10.5 million to the goaltending position (whenever Price would be healthy enough for his hit to count against the cap, that is).
There’s an undeniable benefit in being able to shelf a player’s entire hit as long as he’s injured, as the Tampa Bay Lightning just proved with Nikita Kucherov. However, if Price’s future is so clouded with uncertainty, it makes more sense for the Kraken to pick someone else.
2. Brett Kulak (D)
In many ways, it’s about drafting value instead of big names. There are plenty of horrible contracts available around the league, many of them still worthwhile considerations, but Francis can’t take them all. He’ll have to offset those selections with cost-effective ones, and, with a cap hit of just $1.85 million, Brett Kulak would be a great choice.
Due to his deployment, the Canadiens have arguably underappreciated Kulak and his skill set. Look no further than the fact Kulak played just 13 (of 22) playoff games for the Canadiens (or that he was left unprotected) as proof. However, the strong-skating Kulak did receive recent praise from assistant coach Luke Richardson with regard to the former’s play after having been re-inserted into the line-up against the Lightning in the Final:
“He skated the puck well and he played simple… The odd time [Kulak] hangs onto the puck a little too long, he’s such a good skater, it gets him into trouble,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of growth in his game… We have a really good group and Brett is a part of that.”
At 27, Kulak may not have many additional gears to hit from a developmental standpoint, but he is an NHL-caliber defenseman. His stats are relatively suspect, with just two goals and eight assists this past season, but that’s in large part because he doesn’t play on special teams. On an expansion team like the Kraken, he may very well get more of an opportunity to display his offensive skill set (and overall worth).
1. Jonathan Drouin (LW)
Jonathan’s Drouin’s health issues have been well-documented, but his obvious talent often gets marginalized. He clearly hasn’t lived up to expectations with the Canadiens, and the fishbowl market that is Montreal probably hasn’t done him any favors as a native son. However, Drouin is still just 26 and capable of scoring 20-plus goals and 50-plus points per season. He’s done it before, just scratching the surface of his potential.
All things taken into consideration, objectively speaking Drouin is a top-six forward, with a reasonable deal to boot. With a cap hit of $5.5 million and two years left under contract, Drouin could realistically become a key member of the Kraken’s forward corps without breaking the bank. He’ll only be 28 when his deal expires, potentially setting the stage for a longer-term relationship, if it suits both parties, of course.
There’s no doubt Drouin can use the change of scenery, but the Kraken can also use Drouin up front. Overall, Price is probably the biggest name and Kulak the biggest certainty on this list. However, Drouin is probably the player with the biggest chance of being a home run. It’s really a matter of whether Drouin’s heart is still in it, but, if it is, there’s no better choice for the Kraken to make.
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After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.