Montreal Canadiens: Top-5 Potential Offseason Targets

The Montreal Canadiens and their fans should be looking forward to the offseason, where General Manager, Marc Bergevin will look to bring some sort of change to a desperate lineup.

The Habs simply weren’t good enough in 2015-16, even though they dealt with a crushing amount of injuries. The group still has potential, though they are in need of at least one or two key pieces, along with a clean bill of health if they are to make a run at the playoffs in 2016-17.

As the playoffs are just about out of reach for the Habs this season, let’s look to the future. This article will look at five potential offseason targets for Bergevin and the Canadiens, it will discuss how realistic each option is and it will look at exactly what it would take to get each of these players in the bleu-blanc-rouge.

Marc Bergevin’s Checklist: G.M. Bergevin will be looking for a forward that can score (ideally a right-winger) who comes at a  manageable price and/or contract. Adding at least one player like this will help address the goal-scoring issues that the Habs have faced over the past few seasons. Bergevin will also be looking for someone young enough to be with the team for a while. As he says, he’s looking to make a “hockey deal.”

5: Kris Versteeg

The word that comes to mind with Versteeg is ‘temporary’. The 29-year-old Canadian winger was acquired by the L.A. Kings at this year’s trade deadline. The Kings were looking to add some scoring depth as they geared up for the 2016 playoffs. Versteeg has scored 36 points through 71 games thus far this season. The winger isn’t the natural offensive force that the Habs will likely look for, but he is a realistic option as he fits a few of the other team needs. The Canadiens want to add scoring to their lineup, and Versteeg offers that to a certain extent. The Albertan is playing on the right-wing of the Kings’ first line, though his offensive pace with the team is slower than expected as of now. Adding a player like Versteeg wouldn’t drastically change the Canadiens, that said, the winger would help take some of the scoring pressure off of Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher and the other main offensive contributors.

Canadiens’ G.M., Marc Bergevin is insistent about not sacrificing the team’s future in order to build for the present. A move to sign Versteeg makes sense, as the winger is a pending UFA who will likely not demand too much money on July 1st. The Habs have some cap room to work with, though they may make moves in the early offseason to give themselves more financial flexibility at free agency. Versteeg’s expiring contract pays him $2,350,000 in 2015-16. He will likely look for a bit of a raise at free agency, though it is hard to see him getting more than $3 million on the open market. This price is manageable for Bergevin and the Habs, though Versteeg won’t be their first choice on July 1st.

At the start of the 2016-17 season, Versteeg could be a Montreal Canadien, though it’ll heavily depend on the team’s cap flexibility and willingness to spend a portion of their remaining money on a player that only fits a few of the preferred qualifications. Bergevin will likely look for a younger, more offensively gifted winger — even though the price will be higher. Versteeg ranks #5 on the list, since there are better options available. The winger would serve as a temporary solution to an ongoing problem.

4: Steven Stamkos

The biggest free agent name this summer is Steven Stamkos. The Tampa Bay Lightning captain is set to hit free agency on July 1st, and though it is possible that he decides to stay in Tampa if the right deal presents itself, he could also test the open market. Stamkos is a franchise scorer. Wouldn’t it be nice for the Montreal Canadiens and their fans to be able to see this Canadian sniper in their lineup to start next season? Let’s refer Bergevin’s checklist to see if Stamkos checks out. Stamkos is a natural centre, though he has played on the wing at certain points in his NHL career. He is a right-hand shot that could help add depth and raw scoring ability to the right side for the Canadiens. The Ontario native provides the scoring touch that the Habs so desperately need; he has recorded 555 points through 563 career NHL games. At 26-years-old, Stamkos will be around for a while, and his next contract is likely to be a long-term one. In addition to term on his upcoming contract, he will look for a substantial amount of money — and he’ll get it.

The money may be where the Habs fall out of the Stamkos race. The team recently signed star defenceman, P.K. Subban to a long-term contract worth a substantial amount of money. The Habs will have to deal with expiring contracts for star goaltender Carey Price, and team captain Max Pacioretty in the next few seasons too. As mentioned earlier, the Habs have some cap room to work with, though they likely won’t be willing to fork up the cash that it would take to get Stamkos in the bleu-blanc-rouge. This past week, the TSN hockey panel discussed the possibility of the centre leaving Tampa Bay. One of the teams that was brought up was the Canadiens.

Stamkos playing for the Montreal Candiens in 2016-17 isn’t so realistic, as his new contract will likely be out of range for what the Canadiens are willing/able to spend. This explains Stamkos’ low ranking on the list of potential targets. Every NHL team would do whatever they could to sign a player like Stamkos, though for the Habs and their fans, it may be a little too farfetched at this point in the Canadian forward’s career. All of that said, anything is possible…

3: Kyle Okposo

Another pending UFA, Kyle Okposo provides much of what the Habs need. The right-winger from Minnesota has scored 55 points through 68 games thus far this season. His career scoring pace seems to be pretty consistent, which is a great asset for an NHL scorer. As we refer to G.M. Bergevin’s checklist, it’s clear that Okposo fits what the team will search for. The Canadiens are in need of depth on the right side, with Brendan Gallagher being the only right-wing scorer on the team. Okposo, a natural right-winger, provides just that. In addition to his scoring ability, the winger will still be in his prime for the next few seasons. Okposo turns 28 in April, which is prime age for NHL goal scorers. The Minnesotan could re-sign with his current team, the Islanders, though a team like Montreal would guarantee him top-line minutes, and of course, a passionate fan following. The winger has speed, skill, and the willingness to battle — which would help him fit directly into the Habs’ style of play.

A player of Okposo’s caliber will likely fetch a good amount of money on July 1st (expect anywhere from $5-$6.5 million). Again, the money could be where the Habs fall out of the sweepstakes for this player. That said, Okposo and the Canadiens seem like a close to perfect match, so it would be conceivable for G.M. Bergevin to free up some cap space in order to make a signing of this sort. Okposo ranks at #3 on the list, as he fits all the Canadiens’ needs, and since he would come at a more manageable price than someone like the aforementioned Stamkos.

Is it possible for the Canadiens to pay up for Okposo before the 2016-17 season? Well, yes, but G.M. Bergevin will have to get creative with some contracts if the team is to have the required financial flexibility for a player of this sort. One thing for certain is that Okposo would be a great addition to the Canadiens, assuming his next contract isn’t too ludicrous.

2: Jonathan Drouin

Jonathan Drouin’s season with the Tampa Bay Lightning has been kind of like a TV drama. The young forward asked for a trade from Tampa a few months ago, though G.M. Steve Yzerman was unable to complete a deal before the February 29th trade deadline. The talented Drouin feels that he is being mismanaged by the team, so he wants to further his young career elsewhere. Since asking for a trade, Drouin refused to play for the organization until he was traded, he was then suspended by the team, and finally he was reinstated to finish the season in the AHL. Oh boy. Rather than looking at how this season could reflect Drouin’s questionable character, let’s look at the facts: Drouin was drafted 3rd overall in 2013, he has loads of potential to one day become a prominent NHL goal scorer, he is only 20-years-old, and oh look, he’s Quebecois. He checks out on almost all aspects on G.M. Bergevin’s checklist, plus bonus points for being from Ste. Agathe.

According to multiple sources, the Lightning were actively trying to trade the winger before the trade deadline, but the team felt that they couldn’t find the right deal. This could have been because the asking price for Drouin was said to be extremely high. The teams that have interest in the Quebec native are likely hoping that his value has dropped over the last few months, as they look to present a deal that may be more enticing for Yzerman this offseason. The Canadiens will be one of the teams looking to see just how much the asking price has dropped (if at all), as G.M. Bergevin has repeated that he won’t sacrifice the future of the organization for one player. Though its unlikely that Drouin’s value has dropped substantially, it is definitely possible that it has fallen into the realm of possibility for the Canadiens.

The Montreal Canadiens would gladly welcome a talented prospect like Drouin to their pool of players to start to 2016-17 season, though seeing the winger in the bleu-blanc-rouge still seems improbable. The only thing that could push this deal to be completed, is if Bergevin feels the pressure after a very disappointing season where his actions were often brought into question. If Bergevin believes that he must shake things up in order to save his job, a big move like this one could become possible. Another thing working in the favour of a deal for Drouin is the fact that he is still under his entry-level contract, and that consequentially, his cap hit is extremely manageable for the Canadiens.

1: Nail Yakupov

It seems that the Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers have been tied to one another in trade speculation for the last while. Nail Yakupov was the highly valued 1st overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft. The Russian was selected two spots ahead of Habs forward, Alex Galchenyuk. The two played junior hockey together with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, where they developed as professional hockey players. Yakupov, a right-winger, has since been called a “bust” by some, since most notable 1st overall selections go on to become superstars in the league fairly quickly. In the winger’s case, it has taken him longer to become accustomed to life at the NHL level. It is widely believed that Yakupov’s value has dropped significantly since being drafted due to this. The Oilers organization will look to solidify their back-end this offseason, as they are proving that teams can’t only win with offensive talent. G.M. Pete Chiarelli could look to dangle the former 1st overall pick as trade bait around draft time, as the Oilers are stocked up on forwards. The Habs will likely take notice. Not only would a trade for Yakupov give the talented player a change of scenery, it would also reunite him with a former teammate in the hopes of reigniting old chemistry. Taking all of this into consideration, Yakupov would be a risk for G.M. Bergevin, who has shown that he isn’t too keen on taking risks. Though Yakupov could in fact be a bust, a change of scenery could do him wonders.

A deal involving the young Russian becomes quite interesting when taking into account the price that it would take to make his acquisition. Whether or not this is a realistic option really depends how much the asking price for Yakupov has dropped since he was drafted. The fact is, Yakupov is a high-risk, high-reward type of player for any team targeting him. G.M. Bergevin may look to shake things up by bringing in the 22-year-old, though he definitely won’t want to overpay. The Oilers have many other needs to address, so trading a player like Yakupov could be on their to-do list for this offseason. If the Habs and Oilers are in fact tied in trade talks, substantial moves can be made.

Will Yakupov be a Montreal Canadien to start to 2016-17 season? It depends. If the price has dropped to a reasonable amount for Bergevin, the Habs will likely submit an offer for the winger, though they’ll be weary that he is a risky bet. Yakupov finds himself at #1 on the list, since he has the potential to be a long-term solution for the Habs, and since he most-likely comes at a discounted price.

The Most Probable Scenario for the Canadiens

With so much of what happens this offseason depending on financial flexibility, the Habs could look to unload a few salaries before free agency opens. An example of a player who they may look to deal, is defenceman, Alexei Emelin. Emelin has some value to other NHL teams, but his contract is simply taking up too much of the Canadiens’ payroll. If the Habs are to get rid of at least part of Emelin’s $4.1 million annual salary, it’ll be considered a good move as the team tries to look more enticing to free agents like Versteeg, Stamkos and Okposo.

Note that the players on this list are all fairly high-profile. A possibility for the Canadiens is that they don’t go after any big-name players this offseason. G.M. Bergevin has said that he’d rather keep the future of the team bright than sacrifice it for the present. A possibility for the team, is that they build on their prospect pool through the draft and stay quiet in the offseason. That said, it may be wiser to take advantage of the fact that the core of this team (Pacioretty, Subban, Price) are all in their primes. Habs fans have criticized their G.M. a lot this season since he has been so quiet, though he may be able to regain the faith of the fans by making an impact move this offseason. Either way, the Canadiens will have to be better in the 2016-17 season, as this year has been nothing short of a debacle.