In what has been called a “living wake,” the Montreal Canadiens are in the final weeks of a crazy calamitous, insidiously injurious, and depressingly disastrous season of hockey. However, according to Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, the team only needs a mere “reset” and not a true “rebuild.” This view has not changed despite compelling arguments to the contrary. In just the latest example, Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette argued this week that:
A reset is not going to be enough to fix a team that was 26th in the overall NHL standings with a 26-32-12 record after Tuesday night’s 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars and was ranked 29th in offence and 23rd in defence…
Whatever Bergevin whispered into the ear of Geoff Molson this winter, Marc appears to retain his owner’s confidence. This is despite the outrage of fans, empty seats at the Bell Centre, and a drop in TV ratings. C’est la vie.
Habs fans should prepare themselves for smaller moves based on the delusional premise that with better luck, the Canadiens are Cup contenders. The first issue is at center. Here are seven centers the Canadiens could target ahead of next season, based on the top UFA’s of 2018. This list does not include RFA’s and includes only players that have 20 points or more this season. It is organized by age.
7 UFA Centers the Canadiens Can Target
The Old Dogs
Joe Thornton (38)
Given that the Canadiens have embraced older players like Shea Weber, Karl Alzner, and signed Cary Price long term, bringing in a top-line center at the end of his career may make sense. Once known for his offensive creativity, he can still cycle well and find teammates through the narrowest of gaps. As depressing as it sounds, finding a way to sign injury-prone ‘Jumbo’ and overpaying to do so would be the most Bergevin thing ever.
Henrik Sedin (37)
Most assume that signing Henrik Sedin means also signing his brother Daniel. While the Sedins have made it clear they want to finish their career in Vancouver, anything can happen. If the Habs want to a sign a veteran center, Henrik has some upside. Sedin has 40 points on a bad team. He would instantly be the top performing center in Montreal. Let that sink in. While this seems very unlikely, the Habs have to be considering any and all options.
Tomas Plekanec (35)
The case for resigning Tomas Plekanec this summer is more than nostalgic. It is true that if re-signed, he would hit 1000 games with Montreal next year. After the way that the organization treated Andrei Markov, showing this player some respect would be good karma. Plekanec is certainly no longer the same player who once brought six seasons of 50-plus points to Montreal. However, he is still offensively capable and defensively sound.
Middle of the Pack
Valtteri Filppula (33)
With 31 points so far this season, Filppula is a consistent, if uninspired, scorer. The Finn wins faceoffs and has more than 30 points this year. While his possession metrics have never been good, he has played an essential role in Philadephia. The veteran has provided a veteran presence as centers Sean Couturier and rookie Nolan Patrick secured their roles in the Flyers lineup. The Habs could certainly use someone who can score and play multiple roles on the team.
Paul Stastny (32)
Recently traded to the playoff-hopeful Winnipeg Jets, Stastny has 641 career points. He is likely to score 50 points this year while maintaining his confident and defensively sound play. If the Jets makes a deep run this year, Winnipeg might re-sign Stastny. If not, Stastny could be a good option to plug into the No. 2 center hole in Montreal. He still has some tread left on his tires.
Tyler Bozak (31)
Bozak is a third-liner on a good team and a second-liner on a rebuilding team. In Montreal, of course, he would likely be a top line center. With close to 40 points this year, the Canadiens could benefit from Toronto’s depth at center. While picking up the Leafs cast-offs would make most us feel a bit dirty, that’s where we are Habs fans. That’s where we are.
John Tavares (27)
Tavares is shaping up to the most significant UFA in NHL history. He is likely to surpass Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s $10.5-million cap hits and become hockey’s second-richest player behind Connor McDavid. The big question is whether Tavares will leave the Islanders. While few Habs commentators have managed to slow their roll on this dream signing, the odds are firmly against this outcome.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers for Habs fans. As long as the Canadiens refuse to play Galchenyuk at center, fail to find a partner for Shea Weber, and deny the dangerous position they are in, the mediocrity in Montreal will continue. It is hard to disagree with Stu Cowan:
“The future does not look very bright for the Canadiens. A reset simply won’t be enough.”