Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes may have delivered a 2022 trade deadline master class. But he far from cleaned house in terms of all his pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs).
Several still remain on the roster, meaning he was unable to get anything for them. So, the Canadiens can theoretically lose them for nothing, but that doesn’t necessarily count as a failure, at least not in each case. A select few may still be in the team’s future plans.
Here’s the complete list of expiring on-roster contracts, conveniently ordered in increasing likelihood that they re-sign with the Canadiens this upcoming 2022 offseason:
William Lagesson was a relatively unheralded throw-in by the Edmonton Oilers, when they acquired Brett Kulak at the deadline. At this point, that description seems especially apt, as he’s played just a single game with the Canadiens.
While a pending restricted free agent at the onset of this season, his future with the Canadiens was in doubt from the get-go. Part of it had to do with the team’s relatively jam-packed left side on defense, especially with the return from injury of Joel Edmundson and the debut of Jordan Harris. As a result Lagesson was realistically never going to get in enough games to avoid hitting Group VI unrestricted free agency.
You’d just think he’d have played more, if the Canadiens saw him as a piece for the future. That logjam on the left side isn’t going away though. It’s only going to get bigger, even without Lagesson.
It’s safe to say Mathieu Perreault’s Quebec homecoming could have gone smoother. Limited to just 20 games due to various injuries, Perreault was also waived at one point, having scored just three goals and three assists so far. Adding insult to those injuries, the three goals all came in a single game.
It was an impressive performance, but Perreault can’t be expected to replicate those kinds of games very often. He is 34 years old after all and significantly in decline, relative to earlier in his career when he was a legitimate middle-six option.
Of course, Perreault was arguably signed last summer for a reason. And that reason hasn’t necessarily changed. It would simply be hard to justify keeping him on board, with younger options, even younger options down the middle, readily available.
Laurent Dauphin is conceivably one of those options. It would be a stretch to say the 27-year-old’s impressed this season, scoring a career-high four goals and eight assists in 34 games, but he has been relied upon consistently, with regular shifts between Mike Hoffman and Brendan Gallagher.
Logically, Dauphin is no one’s first (or fifth) choice to solve the Canadiens’ lack of depth down the middle, following the departures of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Phillip Danault last offseason. However, as a depth option? He’s less than ideal, but a possibility nevertheless, considering his cheap price tag.
Defenseman Chris Wideman’s return to the NHL has been a relative success. He’s scored 25 points in 56 games and even earned some All-Star Game buzz (however unjustifiable it was). Ultimately, for a guy who was in line for little more than a seventh-defenseman spot to start the season, Wideman’s done all right for himself.
Now, for the elephant in the room. Had injuries not been as much of an issue this season for the Canadiens, it’s likely Wideman would not have played as much. When it comes down to it, Wideman’s 32-year-old journeyman defenseman. There just may not be room for him on the right side next season, following the acquisition of Justin Barron for example.
There’s also David Savard and Jeff Petry (for now). Sure, Petry may be on his way out, but you just don’t replace a Petry with Wideman. You maybe do with a Kris Letang, who’s rumored to be joining the Canadiens this offseason. Or someone else via free agency.
It’s possible, maybe even probable the Canadiens like what they got out of Wideman. However, if there’s only room for him as a depth option, he’ll realistically explore free agency himself. The stats say he’s done enough to earn interest from other teams.
On one hand, Tyler Pitlick was seen as a throw-in as a pending UFA, when the Canadiens traded Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames. Similar to Lagesson above, in fact. However, what’s different is Pitlick has gotten in five games (instead of just one), despite time spent on injured reserve.
Pitlick may not have any upside beside that of a depth forward at this point in time, but every team needs players to play that role. And the 30-year-old can do just that should there be mutual interest from both parties to keep the working relationship going. There’s at least a good chance that’s the case based on how both of Pitlick’s cousins, Rhett and suddenly more notoriously Rem, are in the organization too.
Rem has emerged as potential key secondary scoring piece for the future, despite being a mere pick-up off waivers a few months ago. So, there’s a good chance he’s at least staying in the fold. Rhett, a 2019 NHL Entry Draft fifth-round pick, has similar middle-six upside. It will probably be a few years before he even gets a chance at making the Canadiens, though.
Will Tyler stay the course? It’s at least a possibility, with admittedly none of the above names being clear locks to stay with the team. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. None are inherently irreplaceable, pointing to Hughes (and executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton) being able to shift their focus this offseason elsewhere to improve the team.
That can and maybe should mean letting the above players walk in order to reload on bottom-of-the-lineup talent via free agency. But it’s good to know there are familiar options close to home, if the Habs so choose. If not, so be it if each of the listed players find another. As proven by the fact only Dauphin has a history with the organization predating this season, it is a business after all.
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.