Replacing Montreal Canadiens captain Shea Weber may be impossible according to general manager Marc Bergevin, but he has no choice but to try his hardest. With Weber likely sidelined next season, if not forever, due to a variety of nagging injuries, the Canadiens are out a top-two right-handed defenseman.
Furthermore, due to the Canadiens’ lack of depth on the right side, especially following the NHL Expansion Draft (Cale Fleury), Bergevin will have to pursue other avenues, like free agency. Thankfully, if the Canadiens have to place Weber on long-term injured reserve (a la Tampa Bay Lightning and Nikita Kucherov), they’ll gain the necessary cap space to acquire an impact player. Here are the top unrestricted free agents Bergevin should court as options:
5. Tony DeAngelo
First, for the elephant in the room: Tony DeAngelo, a distraction of a defenseman being bought out by the New York Rangers. There is little denying DeAngelo’s offensive talent, with him having scored 53 points in 68 games with the Rangers in 2019-20. Of course, what everyone remembers more is how he had a physical altercation with goalie Alexandar Georgiev, which was reportedly the last straw in a long line of incidents.
A few weeks ago, so much as including DeAngelo on this list would have been a waste of time and space, considering Bergevin’s long love affair with character players. Then the Canadiens went and picked defenseman Logan Mailloux in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, after he had been convicted in Sweden of sharing a photograph taken during a sexual encounter without permission of the victim.
To be fair, the difference between the two players is that Mailloux is seeking a second chance and DeAngelo has long since run out of second chances, one would think. Bergevin would never go for it, right? And, yet, there are credible reports the Canadiens had been interested in DeAngelo last trade deadline, in spite of everything.
Considering the Canadiens’ selection of Mailloux, it’s increasingly difficult to believe those reports were false. Now, the Canadiens can theoretically sign him on the cheap instead of trading for him. Good news all around.
4. Brandon Montour
There had been a time that Brandon Montour was an up and coming offensive defenseman with the Anaheim Ducks. Then he got traded to the Buffalo Sabres… and, well, you know.
In all seriousness, Montour’s 46 points in 124 points with the Sabres aren’t bad. The production is actually along the lines of the career-high 32 points he scored in 2017-18 with the Ducks. Still, the Habs wouldn’t be acquiring the same power-play quarterback Weber was in his prime or even two seasons ago. Offensively, Montour is several rungs lower.
That’s just for starters, with defense being a real shortcoming in Montour’s game. So, it becomes a question of how much the Canadiens value Weber’s hard-hitting brand of hockey over offense from the back-end, which Weber wasn’t able to generate all that much of this last season. Considering the Canadiens still made it to the Stanley Cup Final, playing Weber 25:13 per game, the answer should be pretty clear.
3. David Savard
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got defensive blue-liner David Savard. It’s been a while since he was an offensive threat, with one goal and 16 assists over his last 122 regular season-games between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Lightning. However, he does have shutdown size (6-foot-2, 233 pounds) and ability.
That seems like the direction in which the Canadiens are going to go, with reports indicating Savard is likely slated to sign on and effectively take Weber’s spot in the lineup. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s going to adequately replace him or even that he’s the best option available.
True, Savard is coming off a Stanley Cup championship with the Lightning and that is an undeniable nice-to-have, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Case in point, Zach Bogosian came off one last season, also with the Lightning, actually playing more per game (17:40) than Savard (14:07) during their respective runs.
When all was said and done though, Bogosian’s “experience” didn’t do much for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round against the Canadiens this summer. As such, it might make sense for the Canadiens to go against all their instincts and kind of steer into the curb here.
2. Tyson Barrie
Fresh off a one-year, prove-me contract with the Edmonton Oilers, Tyson Barrie will likely be looking to cash in after leading all defensemen in points with 48.
True, he probably didn’t prove any of his doubters wrong with questionable defensive play, as far as James Norris Memorial Trophy voters were concerned. However, he did solidify himself as an offensive power on the back end, which is odd to say of the record holder for most points by a defenseman with the Colorado Avalanche. In any case, the thought process is Barrie could conceivably complement Ben Chiarot on the “top” pairing to a greater extent than Chiarot did Weber.
Many might not consider Chiarot a top-pairing defenseman without Weber (or at all). Still, Chiarot and not Weber actually led the Canadiens in ice time per game these past playoffs (by 0:02). So, he’s likely not going anywhere. Granted, the top paring effectively becomes Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson almost by default, but with Barrie that second pairing could at least contribute some offense, one would hope anyway.
1. Dougie Hamilton
The problem with Barrie is, in spite of the offense, he doesn’t really drive it. He fails both traditional eye and analytics tests. So, if the Canadiens are going to invest heavily in a defenseman to replace Weber, they had make sure he’s well worth it, looking at all aspects of the game. Dougie Hamilton is that player (probably).
Arguably the top unrestricted free agent available, Hamilton is coming off a 10-goal, 42-point season (55 games), and is just 28. At 6-foot-6, 229 pounds, Hamilton also provides Weber-like size, even if he doesn’t use it as much as his would-be predecessor on the Canadiens blue line. However, if he were to play with the overly physical Chiarot, it wouldn’t be so much of an issue.
All that to say, Hamilton is probably the only name on this list who would actually be an improvement over Weber. He’s just not going to come cheap and will most definitely eat up all of Weber’s $7,857,143 hit and then some. However, in a world in which the Canadiens are kicking tires with the Sabres regarding Jack Eichel and his $10 million-per year deal despite already employing the services of a No. 1 center in Nick Suzuki ($863,333), pursuing Hamilton makes infinitely more sense.
Admittedly easier said than done, considering Montreal is a hard sell. One has to think theoretically stepping in the skates of Weber probably isn’t a point in the Canadiens’ favor either. Regardless, it’s clear, based on the Habs’ needs, Hamilton is the best fit.
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.