Montreal Canadiens fans are restlessly awaiting NHL free-agency, which starts on July 1st. This year’s free-agent pool consists of many players that almost perfectly fit the Habs’ needs. The team could finally add the scoring top-six forward that they’ve missed for a long while.
Though free-agency is always an exciting time, price tags on notable players are high, and teams are forced to pay up if they want to entice these high-profile players to playing for them.
The Canadiens’ GM, Marc Bergevin has shown that he isn’t always too keen on taking big risks and paying bigger bucks to acquire top players. So what happens if Bergevin doesn’t make a big splash on July 1st?
Well, other than having to deal with disappointed fans, the GM will have to look within his organization to find solutions to the team’s few problems. Since Bergevin has proven to be a fairly risk-averting GM, let’s look at some of his options if he does in fact take the conservative route on July 1st.
Addressing the Needs
Let’s face it, the Canadiens weren’t nearly good enough this past season. Other than losing their star goalie to injury, the team had some other needs that should be addressed this offseason if they are to have a better 2016-17 campaign.
Firstly, the Habs need to score more goals. The team has four top-six forwards, which simply isn’t enough scoring firepower in today’s NHL. The addition of one or two more natural goal-scorers could turn this team around, though Bergevin has been repetitive in saying that these players are hard to come by. To put it simply, the team has too many bottom-six players, and not enough star power up-front.
On the back-end, the situation is almost the same. The Habs have a few good bottom-pairing defencemen that would be most useful if used sparsely. The team’s longest tenured player, Andrei Markov, isn’t getting any younger. It’s a wonder that his knees are still functioning at the NHL level after however many surgeries and years of use. Markov is used far too much on the Habs’ blueline, and while defence may not be the first thing on the to-do list this summer, replacing (or at least taking some of the load from) Markov has to be another priority for team management.
Who Will Step Up?
Andrighetto showed flashes of brilliance playing in the Habs’ top-six near the end of this past season. Playing with talented players, the Swiss winger’s offensive creativity shined through. If the Habs don’t go out and get a big name top-six winger this summer, Andrighetto could be one of the players looked at to help carry the offensive load. At times, it seems that a little something is missing from his game, but as the 23-year-old continues to grow as a player, his offensive production will continue to increase. Through 44 games with the Habs this past season, Andrighetto scored 17 points.
Lehkonen will be a dark horse for the Habs as he’ll enter his first NHL training camp in September. A former second round draft pick, the 20-year-old showed signs of promise playing in the highly competitive Swedish Hockey League. Lehkonen showed off his offensive prowess when he scored 33 points in 49 games with Frolunda HC. While the jump to the NHL is always a big one, the forward could bring some of what the Habs are missing. The team has to be cautious here, though, since they don’t want to rush their young talent into the NHL too quickly. If he’s ready for NHL action to start next season, Lehkonen could be part of the long-awaited Habs scoring solution.
Daniel who? … is what most Habs fans would have said if you mentioned the un-drafted winger’s name just a few months ago. After scoring his first career NHL goal on his first shot on his first shift, Carr started making a name for himself with his Brendan Gallagher-esque offensive style. His heart and determination are what earned him a contract in the Habs’ farm system a few years ago. Carr put up good numbers in his few years in the AHL before being called-up.
Shortly after getting called up, the winger suffered a knee injury that held him out of action for three months. Due to his injury, Carr only played 23 games for the Canadiens this season, and he scored 9 points. The 24-year-old may not be as skilled as the two aforementioned forwards, but his work ethic and playing style are sure to get him a look if the team doesn’t sign an offensive solution this summer.
As mentioned earlier, 37-year-old Markov has seen his best days pass him by. Many believe that 2011 first round pick, Nathan Beaulieu, is his rightful successor. The defenceman has shown that he has the necessary skills to succeed in the league. He has impressive speed, surprising toughness and skill. However, at only 23-years-old, Beaulieu is still adapting to the NHL. It is well noted that defencemen take longer to develop than forwards, and Habs fans have to be patient when it comes to Beaulieu. With defence being a secondary team need, the young defenceman won’t have too much weight on his shoulders next season, though it’d be nice to see him start taking some reps from the rapidly aging Markov. Habs fans should expect to see the Canadian defenceman’s role grow quickly over the next few years.
If the Habs don’t go out and sign a big free-agent or two on July 1st, sure, they’ll have missed out on a prime opportunity to improve. That said, their thriftiness could present golden opportunities to up and coming youngsters in their system. The Canadiens and their fans would likely rather bring in a proven NHL player at free-agency, but if the price isn’t right, the aforementioned players could step in and attempt to make a name for themselves as they look to address the Habs’ pressing needs.
I’m a Montreal Canadiens columnist and lifelong Habs fan. Follow me on Twitter (@gregkatz19) for all kinds of hockey talk, and to be up to date on my newest articles. I previously wrote for Too Many Men on the Site, a part of Fansided NHL.