It’s no secret that the Montreal Canadiens have some glaring holes they need to fill in their lineup. The question is how they go about filling those gaps, as doing nothing would be unacceptable, especially when considering how poorly the team performed this year. This year’s first round pick very likely won’t be the answer for the upcoming season. Current prospects could step up but they aren’t a sure thing. The next option is free agency.
Montreal’s Biggest Needs
When it comes to free agency, it can be fraught with peril as teams often overpay for the top players available by giving them long term, big money contracts. This year’s free agent crop is one of the stronger ones in recent years with some intriguing names available. Other than poor coaching, the Habs’ biggest issue is scoring. The Habs have only four legitimate top six forwards in Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec, which is no where near enough if Montreal hopes to contend. Quite simply the Habs need more players who can put the puck in the net both at even strength and on the power play.
On defence, the Habs are pretty much set with the exception of the bottom pairings. It is next year where it looks uncertain for Montreal as Andrei Markov is an unrestricted free agent and a successor is needed with Markov aging. Nathan Beaulieu could be that player and he did look good in small sample size with PK Subban but he still needs to find consistency in his game. Other than that, the defence corps isn’t in glaring need of help.
The biggest name out there is undoubtedly Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos. Signing Stamkos would give Montreal a superstar number one centre and having Stamkos and Galchenyuk down the middle would have the Habs set for years. Montreal is currently not hurting cap wise especially if they could shed some salary. Stamkos could easily get around $10 million, similar to what Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Anze Kopitar received on their most recent contracts but they had the leverage of having multiple Stanley Cup championships to their names, something Stamkos doesn’t have. Recent health problems aside, Stamkos is one of the best goal scorers in the game and his presence would fill a giant hole in Montreal.
The next potential target is New York Islanders right winger Kyle Okposo. He has spent his entire career on Long Island. Okposo would be an excellent fit in Montreal because he is a power forward who can put up around 20 goals in a season. He isn’t the biggest name on the market and he is one of the more of the underrated UFAs. Having Okposo and Brendan Gallagher on the right side would make Montreal’s offense a lot more potent.
Los Angeles Kings forward Milan Lucic is also available and after all those nasty games against Montreal during his time as a Boston Bruin, it’s hard to picture Lucic in a Habs jersey. Having Lucic in Montreal’s lineup would certainly make the Habs tougher to play against and like Okposo, Lucic is a good bet to pot 20 goals. Both players could command between $6-7 million on the open market, which could be pricey for Montreal, especially with Carey Price a UFA in two years and will net more than his current $6.5 million. Same with Alex Galchenyuk who will need a raise on his deal after next year, especially if he builds on his 30 goal season and cements a permanent spot on Montreal’s top line.
Andrew Ladd is another potential name out there. He is the oldest than the previous three mentioned at 30 but his size, leadership and the fact he is a consistent 20 goal scorer could make him a fit in Montreal.
Only winger in free agency worth committing major cash and term to is Okposo. Would be a great fit in Montreal.
— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) March 29, 2016
Some of the other names out there include Eric Staal and David Backes. A year or two ago, both players would have been excellent options but now not so much. Staal struggled all season and his trade to the New York Rangers didn’t revitalize him as Staal had only 39 points this season, the second worst single season point total of his NHL career. Backes is fresh off a Western Conference final appearance with the St. Louis Blues but at 32, he has a lot of mileage on him especially with the grinding, physical style he plays with.
Time to Open The Wallet?
When it comes to July 1, Bergevin has preferred to make depth moves as opposed to a big splash but with the way the season unfolded and the glaring holes in the lineup, the Habs’ GM could be forced to finally make a move unless he decides to make a trade. If Montreal is going to the free agent route, they need to focus on getting a scoring winger or two. Montreal is thin on the wings so going out and re-signing Dale Weise is not the answer. As much as Bergevin wants to build through the draft, they need to take a massive step forward if they want to contend. Getting good players in free agency usually means loosening up the purse strings and with the quality of free agents this year, it may be worth the price.