Montreal finished the season with a respectable 44-30-8 record. Good for sixth overall in the Eastern Conference, but went down in game seven to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.
Currently Montreal has six forwards, three defense and one goalie under contract with around $23 M in cap room to round out the roster. The core of the team starts in goal with star Carey Price who had a break out season to establish himself as an elite starter. The defense is anchored by P.K. Subban and the forwards are lead by Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec and captain Brian Gionta. A good core, lots to work with there but no star power up front.
First order of business for GM Pierre Gauthier is to address is UFA Andrei Markov. Markov's $5.7 5M deal expires on July first making him an UFA. Markov has only played 52 games in the past two seasons due to serious injuries of both knees. Prior to the injuries, Markov had established himself as an elite level defenseman. Serious concerns about his ability to come back at that level will make it difficult for Markov to get a long-term deal. The emergence of young talented Subban complicates the matter. Gauthier and coach Jacques Martin may be quite confident moving forward with Subban as the number one franchise defender. For Markov to return it would likely be a short-term deal for around $4 M.
Gauthier has plenty of work to do this summer and the teams biggest need is a big number one center. This seems like a good place to start. The Habs current centers Scott Gomez, Plekanec, and Lars Eller are all small. Prospect Louis Leblanc is a promising player who was ranked 27th in the Hockey News Future Watch. He is skilled, hard working two-way player and a strong skater. Leblanc is sure to be a fan favorite being a local boy and first round pick. Should Leblanc make the team they would have four centers, but still be missing the first line star with size.
Ideally, if they were able to acquire a first line center the depth chart would follow with Plekanec in the second spot. Eller in the third, and Leblanc as the fourth line center. That leaves out Gomez. Gomez has three more seasons left with a cap hit over $7 M. Gomez has a limited NMC that gives him the right to list three teams he will not go to. If Gauthier can find a taker for Gomez (which is doubtful) they should jump at the chance regardless of the return. Perhaps a team desperate to meet the cap floor like the Florida Panthers may have some interest if the Habs sweeten the deal with a draft pick.
Potential targets for Gauthier to go after to fill the Center need may be T.J. Oshie a RFA from the St. Louis Blues. Derrick Brassard, Paul Stastny and Stephen Weiss have been rumored to be available as well. As per my blog, "Next Move Flames" Ollie Jokinen may be an option as well.
Montreal may look to sign one or two UFA's this summer as well but Gauthier should be able to fill out the forward ranks from within. RFA's that will be resigned include Andrei Kostitsyn (at time of publish, Kostitsyn did re-sign for one more season), Benoit Pouliot and Max Pacioretty.
Rookies Ryan White, David Desharnais and Tom Pyatt all played their way on to the team. All good players, but it would leave the team a little weak on offense. A star player who can score a point-per-game is needed to provide support for Cammalleri and Plekanec.
Hal Gill was recently re-signed, adding to Subban and Jaroslav Spacek already under contract. RFA's Josh Georges and Yannick Weber will be re-signed leaving one spot to fill.
Carey Price is the franchise player and will play over 60 games, if healthy, next season so look for a cheap back-up to be acquired. Perhaps Pascal Leclaire sees Montreal as a good fit to re-establish himself. Plenty of options this summer for a back-up to be found on free agent list such as Mathieu Garon, Jose Theodore or Patrick Lalime.
Bottom line. Making a decision with Markov is priority number one as all other decisions hinge on this. Try to find a way to get Gomez off the team and the cap. Trade, waivers, or demotion to minors are best bets options as a buyout would hurt too much. Find either a star scoring winger or a number one center with size, or both.
Rookies to watch to make the team are Leblanc, Jared Tinordi and Alexander Avtsin.
Making an impact in the AHL are Danny Kristo, Brock Trotter, Alexei Yemelin and Karri Ramo.
Montreal's next moves are:
- Prepare for life with out Markov.
- Move Gomez.
- Find a top six forward with size.
Montreal is a young team on the rise with an elite goalie in his prime. A franchise defenseman in his sophomore season and a crop of talented young players with promise insulated by good and versatile players like Cammalleri, Plekanec, Gill and Spacek.
Pete Harling is and always has been passionate about hockey. He loves to watch it, play it but what he loves the most is fantasy hockey. Email Coach Harling at [email protected].