Amongst many other things, a NHL General Manager’s Spring and Summer job is to analyse his team, his assets, and determine and draw a plan of action to improve on the season that just ended. At the end of the 2016-17 season, the Canadiens showed a great need for offense, particularly at the centre position, and there were serious question marks as to who exactly could fill in on the top-4 on defense, particularly when it was clear that Andrei Markov wasn’t coming back, choosing to go to the KHL. Unfortunately, Marc Bergevin was unable to fulfill the needs and in combination with a few key injuries and unforeseen departures, the results speak for themselves.
This summer, the Canadiens’ GM cannot afford another miss and as we recently touched on the Habs’ needs and top candidates on defense, it’s now time to see what kind of options might be available to Bergevin and the Canadiens to fill a much needed need up the middle, in hope to return Jonathan Drouin to his natural position on left wing. While there might be a few others available through trade, let’s have a look at five of the options that could buy time until Ryan Poehling, the team’s best prospect at that position, is ready to step in and be a contributor on the top lines in Montreal.
5- Joe Thornton – San Jose Sharks
WEIGHT: 220 lbs
FO %: 52.0
Old… slow… but still very effective. Great in the faceoffs’ dots, he is a leader with tons of experience. Once catalogued as a playoffs’ no-show, he has stepped it up in recent years for his team. In a league now known for speed, Thornton still shows that one can slow the pace down and find ways to be very effective. One of the best passers in the league in the last decade, he is extremely dangerous, particularly on the powerplay. Unfortunately however, two serious knee injuries (to the same knee) might have taken its toll on him. If San Jose doesn’t want him back, he’s a possibility. Definitely an improvement over what the Canadiens already have.
4- Tyler Bozak – Toronto Maple Leafs
WEIGHT: 199 lbs
FO %: 53.6
As Tomas Plekanec wore the ‘ugly blue’, Bozak could lend a hand to the Leafs’ arch rivals. Not a true number one centre, he is good on draws and he is responsible at both ends of the ice. Being a right-handed draw is something that the Canadiens could use, particularly in the defensive zone. At this stage in their respective career, Bozak would be an improvement over Plekanec.
3- Paul Stastny – Winnipeg Jets
WEIGHT: 193 lbs
TOI/G: 17:02 (WIN), 18:41 (STL)
+/-: +6 (WIN), -5 (STL)
FO %: 53.8 (WIN), 55.2 (STL)
Son of former Nordiques’ Peter Stastny, Paul was born in Quebec and his father was once quoted saying that he would like his son to play in Montreal. Well Paul, here’s your chance. But with the success he’s had with the Jets, the two sides might be tempted to make the experience last longer, depending if Stastny wants to test the market or not. At 32, he still has a few good seasons in him and would be an improvement for the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.
2- Ryan O’Reilly – Buffalo Sabres
WEIGHT: 216 lbs
FO %: 60.0
STATUS: $7,5M until 2022-23
In my opinion, this is a very viable option for the Canadiens. O’Reilly is a complete hockey player who hustles at both ends of the ice. He can score, he can defend, he can hit, he can grind it out. Vocal against the Sabres’ frame of mind in his post-season press conference, what he was saying wasn’t much different than what Bergevin was saying about his own team. So when you look at attitude and character, this guy oozes just that. Further, the Canadiens can afford his salary.
1- John Tavares – New York Islanders
WEIGHT: 208 lbs
FO %: 52.9
Pipe dream or reality? Either way, there is no doubt that if Tavares hits the free agency market, he will be the Canadiens’ centre of attention. They will throw everything at him, and while Team Canada teammates Carey Price and Shea Weber will be crucial in trying to convince him, Bergevin and team owner Geoff Molson will have to put forth the sales’ pitch of their life if they hope to convince him to play in Montreal. Yes, it is a wonderful place to win but when you don’t, it can be hell in a hurry, just ask Pacioretty and others before him. Will he and his spouse be negatively influenced by the fact that Angela Price had to come out publicly to deny senseless rumours? We shall see. But the Canadiens have the cap space to make it happen.
– Tomas Plekanec
Is there something that hasn’t been said about the Turtleneck? He’s a true pro. He’s only two games away from reaching the 1,000 games plateau in the NHL, with most of them played with the Habs’ number 14 on his back. He’s still fast and very responsible defensively, but his offense has all but disappeared. He was making $6 million but at the right price, I am convinced that Claude Julien would like to have him back. Many fans have mixed feelings about this.
– Vincent Trochek, Alexander Barkov or Nick Bjugstad
Watch Pacioretty. The Florida Panthers were apparently very hot on the Canadiens’ captain but Bergevin was asking for Trochek and more. While this deal was not consumed by the trade deadline, it is very much possible that the talks have kept going and the Panthers would be trading in a position of strength here, being very deep at the centre position.
– Sam Bennett or Mark Jankowski
Call it a gut feeling, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if the Flames were interested in the 3rd overall pick to draft Matthew Tkachuk‘s younger brother Brady. What do they have to offer? There’s no way that they will trade Sean Monahan, they would rather pass on Tkachuk but is there a deal possible, perhaps a bigger one involving Charlie Lindgren to help Mike Smith? What plays against the Flames is that they don’t have a first, second or even third round pick this year. In order to make something happen, a third team picking between 5 and 9 might have to get involved in a three-way and we know how rare those are.
– Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
For the longest time, a Max Pacioretty for RNH deal, with spare parts here and there, was the most logical deal to not be completed. The Oilers were deep at centre and paying Nugent-Hopkins $6 million to play on the third line didn’t make much sense, when they needed a speedy winger who could keep up with Connor McDavid. But guess what? Todd McLellan decided to try RNH with McDavid and they formed immediate chemistry. Now, it’s very unlikely that Peter Chiarelli will trade him as not only does he produce with McDavid, but he gives the team options in the event of injuries. So maybe earlier last year, but as it stands today, this ship has likely sailed.
– Jonathan Toews
In the most unlikely rumours flying out there, the one about the Habs and Blackhawks trying to work something out for the one nicknamed ‘Captain Serious’ is way out there. While definitely a good player and a strong leader, Toews’ contract is too long and for too much for the Canadiens to bite… or is it? Sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures. Let’s just hope not.
As we can see, there are some options out there but when it comes to UFA’s, the price is often way too steep. Marc Bergevin has always rightfully claimed that you don’t build a winner on July 1st. But at the NHL draft is when most of the trades occur, as every team has cap space and many have holes to fill and changes to make, whether it’s to put them over the top after a disappointing loss in the playoffs, or a rebuild/retool process. Regardless, it promisses to be a very interesting month ahead for Habs’ fans. Go Habs Go!