5 Big Market Teams Will Be Aggressive

Reset, retool, rebuild, reload… all terms used by NHL General Managers to qualify the state of the franchise that they manage when their team is going through some fairly major changes with their on-ice product. Each one has a slightly different connotation but in all cases, you’re looking at some sort of revamp, whether it is to trade a few veterans for quality youth, completely gut the team and start over or something in between. All of those options come with some growing pains, some dry bread seasons before, hopefully, return to being a Stanley Cup contender.

This upcoming off-season is not going to be any different from any other one but there are five teams in particular that fans and media members should keep a close eye on. Five teams that can afford to spend to the Salary Cap ceiling and usually do so, but they are nowhere close as they are going through some sort of metamorphose. Those teams promise to be big players, throwing big dollars at the top pending UFAs… or even some RFAs.

5- MONTREAL CANADIENS

Projected Cap Hit$63,380,476
Projected Cap Space$16,119,524

This is the second consecutive year that the Canadiens will be trying to make a splash on July 1st. This past summer, they were planning on offering big dollars to John Tavares until he decided that he wasn’t even going to listen to what they had to say. This summer, the number of quality UFAs is much greater and Marc Bergevin is planning on being heard from by the likes of Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene, amongst others.

4- NEW YORK RANGERS

Projected Cap Hit$61,963,609
Projected Cap Space$17,536,391

Like that’s any news, right? The New York Rangers are always a force to recon with on the UFA market as more players want to play in New York than anywhere else in the league… or so it seems. This time however, they have the cap space and just like Montreal, the Rangers are ready to throw fist-full of money to some of the key pending UFAs. Don’t count out the possibility of Jeff Gorton signing a quality RFA to an offer sheet either and something tells me that the Toronto Maple Leafs better look over their shoulder for Mitch Marner

3- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Projected Cap Hit$59,830,128
Projected Cap Space$19,669,872

It seems like not so long ago, the Blackhawks were strapped against the cap but it doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Still, their core of players making most of the money is aging and their production, particularly on defense, is starting to diminish. Whether they decide to trade some of them away or not, the Hawks have plenty of cap space to add to an already pretty potent lineup and if I’m Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers or Jake Gardiner, I’m expecting a phone call from Stan Bowman.

2- VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Projected Cap Hit$51,439,165
Projected Cap Space$28,060,835

The Canucks have been hard to read for a few years now. They’re not going through a complete rebuild, but they’re going younger while adding puzzling veteran elements, sometimes overpaying based on the market. The likes of Loui Eriksson ($6M), Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle ($3M each) are examples of that but even then, the Canucks have tons of cap space. There seemed to be a disconnect when team owner Francesco Aquilini fired President and long term Canucks Trevor Linden citing a philosophical difference. Linden wanted to continue building through the draft while Aquilini wants to put bums in the seats by being competitive. Expect GM Jim Benning to receive clear orders to get at least one prominent player through free agency this summer.

1- PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Projected Cap Hit$46,842,499
Projected Cap Space$32,657,501

Last but not least, keep a very close eye on the Flyers. They have shown in the past that they’re not afraid to throw offers to RFAs (Ryan Kesler and Shea Weber are two) and they will be aggressive on the free agents’ market. It’s not the willingness of spending money that’s lacking and team President Paul Holmgren will receive free reign to spend from majority owner Ed Snider who, like Aquilini in Vancouver, can’t stand the long rebuild through the draft, prompting the dismissal of Ron Hextall. Chuck Fletcher is an experienced GM with pocket loads of money and there is no doubt that they will be one of the most aggressive teams on the market this summer.

KEY PENDING UFAs

Here is a list of the pending Unrestricted Free Agents for the summer of 2019. Some will re-sign with their respective teams but the number of quality UFAs is high this year in comparison to the last couple of summers. I have separated them in groups, forwards (by points), defensemen (by ice time) and goaltenders (by wins).

Which ones would you like to see with the Canadiens, or who do you believe would accept to play under the scrutiny of the Montreal market? From looking at these lists, I personally think that there are a few forwards that could help while the elusive Top-4 defenseman might have to be acquired through trade. Go Habs Go!

Data from CapFriendly.com. * Jimmy Howard signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings today

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Unsung Hero – Phillip Danault

The date is February 26, 2016. The Chicago Blackhawks, who had just beaten on the Toronto Maple Leafs by a decisive score of 7-2 the night before, were gearing up to take another run at the Stanley Cup. The Montreal Canadiens, on the other hand, were trying to survive having lost Carey Price after only 12 games in the season to what could be a season-ending injury. They were flirting with the .500 mark and were likely going to miss the playoffs. For a few days, Blackhawks’ General Manager Stan Bowman was on the phone negotiating with his counterpart and former employee Marc Bergevin, now at the helm of the Montreal franchise.

The centre of their discussion? Two pending unrestricted free agents: Dale Weise and Tomas Fleishmann, two solid and serviceable veterans. When the dust settled and the deal was announced, the Canadiens had acquired centre Phillip Danault and the Blackhawks’ second round pick at the 2018 NHL Draft. Danault, a Victoriaville native who had just turned 23 two days earlier, was Chicago’s first round pick in 2011.

“Phillip Danault is a young and gifted player who will be part of our core group of young forwards for many years to come. I am very pleased to have him join our organization. As a member of the Blackhawks management group, I was instrumental in the selection of Phillip in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft.” ~ Marc Bergevin after the trade.

In his first full season with the Canadiens, Danault had a career-high 13 goals and 40 points while playing all 82 games. The following season was more difficult for him due to injuries, but he still managed 25 points in 52 games, a pace to match his previous season’s 40 points.

200-foot player

When the Canadiens traded away Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk last summer, many “experts” were questioning where the offense would be coming from. Downplaying the impact that both Max Domi and Tomas Tatar would have on the team was their first mistake obviously, but Danault losing his left winger in Pacioretty brought questions marks. You see, they were several who were claiming that Danault’s offensive success was because he played with the captain on his wing. In retrospect, it turns out that they were wrong.

This season, Danault has already matched his career-high of 40 points… with 27 games left in the season! With 23 points in his last 24 games, he is also coach Claude Julien‘s appointed centre to face the opponents’ top line due to his great defensive awareness. Recently given Jonathan Drouin on his left wing, both French Canadian skaters are giving their opposition all they can handle alongside team sparkplug Brendan Gallagher. Last night against the powerhouse Winnipeg Jets, that line finished the game with a combined 10 points… while checking the Jets’ top line. It’s tough to attack when you don’t have the puck and Danault’s line put up a clinic of puck pursue and puck possession.

If you look at the definition of “underrated” in the dictionary, you will find Phillip Danault’s picture. Not literally of course, but as a figure of speech. Either way, he has found his niche in Montreal where he is well liked by his teammates, his coaches, and by the fans as well. We can only hope that he keeps on having that kind of impact when more skillful young centres are ready to contribute as ultimately, it will make the Canadiens even better.

Oh about that second round draft pick that Bergevin received from the Blackhawks… Trevor Timmins selected Alexander Romanov with it. How is that for a trade? Go Habs Go!