Pending Free Agents: Class of 2019

It’s early, the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is just starting and talks about free agents is somewhat premature. Having said that, when your team is eliminated, there isn’t much to look forward to except for their next move, the next big date and that date is about two months away, at the NHL Draft. The next day, teams will be able to talk to pending UFAs and on July 1st, players will be able to announce their choice.

Much can change from now until the actual date but let’s explore the possibilities as they stand today and admittedly, those lists will look somewhat different at that time. Regardless, let’s do the exercise, shall we?

Team needs

Ever since Marc Bergevin traded P.K. Subban for Shea Weber, there has been a huge hole on Weber’s left. You see, Weber plays big minutes against the opposition’s top lines game in, game out and it’s not everyone who can do that. At the top of his game, Andrei Markov was the perfect partner for the one they call Man Mountain but he was getting too old to play top minutes. Victor Mete did okay but he’s not the ideal candidate. Bergevin MUST finally address this gaping hole on his team and if he fails to do so once again, many people, myself included, will be very disappointed in him.

Also, the powerplay was atrocious and it needs some sort of injection. Whether it be a top-end right-handed goals’ scorer or a left-handed pointman (they have Weber and Petry on the right side), Bergevin needs to help his coaching staff by providing them with the necessary tools to fix a powerplay that finished 30th in the NHL with a 13.2% success rate and was too often a momentum killer for the Canadiens last season.

While I personally fully expect that Bergevin’s biggest splash will be through a trade or two as he’s always done, let’s still have a look at the pending unrestricted free agents’ pool this upcoming July first. Granted, it’s early and some of these guys will re-sign with their respective team but as it stands right now, it promises to be an interesting off-season, a buyers’ market if we can say.

Defensemen

The Canadiens’ depth chart on the right side is deep, very deep with quality assets both older and younger. Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Christian Folin, Noah Juulsen, Josh Brook, Cale Fleury and Brett Lernout form a solid depth group on right defense. But on the left, there are numbers but the quality is lacking, particularly at the top end. Victor Mete, Brett Kulak and Mike Reilly are in the NHL and Jordie Benn is, at the time of writing this, a pending UFA. Alexander Romanov is the team’s best hope but he has one year left to his contract in the KHL and he is likely a few years away from having an impact at the NHL level. Gustav Olofsson is interesting and he will be coming back from injury. Scott Walford and Jarret Tyszka are good projects but they too are a few years away.

Having said all of that, here are some of the top pending UFA’s on defense:

Alex Edler has made it clear that he wants to stay in Vancouver and the Canucks would like to have him back. Marc Methot has slowed down the last two years and so has Niklas Kronwall. The most interesting might be Jake Gardiner but according to TSN Insiders, he should fetch between 6-8 million per season for seven years. That’s way too rich for him and I would personally stay away from him. He’s simply not that good. Ben Chiarot might be an interesting gamble but is he really an improvement over what the Habs already have? I think that the best way to get what he wants would be for Bergevin to sacrifice a forward or two to get the right fit and two names come to mind: Anaheim’s Cam Fowler and Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere, both of which can also man the point on the powerplay.

Forwards

At forward, it’s a different story. The Canadiens are deep at that position and so is their depth chart. Max Domi was a very pleasant surprise at centre and unless a Matt Duchene type of players lands in Montreal, he’s likely to stay at that position. But there are currently plenty of very interesting names on that list and Bergevin should have a chance at picking at least one of them… if the price is right.

Of course the two biggest fish are Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene. Panarin apparently wants to play in a big US market but many link Duchene to the Habs because “he grew up a Habs’ fan”. We all know how that works out most times so don’t hold your breath folks. If I’m Bergevin, it doesn’t matter if it’s a centre or a winger, I go after the best player available as Domi could go back to the wing if need be. It’s easier to make a winger out of a centre than the other way around.

Pending RFA’s

I have to touch on that because some feel like offer sheets are a tool that NHL GMs don’t use often enough. As we’ve touched on before, Paul Holmgren explained that offer sheets can be devastating to a GM’s career and that is predominantly why we don’t see them. That and usually, the price is steep, very steep for the more lucrative contract offers.

OFFER SHEET (AVG)COMPENSATION
$1,339,575 or belowNone
Over $1,339,575 to $2,029,593rd
Over $2,029,59 to $4,059,3222nd
Over $4,059,322 to $6,088,9801st, 3rd
Over $6,088,980 to $8,118,6411st, 2nd, 3rd
Over $8,118,641 to $10,148,302(2) 1st, 2nd, 3rd
Over $10,148,302(4) 1st

Still, here’s this year’s list of pending RFA’s:

Some folks see the signing of Nate Thompson and Jordan Weal as a sign that Bergevin will be satisfied with minor signing. That’s either ill intent or ignorant on their part as the Canadiens’ GM has always been one of the most active on the trade front since taking over in Montreal… and it’s only April 27th! You can expect much of the same this upcoming summer. They have a plan and will follow through with it. The future is bring in Montreal. Go Habs Go!

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Timmins and Churla: The Drafting Kings

Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase. Hakuna Matata! Ain’t no passing craze. It means no worries, for the rest of your days. It’s our problem-free philosophy: Hakuna Matata! Yeah, sing it, kid! It’s our problem-free philosophy: Hakuna Matata!

What a great motto! Fans – and sometimes media members – tend to worry too much. Yes, that’s an understatement but hear me out. We keep reading and hearing that Montreal Canadiens’ Assistant General Manager Trevor Timmins is terrible in his role, people only citing some of his draft misqueues. Often times, in order to differentiate the forest from the trees, one must take a step back… or two… or oven three as we can’t see what’s right in front of our nose. You want to be critical of Timmins? That’s fine. But at the very least, compare him to his peers, not to some preconceived narrative, or by listening to what you’ve been told by some biased, disgruntled, attention-seeking individuals. Wow! Now there’s a new concept!

This is not the first time that we try to analyse his work as we have touched before on Timmins’ overall performances, which placed him at the top of his class since he took over that position in Montreal in games played by players he had drafted. But then, it was pointed out that he is particularly struggling in the first two rounds of the draft, which we also researched on this very blog site. Then again, particularly in the second article, we didn’t really compare him to the rest of the NHL.

Trevor Timmins has a lot of reasons to smile.

Let’s just demystify Timmins’ work in the first two rounds and see exactly where he and Director of Amateur Scouting Shane Churla rank amongst their peers since 2003. For this exercise, I started tabulating up until 2013 as for every team, as the 2014 picks have several players who are just starting their career in the NHL so it’s too early to classify them as success or “flop”.

It is important to note that by “flops”, I used the same criterias for all teams: how are these players doing based on their drafting ranks, the number of NHL games played compared to their peers from the same draft year, and overall production. I was quite lenient for all teams. For example, if a first rounder played 200+ games, I didn’t consider them as “flops” even if their offensive numbers weren’t that great… unless they were a top-5 pick.

Admittedly, this type of analysis is very fluid, even quite murky at times and far from a top scientific go-to guide. But at the very least, it’s a measure of comparison with all teams in the NHL. You will also notice that I didn’t include the Winnipeg Jets, who started drafting in 2011, or of course the Vegas Golden Knights.

First Round

In this table, let’s only look at the columns with the yellow heading, the first round picks. The team with the fewest first round selections between 2003 to 2013 are the Detroit Red Wings with only five picks and their only “flop” was in 2008. Every other first round pick has turned out to be a decent NHL player. The Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes, on the other hand, have had 14 first round selections each. Only two of Anaheim’s 14 picks turned out to be “flops”, in 2006 and 2007.

As you can see, the league success rate average is 68,55% (100 flops out of 318 picks). The Habs are slightly above average at 72.73% success rate with three flops in the first round: David Fisher (2006), Louis Leblanc (2009) and Jarred Tinordi (2010). I did not include Michael McCarron in there (yet) as he showed some great signs this season until he was injured. Nothing to write a book about, but Timmins isn’t as bad as some make him out to be in the first round it seems.

Second Round

In the second round (blue columns header), the league’s success rate drops to 33.53%. The San Jose Sharks lead the pack with a 55.56% success rate while the New York Islanders, Vancouver Canucks and the Philadelphia Flyers are all below 20%. Note that the Chicago Blackhawks had the most second round picks from 2003-2013 with 21 selections, while the Calgary Flames only had five.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Canadiens find themselves 4th in the entire NHL at 45.45% success rate in the second round. They messed up on Cory Urquhart (2003), Ben Maxwell and Mathieu Carle (2006), Danny Kristo (2008) and Sebastian Collberg and Dalton Thrower (2012). GM Marc Bergevin did turn out Collberg into Thomas Vanek for a playoffs’ run however.

Combined

And that’s where we see the ensemble of the NHL’s teams’ draft work in the first two rounds. The league average sits at 50.46% success rate as the Chicago Blackhawks topped everyone with a total of 33 picks, followed by the St. Louis Blues with 29, and the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers close behind them with 28 picks each. Amazingly enough, only 11 of the Capitals’ 28 picks are considered “flops”, putting them second in the rankings at 60.71% success rate. The LA Kings lead the NHL at 62.50% while the Philadelphia Flyers rank third, thanks to an amazing first round success rate of 88.89%.

Fourth overall is where the Canadiens and Trevor Timmins sit, with a very impressive success rate of 59.09% in the first two rounds of the draft. While this may (or may not) be enough to debunk the misconception of Timmins’ work, at least it is somewhat supported by information other than perception and dislike for the guy.

Most people will agree that his last couple of draft seasons, which include the likes of Noah Juulsen(2015), Mikhail Sergachev (2016), Ryan Poehling, Josh Brook, Joni Ikonen (2017), Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jesse Ylonen, Alexander Romanov and Jacob Olofsson (2018) will go a long way in bringing the Habs closer to the top of the league in the first two rounds. Here’s hoping that Timmins and his team can repeat again this coming summer in Vancouver, with three more selections in the first two rounds. Go Habs Go!