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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Some Potential Habs’ Trade Targets?

February 25th is fast approaching, the NHL trade deadline, otherwise known as Christmas for hockey fans, is almost upon us. As teams are fighting for a playoffs’ spot, others know that their dream of playing hockey in late April has evaporated with their disappointing season. Other teams are thinking that they are contenders with a legitimate shot at winning it all. Most of teams feel like they must tinker with their line-up one way or another.

General Managers have had their meetings with their assistant-GMs and pro-scouting staff. They know what their team needs, who is likely to be available and how much they are willing to pay to address those needs, or what they’re willing to accept for players they want to unload. Teams pretty much know by now which unrestricted free agents want to re-sign with them or those who want to wait to late June to test the offers from other teams as well.

Marc Bergevin has also met with his brass and they too know what they want to do. No need to be in that war room to figure out that the Canadiens’ biggest needs are finding a suitable left-handed defenseman to play on the top pairing with Shea Weber and trying to find a solution to get their anemic powerplay. But the injury to Noah Juulsen might have created an unexpected need for depth for a right-handed defenseman as well.

As it is the case every year, many names have come up in recent days on the trade rumour mill and while not all of them are a good fit for the Canadiens, some could be of interest.

Shayne Gostisbehere (LD)

Shayne Gostisbehere

Flyers’ GM Chuck Fletcher was quoted earlier this week saying that only team captain Claude Giroux wasn’t available on his team. This comment alone should be enough for Bergevin to be all over the phone enquiring about the status of Gostisbehere. We’re talking about a mobile left-handed defenseman, only 25 years old and signed at $4.5M until 2022-23. Ghost has outstanding skating ability, plus solid puck-moving skills and excellent offensive acumen. He can quarterback the power play and has some clutch ability in big games. From his own standards, he’s having an off-year with only eight goals and 20 points in 48 games. Still, he won’t come cheap due to his age and affordable contract. He has no trade protection so the Flyers can shop him to any team, therefore opening the market to any potential suitor. He would be a prime target if I’m Bergevin.

Alec Martinez (LD)

Alec Martinez

Most of the talks in Los Angeles were around Jake Muzzin and rightfully so. However, there’s another similar player who has now fallen next on the list of possible trade baits for the Kings and we didn’t hear as much about him, mostly due to the fact that he’s missed a month of action and only returning to the line-up on January 10th. Martinez is a strong, swift and well-balanced skater with two-way ability. He has solid puck-moving and passing skills, as well as excellent defensive awareness. Good veteran, he usually keeps things simple and limits his mistakes, a Claude Julien type of player. His cap hit sits at $4M until 2020-21. He would be more affordable than the Ghost for sure, but is older and doesn’t bring as much offense.

Olli Maatta (LD)

Olli Maatta

This “rumour” came out of the non-mainstream media so take it with a grain of salt (or the whole salt shaker for that matter). The 24 year-old Finnish defenseman has 12 points in 49 games with the Penguins. The scouting report on him is that he has excellent size and offensive instincts. Maatta plays a smart game in all three zones on the ice and he is thought to be capable of logging big minutes. Pittsburgh just traded Jamie Oleksiak to Dallas and even with Justin Schultz on the verge of coming back from injury, I personally doubt that they would trade Maata at this point… unless it’s as an incentive for taking on a big contract to free up some space for another move, a Joel Armia type of trade. If that’s the case, the Pens won’t want a contract back so it would have to be picks/prospects going back to Pittsburgh.

Radko Gudas (RD)

Radko Gudas

His name has been mentioned in Flyers’ rumours although to my knowledge, he is not linked to the Canadiens per say. But with the news of Juulsen possibly being unavailable this season, Gudas would be a good addition as a right-handed depth player. He is a great open-ice hitter and very good at disrupting offensive players’ flow in the game. He definitely will punish players with physicality and while not a juggernaut offensively, he does owns a heavy point shot. Like Weber, he definitely would protect Carey Price against anyone getting too close for comfort. His cap hit sits at $3.5 million until 2019-20 and should come rather cheap.

Tyler Toffoli (C/RW)

Tyler Toffoli

Yes, Toffoli is having a disappointing season this year with only eight goals and 20 points this season but in the last few years, he has been a consistent 20-30 goals’ scorer. He is highly skilled and plays with excellent anticipation and patience. He can let go of a shot quickly and he does have a good shot. Right-handed, he can set up on the left side on the powerplay. Versatile, he can play centre or on the wing and he skates very well. He is also a solid penalty-killing option. His cap hit sits at $4.6 million until 2019-20 but perhaps the Kings could be convinced to keep some, as Vegas did with Tomas Tatar. Hey Marc, what about a package with Martinez and kill two birds with one stone? (wink-wink)

Wayne Simmonds (RW)

Wayne Simmonds

With Bergevin stating publicly that he’s not in the market for a rental player, I personally don’t believe in the Canadiens’ chances (or willingness) to acquire Simmonds. Pending UFA at the end of the season, the competition will be high to get him. He has 15 goals, 23 points in 51 games this season with the Flyers and he carries a $3.975 million cap hit and has a modified NTC where he has to submit a 12 teams no-trade list. I did put him on here because he is a right-hand shot who could help with the powerplay while adding size on the forward group, and in the even that Bergevin was thinking of re-signing him. Long shot, not my personal favourite target… but packaged with the Ghost or Gudas? Bergevin has a tendency to surprise us.

Brayden Schenn (LW/C/RW)

Brayden Schenn

This one came out of nowhere when I read Frank Seravalli mentioned Schenn as a Habs’ target. A left-hand shot is not what the Canadiens need at this point and with his nine goals and 27 points in 45 games with the Blues, the 27 year-old Saskatoon-born forward is not having his best season. But there is no doubt that he would be an improvement over several players in the Habs’ line-up. He plays relentlessly like Andrew Shaw, Brendan Gallagher and Max Domi and he can play all three forward positions. His cap hit is $5.125 million until 2019-2020. But with the Blues having climbed back in a playoffs’ fight, I’m not so sure that he would be available. He is, however, definitely worth a phone call if you’re Bergevin.

Artemi Panarin (RW)

To my knowledge, there are no (serious) rumour circulating about the Canadiens and Panarin. However, if memory serves me right, Bergevin and the Habs were one of the finalists on Panarin’s list when he chose Chicago as his destination, coming to the NHL as an undrafted star from the KHL. If the Canadiens had interest back then, rest assured that they have interest now and I would bet that they’ve made the call to Columbus’ GM Jarmo Kekalainen to enquire about the asking price. There would have to be some certainty that he would want to re-sign in Montreal however. Between you and I, the chances of Bergevin pulling that one off is slim to none. Having said that, Bergevin has the Canadiens in an ideal situation. There’s a strong possibility that the team wanting to acquire Panarin will have to free up some cap space to make room for him and that’s were Bergevin could be a major player. This isn’t only with the Panarin trade, but with any cap-strapped team trying to add to their line-up.

So folks, keep an eye on Bergevin and the Canadiens and that, sooner rather than later as Bergevin has shown us that he likes to get a leg up on other teams by trading early. He could very well be in on the ricochet effect, an Armia-type deal for the Habs, probably the most likely scenario. Go Habs Go!