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!

Advertisements

Don’t Hold Your Breath for Habs’ Offer Sheet

BergevinPuzzle800

The Canadiens’ season ending rather prematurely certainly has fans and media talking, and with good reasons. The team’s lack of offensive threat has been a problem since the second half of the season and ultimately, cost the team a chance to face the Senators in the division finals and perhaps even to represent the Eastern Conference in the finals.

No one knows that better than better than team GM Marc Bergevin who, in his press conference, acknowledged that his team needs a boost in that department, particularly at the centre position. After all, while Tomas Plekanec was starting to show signs of slowing down, it was difficult to predict that he would be completely MIA on offense and who in their right mind would have predicted that Alex Galchenyuk would hit rock bottom a year after scoring 30 goals?

Fans and media alike are looking at ways that the Habs can improve their offense rather rapidly, based on what’s available out there on the market and they are quick to point out that both Jonathan Drouin and Leon Draisaitl are Restricted Free Agents (RFA) with compensation and could be eligible to offer sheets. While those players are exceptional young talents, many like yours truly question if the offer sheet is even an option.

drouin3
Jonathan Drouin is a pending RFA

While legal according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Offer Sheets are seldom used by NHL General Managers and while no one will come out publicly and admit it, the tool is heavily frowned upon by GMs around the league as it is perceived as putting their homologues in dicy situations in a salary cap world, where cheap talent is key to having a competitive team. The fact is that most GMs don’t want to use it, whether is by principle alone, or by fear of retribution by their colleagues in the future.

But instead of going with suppositions, why don’t we look at all of the offer sheets signed since the introduction of the salary cap after the 2005 season. Here’s a chart to help have a clearer picture:

NAME DATE OFFER OWNER SIGNED RESULT
Ryan Kesler Sept 12/06 1 year $1.9M VAN PHI Matched
Thomas Vanek July 6/07 7 years $50M BUF EDM Matched
Dustin Penner July 26/07 5 years $21.5M ANA EDM Accepted
David Backes July 1/08 3 years $7.5M STL VAN Matched
Steve Bernier July 8/08 1 year $2.5M VAN STL Matched
Niklas Hjalmarsson July 9/10 4 years $14M CHI SJS Matched
Shea Weber July 18/12 14 years $110M NAS PHI Matched
Ryan O’Reilly February 28/13 2 years $10M COL CGY Matched

As you notice, only eight players have signed offer sheets as a RFA and all but one was matched by the team. Only Brian Burke‘s Anaheim Ducks backed out and took, instead, the compensation which was the Oilers 1st (12th), 2nd (43rd) and 3rd (73rd) round picks in the 2008 draft.

Everyone else matched the original offer, which is quite telling. If a team is going to brave the rest of the league by signing a player to an offer sheet, they will usually sign players who can have, in their opinion, an impact in the NHL. More interesting though is what happened (or not) to those so-called gutsy GMs who dared to break the unwritten rule.

  1. The first GM out of the gate after the salary cap CBA was Bobby Clarke, who signed Kesler back in September 2006.  He was replaced by Paul Holmgren the following month, on October 22, 2006.
  2. Kevin Lowe is the GM who signed both Vanek and Penner in 2007. He lasted a year before being replaced by Steve Tambellini on July 31, 2008.
  3. Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis was just hired on April 23, 2008 prior to signing Backes to an offer sheet the next summer. St-Louis Blues GM at the time, Larry Pleau, gave him a taste of his own medicine when a week later, he signed Bernier, who was just acquired in a trade four days earlier by Gillis, to an offer sheet of his own. Gillis completed several minor deals after, but had to wait to 2013 before being able to complete a substantial trade, acquiring the 9th pick overall (Bo Horvat) from the Devils for Cory Schneider.
  4. Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks is definitely the exception to the rule. He has completed several trades, including some important ones, after signing Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet in 2010. Wilson has even completed three trades with the Blackhawks since that time!
  5. Faced with the loss of Chris Pronger to injury, Paul Holmgren and the Flyers were in desperation mode and signed Shea Weber to the richest offer sheet in NHL history, hoping that the Predators couldn’t match… but they did. In the two following years at the helm of the team, Holmgren has completed a dozen trades, but none of impact. In the book released for the Flyers’ 50 anniversary, he admitted being unable to find people to trade with because of it. He had to step down and give way to Ron Hextall for that reason.
  6. Brian Burke, then interim GM for the Flames and who was quite verbal against Kevin Lowe’s offer sheet to Dustin Penner six years earlier while GM with the Ducks, signed Ryan O’Reilly to an offer sheet of his own in what is perhaps the most hypocritical offer sheet signing ever. Colorado matched and Burke went back into is President’s role making ways to Brad Treliving just a few months later.

So Habs’ fans and media, unless you want Marc Bergevin out, which clearly some of you do, what do you really think the odds are of him signing one of Drouin or Draisaitl to an offer sheet? Do you honestly think for a minute, based on facts and history, that it would be for the best of the team, of the organization? Oh don’t get me wrong here, if Drouin is available as rumours around the NHL seem to suggest, Bergevin will be all in to get him, but it will be, in my humble opinion at least, through the traditional way of trade. As for Draisaitl, don’t lose too much sleep over that folks, he will be re-signed in Edmonton.