Top Candidates – Centre Position

Centres2018

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

AGE: 38Thornton
HEIGHT: 6’4″
WEIGHT: 220 lbs
GP: 47
G: 13
A: 23
PTS: 36
TOI/G: 18:20
+/-: -9
FO %: 52.0
STATUS: UFA

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

AGE: 32Bozak
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 199 lbs
GP: 81
G: 11
A: 32
PTS: 43
TOI/G: 15:39
+/-: +6
FO %: 53.6
STATUS: UFA

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

AGE: 32Stastny
HEIGHT: 6’0″
WEIGHT: 193 lbs
GP: 82
G: 16
A: 37
PTS: 53
TOI/G: 17:02 (WIN), 18:41 (STL)
+/-: +6 (WIN), -5 (STL)
FO %: 53.8 (WIN), 55.2 (STL)
STATUS: UFA

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

AGE: 27NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 216 lbs
GP: 82
G: 24
A: 37
PTS: 61
TOI/G: 20:49
+/-: -23
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

AGE: 27Tavares
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 208 lbs
GP: 82
G: 37
A: 47
PTS: 84
TOI/G: 19:56
+/-: -12
FO %: 52.9
STATUS: UFA

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.

Honorable Mentions

– 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!

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Top Candidates – Partner for Shea Weber

WeberPartner

Aside perhaps for the centre position, one of the most glaring needs for the Montreal Canadiens is for a mobile, puck-moving left handed defenseman who can log quality minutes on the top pairing to play alongside Shea Weber. Of course, winning the Draft lottery would have gone a long way as a player like Rasmus Dahlin would have been the prototypical prospect to be groomed alongside Weber, but we know now that it’s not a possibility.

While Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin does have some young blueliners bringing hope to the team, finding a proven top-4 defenseman bringing experience would go a long way in helping goaltender Carey Price bounce back from a very bad season to his standards.  Without further ado, let’s have a look as some names that may be available either through free agency or through trades, perhaps some that are already in the Habs’ brass’ plans.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Dan Hamhuis – Dallas Stars

AGE: 35Image result for dan hamhuis
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 204 lbs
GP: 80
G: 3
A: 21
PTS: 24
TOI/G: 20:11
+/-: -6
STATUS: UFA

JUSTIFICATION: At age 35, Hamhuis would be a stop-gap. He still logged some major minutes last year with the Stars and on a one or two year contract, he could be helpful, also as a mentor to young Victor Mete and Mike Reilly. He can play a sound defensive game and also be used in a shutdown role. He moves the puck very well out of the defensive zone and he has loads of hockey sense. He can also fill in with a more offensive role if or when required.

Thomas Hickey – New York Islanders

AGE: 29Image result for thomas hickey
HEIGHT: 6’0″
WEIGHT: 188 lbs
GP: 69
G: 5
A: 20
PTS: 25
TOI/G: 18:04
+/-: +20
STATUS: UFA

JUSTIFICATION: Hickey is very much underrated, but he is very much appreciated by his coaches and teammates. He’s great at moving the puck quickly up ice and fairly sound in his own end. He is also extremely mobile and does not make a lot of mistakes in his own end.

John Moore – New Jersey Devils

AGE: 27Image result for john moore
HEIGHT: 6’2″
WEIGHT: 210
GP: 81
G: 7
A: 11
PTS: 18
TOI/G: 20:01
+/-: +3
STATUS: UFA

JUSTIFICATION: Moore is one of my favourite candidates as a UFA for the position. He has a big frame and owns exceptional skating ability. He is a very steady defender and he shoots the puck with aplomb. His speed is useful all over the ice.

Calvin De Hann – New York Islanders

AGE: 27Image result for calvin de haan
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 198 lbs
GP: 33
G: 1
A: 11
PTS: 12
TOI/G: 18:04
+/-: +11
STATUS: UFA

JUSTIFICATION: De Haan was lost for the season in December, having shoulder surgery but he has since confirmed that he will be ready for the start of the 2018-19 season. When healthy, he is very reliable in his own end. He skates extremely well and owns good puck-moving skills. His type of low-maintenance game can register huge amounts of ice time.

TRADES

Jake Muzzin – Los Angeles

AGE: 29Image result for jake muzzin
HEIGHT: 6’3″
WEIGHT: 213 lbs
GP: 74
G: 8
A: 34
PTS: 42
TOI/G: 21:39
+/-: +10
STATUS: $4M until 2019-20

JUSTIFICATION: The Kings have the most money committed towards next year’s cap and with the way they were bounced out of the playoffs, they will be looking at making some change, possibly freeing up some salary cap in the process. Muzzin has good size and a great point shot. He moves the puck well out of danger and can log big minutes.

Alec Martinez – Los Angeles

AGE: 30Image result for alec martinez
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 208 lbs
GP: 77
G: 9
A: 16
PTS: 25
TOI/G: 22:52
+/-: +3
STATUS: $4M until 2020-21

JUSTIFICATION: As mentioned, the Kings may want and/or need to make moves. Martinec is a strong, swift and well-balanced skater with two-way ability. He also has solid puck-moving and passing skills. He usually keeps things simple and limits mistakes.

Oscar Klefbom – Edmonton Oilers

AGE: 24Image result for oscar klefbom
HEIGHT: 6’3″
WEIGHT: 215
GP: 66
G: 5
A: 16
PTS: 21
TOI/G: 22:51
+/-: -12
STATUS: $4.167 until 2022-23

JUSTIFICATION: Prior to the trade deadline back in March, Sportsnet’s Elliott Friedman was saying that the Oilers were showcasing Klefbom and speculations continue. The Oilers have several RFA’s to sign, including Ryan Strome and Darnell Nurse, and McDavid and Draisaitl’s contracts kick in this upcoming season. Klefbom owns great shutdown ability, excellent mobility and sound positioning. He can log huge minutes and is a factor on both special teams, but that didn’t keep pundits in Edmonton from pointing the finger at him for the team’s disappointing season.

Kris Russell – Edmonton Oilers

AGE: 31Image result for kris russell
HEIGHT: 5’10”
WEIGHT: 173 lbs
GP: 78
G: 4
A: 17
PTS: 21
TOI/G: 19:04
+/-: -7
STATUS: $4M until 2020-21

JUSTIFICATION: If not Klefbom, Russell is another possibility. Most known around the league as a tremendous shot-blocking defenseman – his best attribute – he plays with confidence with the puck. Russell also has enough offensive instincts to play on the power play and he does move the puck with aplomb. He definitely has great wheels and is able to skate out of trouble.

T.J. Brodie – Calgary Flames

AGE: 27Image result for tj brodie
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 182 lbs
GP: 73
G: 4
A: 28
PTS: 32
TOI/G: 23:41
+/-: -16
STATUS: $4.65M until 2019-20

JUSTIFICATION: The Flames keep popping in mind when I think of teams ready to make a big move, and with the Canadiens owning the 3rd overall pick, it makes me wonder what they could pitch to Marc Bergevin to bite for trading it to them, assuming that they want Brady Tkachuk, younger brother Matthew, who already is an impact player on their team. One of the players that would help the Habs is Brodie, a defenseman who moves the puck well and is an even better skater. His offensive ability seems untapped, as he can run the power play and jump up into the rush. He is definitely capable of logging huge amounts of ice time. Oh and no, I’m NOT suggesting the 3rd overall pick for Brodie, in case someone thinks that I’ve completely lost my mind.

As for the value for any of those defensemen in trades, it obviously varies depending on the target. While rumours are circulating that the Habs are in negotiation with Max Pacioretty, many still think that it is very likely that he will be traded at the deadline. Based on his production being higher than Duchene and what Colorado received, the return would have to be substantial. Alex Galchenyuk‘s name often returns into rumours as well, and we know that Bergevin is wanting to make some change. We shall see who he was pointing to when talking about “attitude” in the dressing room. Is it June 22nd yet? Go Habs Go!