Habs Patiently Waiting to Pounce

We’re closing in on the end of the month of July and many Montreal Canadiens’ fans are getting fidgety about what they consider the lack of action surrounding their team. After all, not every hole in the line-up has been filled and some will make a strong argument that the team hasn’t improved from last year, or not enough to push them over the hump to make the playoffs… let alone become Stanley Cup contenders.

Heading into the off-season, the Canadiens had three big needs:

  • A top-4 left handed defenseman to play big minutes against the opposition’s top lines.
  • A scoring winger, preferably right handed, or a quality offensive centre.
  • A backup goalie worthy of being in the NHL.
Ben Chiarot

Team General Manager Marc Bergevin, so far, has signed two unrestricted free agents: Ben Chiarot and Keith Kinkaid. The jury is out if Chiarot is the solution as a top-4 defenseman but he is, without a doubt, an improvement over departing Jordie Benn. Kinkaid had a horrible season last year, with numbers comparable to what Antti Niemi put up with the Habs… although on a weaker team. If he can return to form, he should be good for 20-25 games this season if Carey Price stays healthy.

Salary Cap Crunch

With the news that the salary cap is not going up as high as teams expected, there are a few teams finding themselves in a tight spot, too tight for comfort. According to CapFriendly.com, there are currently three teams “in the red”, with no cap space at all:

  • Vegas Golden Knights
  • New York Rangers
  • Pittsburgh Penguins

Three other teams are within a million dollar to the salary cap ceiling:

  • Arizona Coyotes ($178,099)
  • Washington Capitals ($935,706)
  • Dallas Stars ($970,001)

Then you have the Florida Panthers, the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes, all within $2.5 million of the cap, followed by the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs – who have yet to sign RFA Mitch Marner – with less than $4 million available.

Where does Montreal sit? They are listed with just over $4 million of cap space but Cap Friendly has them with a 25 men roster. Most teams carry 22 or 23 players at any given time. Assuming that they can’t find takers for Karl Alzner ($4.625M) and Dale Weise ($2.35M) and they send them down to the AHL, the maximum they can save by doing so is $1.075 million each. So this would add $2.15 million to the existing $4 million cap space, meaning that Bergevin would have about $6 million to play with, and that’s not counting any salary going the other way if he completes a trade.

Waiting to pounce

Whether you want to admit it or not, Bergevin is a wise man and he knows what he’s doing. When he takes a risk, it is usually a low risk, as attested by the signings of Alexander Semin (who the Hurricanes are still paying by the way), Mark Streit and Ales Hemsky. Alexander Radulov was a bit more of a risk but very much a calculated one. He only signed him for one year so had he not panned out, he wasn’t tied long term with a troubled son.

There is no doubt that Bergevin isn’t done his shopping and that he’s waiting in the weeds for the right time to pounce. Like a feline, he is in hiding, patiently outwaiting his prey to come out and when it does, he will pounce into action. Like a predator, it is possible that he misses but as time goes on, teams will get more desperate to make their move. The waiting game is in Montreal’s favour, believe it or not.

Who, on the Golden Knights, Rangers and Penguins will be made available and at what price? What are the Coyotes (who aren’t usually near the top), Capitals and Stars willing to part with? With only 37 players under contract, how will the Hurricanes and Tom Dundon be willing to spend on their cap after the matched offer sheet to Sebastian Aho? How are the Maple Leafs going to squeeze Marner under their cap? Some will come knocking and that’s when Bergevin will try to make the most of it. As a hunter, the first two things you learn is patience and putting the odds on your side. The Canadiens have done that and they’re on the prowl. Be patient, Habs’ fans, and stay tuned. Go Habs Go!

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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!