Ah the free agents’ market and the Montreal Canadiens. It’s not as bad as it is in Toronto where fans feel like every free agent wants to play for the Leafs, but it’s not far behind. Yet, Montreal has been the bridesmaid of free agency, or so it seems. In recent years, Milan Lucic, Paul Stastny and more recently Matt Duchene have all come out to say that the Canadiens were their second choice… after the teams they signed for. With his team’s performance during these COVID Cup playoffs, Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin is hoping to get over the hump and manage to convince a top UFA to give Montreal a try. Eliminating the fifth place Pittsburgh Penguins and totally outplaying the Philadelphia Flyers in spite of their series’ loss might prove Montreal to be on the upswing.
The Canadiens are said to have a good mix of great veterans, which include Carey Price, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher, and one of the best prospect pools in the NHL. Nick Suzuki has already proven being a top-2 lines centre and Jesperi Kotkaniemi had excellent COVID Cup playoffs after a so-so sophomore season. Alexander Romanov is joining the team this season and others are coming up within the next couple of years.
As we’ve explored in a recent article, the UFA crop is relatively slim picking for the Habs’ needs but one name just won’t go away: Taylor Hall. That being said, this season is a special circumstance season. The salary cap not going up will eliminate some competition in the Hall derby. If Alex Pietrangelo hits free agency, some teams will prefer re-enforcing their defense instead of their forward group, possibly taking one more team out of the race. The Habs can offer Hall some guarantee on the top-6 with quality players, more so than what he’s seen in New Jersey and Arizona.
Yes, the Canadiens could always go the trade route in order to address their biggest needs but doing so would cost the teams some assets. The bigger the name, the more assets, quality ones, it would cost. So going the UFA way is possibly the best way to fasttrack your team’s productivity. As Bergevin always said though, you don’t build your team in July (meaning through free agency), or in October this COVID year. It is however a good way to add an impact player or two to your existing core.
I know, I know, I’m dreaming here. But dreams are one of the few things that are free in this world so allow me to do so. Let’s say the Canadiens manage to convince Hall to sign with them. So far so good? Then, use their best trade asset, Max Domi, along with a Cole Caufield and a first round pick (or something like that, play with me here), to get Patrik Laine. Can you imagine this?
For cap purpose, you may have to sacrifice Tomas Tatar in a trade and he could fetch some good return. Then add some muscle on the 4th line with a Kyle Clifford type of player.
Hall – Suzuki – Gallagher
Drouin – Kotkaniemi – Laine
Lehkonen- Danault – Armia
Clifford – Evans (Poehling) – Byron
Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Romanov – Fleury (Mete/Juulsen/Kulak)
Price – Allen
I think you’re looking at a Cup contender right there. Considering that Joel Edmundson, Jake Allen and Romanov are already done deals, all that’s left is Hall as a UFA and Laine in a trade. Now Bergevin wouldn’t dare sign Laine to an offer-sheet, or would he? Then Clifford or a similar player through UFA or trade and voilà. Isn’t it fun to dream? Now back to our regular programming… Go Habs Go!
A few hours after publishing this article, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun went on record saying that Bergevin and the Canadiens don’t intend to get in on the Laine sweepstakes.