Chris Lee, Defence, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
October. 3, 1980 | MacTier, Ontario, Canada
6-0, 185 lbs. | Shoots Left |
2016-’17 Stats: 60 GP, 14 G, 51 A, 65 Pts
There is a report from the Journal de Montreal that the Canadiens have offered free agent defenceman Mark Streit a one-year, $1.5 million contract to add another puck-moving, point-producing player to the blueline. It’s also conceivably leverage to persuade Andrei Markov to sign an extension as soon as possible.
If a deal were to be signed, it wouldn’t be the first time Streit has worn a Canadiens jersey, as he started his NHL career in Montreal. The Canadiens selected Streit in the ninth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, 262nd overall. Streit spent three seasons with the Habs before moving on to the New York Islanders.
Streit could be utilized on the power-play on the second unit, spending as much time out of his zone as possible, playing on a 5/6 pairing, but he definitely is not a replacement for Andrei Markov to the Habs top 4, if that’s what Marc Bergevin is thinking. If so, Bergevin should reconsider this assessment and look elsewhere in my opinion.
If the Habs GM is looking to just add another defenceman, there are options other than Streit on the unrestricted free agent (UFA) market that could be added to the left side including François Beauchemin, Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya. If handedness is not a necessity, right handed shooting UFA’s include Roman Polak, Simon Despres, Dennis Wideman and Cody Franson. Bergevin could also look at signing an international free agent such as KHL defender, Canadian Chris Lee.
Chris Lee has been one of the most offensively dynamic defencemen in the KHL over the past four seasons, scoring 44 goals and 179 points in 227 games. This past season, Lee scored 14 goals, adding 51 assists for 65 points, finishing first in points among defencemen, and sixth overall in the league.
His 65 points were 27 points more than the next highest scoring defenceman, Matt Gilroy who had 38 points, and 31 more points than Habs free agent signing Jakub Jerabek, who finished fifth. His 65 points set a KHL record for points by a defenseman, clearly Lee can put up points, even at 36 years old.
If his name sounds recognizable, it certainly should, particularly amongst Canadian hockey fans, as Chris Lee was the only non-NHL player to suit up for Team Canada at the latest World Hockey Championships. In seven games with Team Canada, he picked up two assists, and a silver medal.
Canadian World Championship assistant GM (and Montreal Canadians scout) Sean Burke had the following to say about Lee.
“Chris has found his game later. He never had an NHL career. He came over to Europe and came into his own. He’s smart and he can handle the puck. On the big ice, when you’ve got those skills and you’ve got the head for the game, it’s a nice combination. He’s a great skater. He’s a real power-play specialist. I don’t say that in a negative way because sometimes that can conjure up an image of a guy who can’t play in his own end.”
Jon Cooper, coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and coach of Team Canada also had encouraging words regarding Lee.
“Lee fit. You wouldn’t have thought he wasn’t an NHL player.”
Undrafted, and at 6 foot, 185 pounds, Lee is nowhere close to being a behemoth by any standard, he won’t destroy oncoming players with open ice hits, but he would without a doubt bring the puck skills required to succeed at the NHL level, specifically to a team like the Canadiens who could use a little more punch when it comes to scoring overall, not just from the blueline. Winning could come that much easier to the Canadiens, especially when you have the best goaltender in the world giving you a chance each and every game.
The biggest question surrounding Chris Lee is whether a team, such as the Montreal Canadiens would be willing to give up a roster spot to a player who is already 36 years old, with zero NHL experience. With the numbers he’s produced overseas however, he could be a low-risk, low-cost, high reward player for a team lacking scoring. He would also more than likely come cheaper than any UFA defenceman available, including Mark Streit.
A professional try-out could be a great option to see what Chris Lee could bring to the Canadiens blueline, and in my opinion, it is one that Marc Bergevin should inquire about in the near future, if he doesn’t outright offer the KHL all-star and two time Gagarin Cup champion a one-year contract before training camp begins.