Written by Habster
The 2007 off season for the Montreal Canadiens will be one of the most intriguing and complicated in their long storied history. Bob Gainey, Pierre Gauthier and Juilen Brisebois have some very difficult decisions to make regarding UFA, RFA and signing their own prospects (the latter being the least difficult). The current roster requires some adjustments to deal with the lack of a second line center, a second pairing defensemen (a solid shut down guy) and another big two way winger. Here is a look at the possible scenarios that management might follow.
Habs UFA and RFA:
UFA: Radek Bonk, Mike Johnson, Aaron Downey, Janne Niinima, Sheldon Souray, Andrei Markov, David Aebischer.
RFA: Michael Ryder, Christopher Higgins, Tomas Plekanec, Mike Komisarek.
Montreal’s front office will definitely focus their attention on signing Andrei Markov and to a lesser degree on Sheldon Souray. They can not risk losing both defensemen so they’ll concentrate on making a long term deal with Markov first then make an offer to Souray. Sheldon Souray had a great offensive year (G-26 A-38 PT-68) but his +/- rating (-28) was a team low which will cause some teams to be reluctant to offer a $5 or $6 million per year contract. Markov is a true two way defenseman who can excel at every aspect of the game. A team will sign Souray for his offensive abilities on the power play and the lack of quality UFA defensemen this year but I don’t believe the Canadiens want to spend 10-12 million on two defensemen when there are other concerns to address on the roster. The Habs also have a prospect like Ryan O’Bryne knocking on the NHL door.
Radek Bonk and Mike Johnson will probably be offered contracts by the Habs but they shouldn’t expect raises. Both Bonk and Johnson had solid seasons as 3rd line players defending against the other teams top lines but at $2.4 and $1.9 million respectively, they’re overpriced and easier to replace with the likes of Maxim Lapierre and/or Kyle Chipchura (younger and cheaper versions). You would think that both will be playing elsewhere next year but time will tell.
The remaining UFA’s will most likely be allowed to render their services with other teams.
The RFAs; Mike Komisarek, Chris Higgins, Michael Ryder and Tomas Plekanec will obviously be resigned and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr.Gainey signs them to longer term deals(maybe excluding Ryder) while their value is lower and easier to manage within the salary cap world of the NHL.
POTENTIAL UFA SIGNINGS
The pickings are slim as far as quality UFA defensemen are concerned but here are some of the potential players of interest:
- Kent Huskins (Anaheim) has impressed me with his playoff performance to date and would be affordable. Problem is that he is affordable for the Ducks as well.
- Andy Sutton and Vitaly Vishnevski (Atlanta) are also solid but unspectacular players.
- Brad Stuart (Calgary) is an all round defenseman
- Roman Hamrlik (Calgary) would be a decent replacement for Souray powerplay time if he isn’t signed by the Habs.
- Mathieu Schneider and Danny Markov (Detroit) are still playing well and would probably be interested due to Montreal connections (ex hab and brother to Andrei).
- Aaron Miller (LA) is a “shut down” type of defenseman who would be a nice addition on the third pairing.
Other notable players: Brent Sopel, Kimmo Timonen, Tom Preissing, Scott Hannan.
- Daniel Briere is a very gifted player and would be a nice addition but would his creativity be limited by Coach Charbonneau’s defensive system.
- Chris Drury would be a great fit in Charbonneau’s system as he can play a two way game.
- Teemu Selanne would a nice addition to Saku Koivu’s line as they have played well together at international tournaments. The Ducks will probably re-sign him though.
- Jozef Stumpel is a big center with play making abilities who would help Alex Kovalev.
- Scott Gomez would be a great center for his speed, play making abilities and understanding a defensive system that New Jersey plays.
Other players: Bryan Smolinski, Ryan Smith, Petr Sykora, Derek Armstrong, Todd White, Paul Kariya, Scott Hartnell, Jason Blake, Brendan Shanahan, Bill Guerin and Dainius Zubrus.
Complete UFA list: http://proicehockey.about.com/od/nhlfreeagents/a/07nhlfreeagents.htm
The other option available to management would be to acquire a player(s) via trades. This would be the more likely route as the Canadiens have enough combination of prospects and draft picks to use with a player or two from the roster. In the end, the ability to make changes via trades and/or free agent signings is there for Bob Gainey to improve the on ice product. The Canadiens have the available salary cap but must spend it wisely. Here’s hoping Bob Gainey can play the game off the ice as well as he did on the ice,…….in Bob we trust!!!!!