Though the sting is still there due to the Montreal Canadiens being ousted of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs in the second round in six games by the Tampa Bay Lightning it is never the off season for hockey brass. Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin has to think about what he is going to do to improve his squad for next season (add scoring is what we are all yelling). We all would admit that the Habs are a decent team but still lacks a few things (a first or second pairing defenceman, a first and second line centreman and a scoring winger) to compete with the big boys like Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and even the Tampa Bay Lightning. We all know that his hands are somewhat tied as he has a salary cap to deal with and Alex Galchenyuk to resign in the offseason plus decisions to be made about what to do with players like Tomas Plekanec, PA Parenteau and Alexei Emelin. Though the pickings are admittedly rather slim, here is a list of ten free agents that Bergevin should consider signing.
10) Jay Beagle – Present team: Washington Capitals. Previous salary: $1 million. A big (6’3”, 215), rugged right winger who can pot some goals is what the Habs are looking for as they try to get bigger. Expect leadership from the 29 year old, good defensive play and from 10-12 goals per season.
9) Daniel Winnik – Present team: Pittsburg Penguins. Previous salary: $650,000. A good defensive centre that is in my opinion an upgrade on Torrey Mitchell or Manny Malholtra. He was a +23 in a season in which he played for Toronto and Pittsburg – two teams not known for their defense. A good skater who on the fourth line can contribute 10 goals or so.
8) Matt Belesky – Present team: Anaheim Ducks. Previous salary: $1.4 million. The 26 year old left winger had his coming out season with Anaheim scoring 22 goals and amassing 32 points. He continued to score in the playoffs with 5 goals in the first two rounds. Not a huge guy but a solid player.
7) Chris Stewart – Present team: Minnesota Wild. Previous salary: $2.1 million. This is a bit of a risk as he has had an up and down career. One year the right winger will score over 20 goals and be a physical presence then the next he only scores 15. His size (6’2”, 228) and goal scoring ability is tempting plus the fact that he is still young at 27 years old.
6) Justin Williams – Present team: Los Angeles Kings. Previous salary: $3 million. A leader and despite the fact that he is 33 years old he has consistently scored around 20 goals a season. The right winger is not big (6’1”, 189), but plays a gritty game with offensive upside.
5) Martin St. Louis – Present team: New York Rangers. Previous salary: $5 million. You might think I am crazy for thinking that the Habs should sign a 39 year old who is 5’8” but this is not your typical player of that age and size. St. Louis has consistently scored over 20 goals a season and despite his size is pretty durable. He keeps himself in top shape so there is no reason to think he will not continue at this pace for another couple of seasons. Could be the answer the Habs are looking for on the right wing on their top line. The only reason I did not rank him higher is I think that the Rangers are the only team he wants to play with so it is not likely that he will sign with anyone else.
4) Antoine Vermette – Present team: Chicago Black Hawks. Previous salary: $3.7 million. Un gars de chez nous. The fans here will love having an offensive minded francophone on the team. Might be a good fit as a second line center for Montreal. Not strong defensively so depends on system Michel Therrien imposes on the team.
3) Eric Fehr – Present team: Washington Capitals. Previous salary: $1.6 million. A big body (6’4”, 212) who has a scoring touch and plays the right wing – a position of weakness on Montreal. Will consistently score 15-20 goals and is 29 years old.
2) Carl Soderberg – Present team: Boston Bruins. Previous salary: $1 million. Another big body (6’3”, 216) who could play centre on the third or fourth line. 29 years old and could chip in 10-15 goals.
1) Jeff Petry – Present team: Montreal Canadiens. Previous salary: $3 million. Now you might think that a defenceman is a weird choice for number one, but the guy is a known quantity. He was great in the latter part of the season and the playoffs for the Habs. So good that I can’t imagine the Canadiens’ back end without him and believe he can play on the first pairing with PK Subban while the aging Andrei Markov is dropped down to the second pairing. He can skate, hit, shoot, and is great at the first pass out of his end. He is still fairly young (27) and the Canadiens will have to bite the bullet and pay what he wants. Here’s to hoping he enjoyed his time here enough to stay.