The Canadiens’ problems on left wing are there for all to see.  Outside of  Max Pacioretty the cupboard is almost bare, with only Blake Geoffrion, who is still officially a rookie, as the only natural left winger close to NHL calibre.

At this point in Geoffrion’s development, considering his skating and goalscoring deficiencies but also noting the aggressive nature of his game, the only logical fit would be on a  third line with Lars Eller.  The fourth line void could probably be filled by re-signing either Travis Moen or Mathieu Darche (Darche would probably come about a million dollars cheaper).

That still leaves the major second line issue.  Last season, eight different players, most of them converted from the right side, auditioned as Tomas Plekanec’s  left wing with universally unsatisfactory results.

Unless Marc Bergevin can engineer a trade, the free agent market is the only hope and, outside of the Devils Zack Parise  the available group is a flawed one. Among the eleven left wings on our list, all but Ray Whitney and David Jones are lefthand shots.   Ideally, the Canadiens will be looking for size as well as ability but sometimes you can’t get what you want.   In no particular order –

9-Zack Parise - 2012 Unrestricted Free Agent

Zack Parise  –   New Jersey – LW/C  27 yrs. old    5’11”  196lbs   6 million last year –    31g   38 assists.   Anyone paying attention to the Devils playoff run knows how valuable he can be.  He’ll get a long term deal with a cap hit not less than 7.5 million.   Considering the Devils financial problems, including the Kovalchuk contract,  he probably won’t re-sign with them.  The Canadiens have the cap room but the competition will be fierce.  Played on a line with Brian Gionta and Gomez for a while in 2006-2007.

Alexei Ponikarovsky – New Jersey –  LW/RW   6’4”.    Shoots left.   1.5 million last season with Carolina and New Jersey  –   14 goals -19 assists  33pts. last season with  Car/NJ.   Reputation for being inconsistent scorer but uses his size well and is responsible without the puck.    Has been important in the Devils current playoff run.  Might be a perfect fit as big third line left winger.   Earned 3.2 million two seasons ago.

Ray Whitney – Phoenix – LW – 40 year old.   Earned 3 million last season.   Smallish at 5’10”.   Consistent scorer.   24 goals  53 points with last season.  Having a good playoff.   Career winding down.  Off what we’ve been seeing in this year’s playoffs Whitney still seems to have something left in the tank.  Former Erik Cole linemate in Carolina.   Maybe a one year deal somewhere.  If the Canadiens somehow wind up with LW Filip Forsberg in the draft, Whitney might be a good bridge at the right price until Forsberg is NHL-ready.

Dustin Penner – LA Kings – 6’4” 242lbs.  4.25 million last season.  Why can a guy this big and strong not be a major force?  Has all the tools.  Coming off that five year RFA offer sheet Edmonton offered him, which led to the war of words between then Anaheim GM Brian Burke and Oiler GM Kevin Lowe.  Needs a baby sitter to oversee his conditioning habits.  7 goals 10 assists in 65 games with LA this season.  Has three 20 goal seasons and a 32 goal season on his resume.  Having a good playoff run with the Kings.

Andrew Brunette – Chicago 6’1”  215lbs.  12 goals 15 assists 78 games.  38 years old.  Below average skater but will go into the dirty areas looking for loose pucks.  Very consistant.  Hard worker.  Has been a consistant 20 goal scorer.  Was last year an anomaly or a sign of age?  Bergevin may take a second look because of the Chicago connection.

Ryan Smyth   – Edmonton – 35 year old.  LW   6’1”  192lbs.  4.5 million last year (cap hit 6.25M).   Career winding down.  Has paid the physical  price in a career that’s lasted over 1000 games.   Likes to go to the net.  19 and 23 goals last two seasons…around 45 points.

Jason Blake – Anaheim – 38 years old.  5’10” 190lbs.  7 goal 5 assists in 45 games.   4 million last season.  At end of his career.

Marco Sturm – Florida6’0” 195lbs.  2.25 million last season.  3 goals 5 assists in 48 games.  Once was a key part of the Joe Thornton trade.  Health issues limit his value.  May wind up in German Elite League next season. 

Kristian Huselius – Columbus – LW/RW –  6’2”   190 lbs.   injury prone.  Groin injury limited him to only two games last season and groin/hip issues and a high ankle sprain limited him to 39 the season before.  Prior to that, five straight 20 goal seasons.  Doen’t enjoy the physical part of the game.   Soft defensively.  Won’t repeat last year’s 4.75 million dollar contract.

Jochen Hecht  –  Buffalo – C/LW   6’1″  213lbs.    3 million last year.        4-4 = 8 points in 22 games.  Concussion last year.   Has one career 20 goal season.   Risky because of that concussion and other serial injury issues.

David Jones – Colorado –   LW/RW – 6’2”   210lbs.  Right shot so the left side is his off-wing.    2.5million last season.   20 and 27 goals last two seasons.  Mostly on right wing with Avalanche this past season.  Not very aggressive for his size.  Slow first step but a powerful skater once he gets moving.

If you’re seeking a deeper look, there’s a pretty good list of the available free agent left wings here.

If the Canadiens are interested gong through the position-shuffling they suffered through last season, here are some of the other forwards of interest off the current free agent list.     

Alexander Semin   Washington – RW  –  28 years old   RW  6.7 million last season –  6’2”  210lbs   21 g   54 pts.  Great shot       Bad reputation.  Moody.  Never seemed emotionally comfortable in North American culture.   In and out of coaching doghouse.  May not reach his current salary.  Some think he’ll be in the KHL next season.

Shane Doan   Phoenix – RW   Team captain.  At 35 – long in the tooth.   4.5million    22-28   50 pts.   Minus 8     6’1”   220lbs.  Career spent with Winnipeg/Phoenix.  Highly respected team leader.   The Coyotes are likely to re-sign him.

Jarrett Stoll –   Los Angeles – C/RW     6’1”   213lbs.   29 year old.   3.4million    Bad season 6-15   21pts.   Two years ago…20 goals.  Big shot.  Great faceoff  percentage.  Seems to be a third or fourth line player with career history of around 15 to 18 goals seasons.

Olli Jokinen –  Calgary – C –  33 years   3 million    6’2”  210lbs.  23-38   61pts.  Goalscoring centre.  Canadiens don’t need a front line centre.

P.A. Parenteau – Islanders  –  RW  6’0”  193 pounds    1.25 million   18-49   67pts.  29 years old – late developer.  Says he wants to play in Montreal.   French Canadien from Hull  with some talent.  Statistics may have been bolstered by linemates Matt Moulson and John Tavares.   Reports are he’s looking for four million dollars.  His agent Allen Walsh denies that.  Suffered high ankle sprain near end of season.

For the Record – Beside Blake Geoffrion the Canadiens have six natural leftwingers under contract.  The most advanced of those is Dany Masse.  The list includes Hunter Bishop, Philippe Lefebvre, Andrew Conboy, Olivier Archambault, Dustin Walsh and Robert Slaney, all of whom require considerable development time.