The Canadiens have looked after the future of the hockey club in the long term at the Entry draft. On Sunday they will begin to address the team’s short term problems. Injuries made the team a lot worse than it looked last season but there are some things that have to be done through free agency or trade to address gaping holes in the team’s structure, mostly up front.
Marc Bergevin tells us that he’s in the process of closing a deal with Travis Moen, which will solve the fourth line left wing spot. Max Pacioretty is the first liner. The problems on the left side of the second and third lines are there for all to see. Blake Geoffrion, who is still officially a rookie, the only natural left winger close to NHL calibre. At this point in Geoffrion’s development there are skating and goalscoring issues to overcome which should mean more time in Hamilton. Worse comes to worst there is an aggressiveness to his game that might tempt his coaches to include him on a third line with Lars Eller.
That still leaves the major second line issue and believe me, it’s a serious one. 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. 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, here is an edited list of candidates –
Zach Parise – New Jersey – LW/C 27 yrs. old 5’11” 196lbs 6 million last year – 31g 38 assists. Anyone who paid 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. Was important in the Devils 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 last season. Had a good playoff. Career winding down. Off what we saw 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.
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. Was important part of LA’s Stanley Cup run.
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. We’re told the Oilers seem him as a third line player at best.
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 – Florida–6’0” 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.
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 willing to repeat the position-shuffling of last season, here are some of the other forwards of interest.
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.
Jaromir Jagr Philadelphia -RW – 40 yrs. Old – 6’3” 240lbs. 73GP 19 goals 35 assists. 3.3 million last year. Proved he still has some game at the age of 40. With Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux was part of one of the NHL’s best lines. Seems willing to sign one year contracts. Pierre Gauthier passed on him last year. Hindsight tells us he made a mistake.
Olli Jokinen – Calgary – C – 33 years 3 million 6’2” 210lbs. 23-38 61pts. Goalscoring centre. An option while they wait for Galchenyuk to develop.
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.