It’s safe to say that Marc Bergevin is not entusiastic about NHL unrestricted free agency. Since he became Canadiens general manager the best way to describe his participation has been “reluctant” and “cautious”.
Hard to blame him. Some of the dumbest NHL contracts imaginable have been signed on July first.
Friday will be Bergevin’s fifth kick at the UFA can since he took over the Canadiens in May of 2012. In his first year he signed Brandon Prust along with Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon. . In 2013 he signed Daniel Briere to an awful two-year eight million dollar contract which might have become his cautionary tale. 2014 Manny Malhotra and Tom Gilbert were signed on July first and in 2015 Mark Barberio and, later in July, Alexander Semin. Not one of those signings could be considered a game-changer although with the exception of Semin and Briere most gave the team return for money invested.
I’ve always assumed one of the reasons Bergevin has hesitated to hit a home run in the free agency sweepstakes is a lack of Canadiens organizational depth. We’re learning in the salary cap era that it is impossible to stock a team with free agent signings. Without team depth to back it up, an expensive signing may have PR value but can do little to turn a loser or into a Stanley Cup champion.
Only Bergevin’s inner circle knows where he considers his hockey club at this stage of the process. He has built up team depth through some trades both on the NHL and minor league level; the draft has produced and the signing of college free agents has added goaltenders Mike Condon and Charlie Lindgren, forward Daniel Carr and defensemen Joel Hanley and Ryan Johnston.
The farm system has depth but it is not ready to address the team’s well-documented goal scoring issues. The Canadiens are in dire need of a productive left and right top-six winger.
At the moment the Canadiens roster has 20 players under contract with 8.66 million dollar in cap space. After they sign RFA’s Carr and Phillip Danault for a total of around two million, they will still have over six million cap space. And there’s always the possibility of clearing more space through a trade. (Teams are allowed to go over the salary cap by 10% during the summer but must be compliant by the season opener)
The Canadiens front office is a leak-proof closed shop so one must treat with disbelief every heard or written rumour about Bergevin’s plans ahead of and after July first. .
That said, there are some useful players out there if Bergevin wants to jump in; although the list of top six forwards that might be useful to the Canadiens isn’t long.
Assuming that ‘Steven Stamkos is beyond any sensible budget, my favourite in terms of signability is Mikkel Boedker, the Danish left shot-right wing who played last year with Arizona and then Colorado. He hasn’t put up outstanding numbers since his speed made him the 8th overall pick in the 2008 draft but he’s a top six forward with decent size (6’0” 212lbs) who has back to back 50 point seasons while playing in the defense first system of Dave Tippett. Sound familiar?. Seems to me he would look very good on the wing with Tomas Plekanec, but that’s my unsolicited opinion.
Also on the expensive wish list might be right wings Kyle Okposo, Troy Brouwer, and left wings Andrew Ladd and Loui Eriksson. Jiri Hudler will be out there as well, but suspicians are his best days are behind him. (Sportsnet’s Eric Engels was reporting the Canadiens have talked to the injury plagued and risky David Perron. No indication how serious that might be. )
Will Bergevin make a move? Only he and his inner circle know. He is fully aware of the Canadiens needs and he also knows that overpaying for free agents is a mug’s game.
The Canadiens and Bergevin may think the trade market is a more sensible business option and history tells us it usually is.