Much has been written about the  future look of the Canadiens defense.    Canadiens forwards?   Not so much.

On defense they have  two players signed.  Five to lock up and some hard decisions on especially,  Markov, Hamrlik, Wisniewski, Gill and Weber.  Somehow they need to fit seven defensemen into a budget of about 21 million dollars.  Their goaltending will cost them around three million again next season.

Assuming the salary cap is around sixty million, that leaves thirty-six million or so for the forwards.  Already 26 million is committed to six players; Gomez, Cammalleri, Plekanec Gionta, Moen and Eller.

Assuming there is no solution to the Gomez contract albatross, in round figures, that leaves about ten million to sign seven free agent forwards.  Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Darche are unrestricted.  The six restricted are  Kostitsyn, Pouliot, Pacioretty, White, Desharnais and Pyatt.

As usual, we hear nothing from Pierre Gauthier, which leaves everything open to speculation, which is always fun.  So let’s look at his options.   Unless, down the road  Gauthier makes a trade, he needs to get six regulars and a spare forward under contract.

Unrestricted Free Agents –

LW-Mathieu Darche – (last season 500K) – One of those heart and soul guys.  Relies on hard work to overcome his skating deficiencies.  Scored twelve goals, 10 of them at even strength.  Versatile.  Replaceable if he tries for a million dollar deal, but deserves a small raise based on his contribution.  750 thousand?

C/RW-Jeff Halpern – (last season 600K)   Had good start to the season.  Tailed off when he was removed from major top six forward duty.  Wound up with 11 goals, 10-even strength.   By far the Canadiens best faceoff specialist at 56.9%.  Is having a faceoff specialist enough?    Useful at the current price.

Restricted Free Agents –

RW/LW-Andrei Kostitsyn – (last season 3.2 million)  Enigmatic.  Slump ridden.  Still, a guaranteed twenty goals.   Has some great skills when he cares to use them.  Has a terrific wrist shot.   His career pattern indicates he’s one of those players who cannot elevate his game during the playoffs.  Kostitsyn was an RFA in 2008 and the Canadiens, gambling on his upside, locked him up on a three year 3.2 million dollar annual contract.  As it has turned out, there was no upside.  Maybe 2.5 million next season.  Or perhaps a sign-and-trade situation.

LW-Max Pacioretty – (last season 910K) – He’ll be getting a big increase.  Played in 37 games and scored 14 goals.  That projects to a full season of thirty goals.  Half of Pacioretty’s goals came on the power play.  The epitome of the power forward.  The best skater on the team.  How will his game look upon his return from that devastating injury?  If Kostitsyn could ask for 3.25 million a year three years ago, Pacioretty’a agent  can make a good case for a similar deal.

C-David Desharnais – (550K last season).  Creative.  Very smart.  Belies his size.  Has the courage to play a big man’s game.  Big upside.   Still not established.  Scored eight goals and 22 points; four goals on power play.  He’s due for a modest raise at this stage of his development.  900 thousand?

LW-Benoit Pouliot – (1.35 million last year) Doesn’t have the heart to match the natural skills that made him the 2005 4th overall draft pick just ahead of Carey Price.  Minnesota gave up on him.  The Canadiens are next.  Takes the easy way out in his checking assignments and draws bad penalties.  Twelve of his thirteen goals were even-strength.  Is there another team that wants to take a shot?  Perhaps part of a trade package?

C/W –Tom Pyatt – (500K last season) – Absolutely no scoring ability.  Bad hands.  Next to Pacioretty, the best skater on the team.  Works hard.  Once had a 43-goal season in junior hockey, but that was long ago.  If he remains with the team, he is destined to be a spare part.  Destined for spot duty as the thirteenth forward.    Could be replaced from the Canadiens farm system.

RW – Ryan White – (850K last season) – Scored two goals in 27 games.  Not a great skater.  Makes up for it with hard work and grittiness.  Has value because of his toughness but ultimately, replaceable.

Everyone has an opinion on what should  happen and only Pierre Gauthier’s counts.

There are two “must-sign” players, Pacioretty (for realized talent) and Desharnais (for his potential).  Kostitsyn isn’t worth what he got in his last contract.  Pouliot will be dealt.  White, Pyatt, Halpern and Darche are spare-part players with specialized talents.

Factoring in the 26.12 million in current contracts for forwards and a projected total of 6.5 million for Pacioretty, Kostitsyn and Desharnais. assuming the salary cap is up to around sixty million and Gauthier sticks to 20 or 21 million for his defensemen, there would be around six million to divide among four openings.  Of course, Gauthier may decide to overspend a bit to load up on defense and he may decide to move Kostitsyn.  Lots of options.  And of course there’s always the chance that he likes having the likes of Halpern, Darche, White and Pyatt around.

Have a ball working out  the puzzle.