In an earlier post, we compared the off-season roster challenges facing Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier to a chess match.  Three weeks later, Gauthier is in the chess “end game” and  has positioned the Canadiens beautifully heading into July first free agency..

Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier

There’s still work to do of course but Gauthier  has seventeen players under contract totaling just over 44.5-million dollars of 64.5 million total cap space.  That means 20 million still available to sign six players. 

Unrestricted Andrei Markov will take up around six million and restricted Josh Gorges probably will get something in the neighbourhood of Hal Gill money, about 2.25 million.  Yannick Weber has told the Swiss newspapers he’ll be signinga two year/one way contract later this week probably around 900-thousand.  That, barring some trade action, fills out the Canadiens defense.

UPDATE – The Team 990 reported Monday night that Markov has agreed to a two year 11.5 million dollar contract which seemed premature since Markov’s agent Don Meehan was not scheduled to meet with Gauthier until this weekend at the NHL draft in Minnesota.     Meehan has subsequently denied a deal will be completed before then.  The 11.5 million dollar figure sounds about right however.  It would equal Markov’s annual paycheck through the length of his previous four year contract. 

And it will  leave ten million dollars to settle the forward situation.  He still has four pending free agent forwards, Pouliot, White, Pyatt and Halpern.  We’re dealing with third and fourth line players here and whomever the Canadiens GM elects to sign won’t be taking a large slice of the remaining pie. 

And in the end, Gauthier will be in excellent position to enter bidding for a  four or five million dollar veteran forward preferably one that will accept a one-year contract to help out an offense that struggled last season.

So who’s out there?

Among the veterans – Mike Richards.  Unaffordable.  Jason Arnott.  6’5” 225 pound forward.  The suspicion is, Gauthier tried to land him from New Jersey at the trade deadline and was outbid by Washington.  Erik Cole scored 26 goals and 52 points with Carolina.  He brings size and appears over all of those injury problems.  Simon Gagne scored 17 goals with Tampa but how can you be minus-12 on a Guy Boucher coached team?

Among the younger unrestricted free agents, the most upside  is held by Philadelphia’s 27 year old Ville Leino.  He scored 19 goals and 53 points and was a plus-14 player.  His skating may not be up to Canadiens standards.  Jacques Martin would love the energetic Pascal Dupuis, who plays both ends of the ice.  17 goals and 37 points and plus 16 with Pittsburgh.  Radim Vrbata from Phoenix has great hands and  is a consistent 20 goal guy and a plus-player throughout his career.  Fans would love his shootout scoring.

Forwards Currently Under Contract (ten of projected total of thirteen)

Cammalleri           Plekanec         Kostitsyn

Pacioretty             Gomez            Gionta

Darche                   Eller

Moen                     Desharnais

Signed Defensemen (4 of projected 7)

                       Subban    Gill

                       Yemelin   Spacek

Goaltender (1 of two)      Price

Unsigned Free Agent Forwards – Halpern (UFA);  Pouliot (RFA);  White (RFA); Pyatt (RFA)

Unsigned Defense – Markov, Hamrlik, Wisniewski, Sopel, Mara (All UFA).  Gorges (RFA), Weber (RFA), Picard (RFA).

Unsigned Goal – Auld (UFA)

The Canadiens have some minor league problems to iron out as well.  Restricted free agents Nigel Dawes, Dustin Boyd and Kyle Klubertanz have headed for Europe.  Brock Trotter is returning although the Canadiens haven’t announced re-signing him.  Mathieu Carle, Ryan Russell and Frederic St. Denis are restricted free agents and J.T. Wyman plus goaltenders Curtis Sanford and Drew MacIntyre are unrestricted.  Signing one of the two veteran goaltenders is a priority.