5 free agents the Montreal Canadiens could sign this offseason

Apr 16 2018, 4:10 pm

With the Montreal Canadiens 2017-18 campaign thankfully in the books, the Canadiens’ front office can start focusing on next season when free agency begins on July 1.

It’s no secret what the Canadiens need: they are glaringly weak down the middle, have static defencemen, and need stability among their forwards. Having finished fourth from the bottom, their roster cannot stay status quo.

General manager Marc Bergevin needs to improve on last year’s offseason when he attempted to patch the departures of fan favourites Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov with Ales Hemsky and Mark Streit. Neither replacement made any sort of impact on the 2017-18 Canadiens, as they both went pointless and appeared in only nine games combined.

First and foremost, the Habs need a centre. Canadiens fans have been longing for a true first line centreman since the turn of the century – to no avail.

On the blueline, Bergevin’s 2017 signing of Karl Alzner is already scary –he’s slow and stagnant and shouldn’t be used higher than the third unit defensive pairing. They need a puck-moving defenceman (Like a P.K. Subban perhaps?).

The front office also needs to add balance up front. They need to add size and grit to their remaining forwards who are all too similar. Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw, Charles Hudon, Daniel Carr, Artturi Lehkonen, and Paul Byron all play the same type of game.

One thing the Canadiens do have is cap space. And plenty of it. With holes to fill, money to spend and Bergevin’s job security on the line, it should be an exciting free agency for Les Habitants.

Here are five free agents the Canadiens should target this summer.

1. John Tavares

Position: Centre
Shoots: Left
Age (as of July 1st, 2018): 27
Size: 6’1”/208 lbs

No team needs John Tavares more than the Canadiens. Sure, he’d be expensive but he would be an immediate fix to the Canadiens’ quarter-century-long problem of not having a top centre.

Tavares would add size and goal scoring expertise up the middle and his leadership would be invaluable. He’d pave the way for Jonathan Drouin to move back to his natural position on the wing and would help the Canadiens form a lethal power play unit alongside Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Drouin, Shea Weber, and Alex Galchenyuk.

The Canadiens certainly have an appealing factor to landing Tavares. A Canadian boy signing a long-term deal with an Original Six team? Where the coverage and pressure is extensive but the ultimate pay-off is unlimited? Very enticing.

TSN’s Gord Miller is into it, saying this last month:

I think Montreal is the leading contender… If you’re going to leave, you’re going to want to go to a team that gives you a chance to be better… Who’s got the best chance to be better right away? If Carey Price is healthy, if Shea Weber is healthy, and he (Tavares) is their number one centre, they’ve got a good chance to be better.

 2. Riley Nash

Position: Centre
Shoots: Right
Age (as of July 1st, 2018): 29
Size: 6’1”/190 lbs

Riley Nash is a middle-man who plays a well rounded game. His two-way ability and defensive responsibility would be cherished by the Canadiens’ front office and he’s great in the faceoff circle. He doesn’t shy away from traffic and has good vision in seeing plays unfold.

He could essentially replace the departed Tomas Plekanec.

Nash is coming off a career high in goals and assists and saw top line minutes with the Bruins after the injury to Patrice Bergeron at season’s end. Having played in Boston since 2016, the former 21st overall pick would be no stranger to playing on one of hockey’s biggest stages.

3. Calvin de Haan

Position: Defence
Shoots: Left
Age (as of July 1st, 2018): 27
Size: 6’1”/198 lbs

Calvin de Haan was drafted 12th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2009 NHL draft. He hasn’t posted thrilling numbers like he did when he was playing in the juniors, but his potential is there. Assuming he stays healthy.

His greatest attribute is his quick feet and outstanding skating ability. He makes an excellent first pass and can move the puck effortlessly with fluid strides. His speed allows him to take the puck in deep but cover up quickly if he makes a mistake.

He’d be a cheaper, valuable and youthful alternative to the Canadiens’ static defensive signings of last offseason.

Calvin de Haan should be the second ex-Islander the Canadiens have their radar on this offseason.

4. Paul Stastny

Position: Centre
Shoots: Left
Age (as of July 1st, 2018): 32
Size: 6’1”/193 lbs

It would be fun for Paul Stastny and Canadiens fans to watch Paul follow in his father’s footsteps. Paul’s father, Peter Stastny was a legend in Quebec, posting 1,048 points in 737 games for the Quebec Nordiques from 1980-1990.

Paul Stastny has plenty of NHL experience and equal upside; he has consistently put up at least 40 points in 10 of his 12 seasons during his career.

Stastny has tremendous playmaking skills and has excellent vision, he’s good in traffic and plays bigger than his 6-foot frame might indicate. His maturity and leadership is valuable both in the locker-room and on the ice.

Since this is quite possibly his last swim in the free agent pool, the Canadiens could be wise by signing the Quebec native to a cheaper 3-year deal than he’s currently riding.

5. John Carlson

Position: Defence
Shoots: Right
Age (as of July 1st, 2018): 28
Size: 6’3”/218 lbs

The Habs could pursue their franchise’s mantra of ‘defence-first’ by pursuing John Carlson in the offseason and form a cement wall of John Carlson and Shea Weber in front of Carey Price.

The Canadiens already have his long-time defensive partner, Karl Alzner, who didn’t look like himself without Carlson. A reunion would not only make Alzner better – but everyone else around him as well.

Carlson posted career highs in points this year and led all NHL blueliners in that category.

The Canadiens need help scoring but always value defence, Carlson could durably supply both. He gobbles up ice time and can play in any and every situation.

With Weber and Jeff Petry already locked up long-term, the Canadiens would have to explore other options to take on Carlson. But, considering he would solve so many issues alone, the Canadiens could at least consider it.

I don’t think too many teams would feel good about their chances looking down at a trio of Weber, Carlson and Price.

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