4 offseason moves the Canadiens should make this summer

Feb 27 2020, 9:51 pm

Monday’s trade deadline came and went without any major surprises for the Montreal Canadiens.

Pending unrestricted free agents such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Nate Thompson were traded away, as was pending restricted free agent Nick Cousins. Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry stayed put.

Speaking to the media after the deadline, GM Marc Bergevin made it clear that he wants the team to compete next year, which is why wasn’t interested in trading guys like Tatar and Petry. This frustrated a number of Habs fans who’ve grown tired of mediocrity and aren’t satisfied with them just trying to compete. They want them to either make a serious effort to turn the team into a contender or embark on a full rebuild.

Though Bergevin may have been vague about his plans when speaking to the media, Pierre LeBrun wrote in The Athletic that he’s talked to a few of Bergevin’s colleagues who believe he will be “swinging for the fences” this summer.

What could that mean? Let’s take a look at a few things that should already be on Bergevin’s to-do list for the upcoming offseason.

1. Bring back Kovalchuk

It’s already a pretty poorly kept secret that Kovalchuk and the Habs have mutual interest in a reunion this summer.

Even at 36 years of age, Kovalchuk’s skill was a welcome addition to the Canadiens, and he quickly became a favourite both among the fans and in the dressing room. In fact, he earned so much respect in his short time in Montreal that Bergevin finalized a deal to send him to the Washington Capitals — the team he told Bergevin was his first choice if he was going to be traded — for a third-round pick on Sunday night rather than hold out until the 3 pm ET deadline on Monday to see if he could get a better offer.

Plans can change over the next few months. If Kovalchuk isn’t able to capture that elusive ring with the Capitals, maybe he’ll want to sign with a team that has a better chance at winning a Stanley Cup in the near future. But it would hardly be a surprise to see Kovalchuk back with the Habs next season.

2. Sign a star

Kovalchuk showed in Montreal that he’s still got something left in the tank, but he’s also not the elite offensive producer he once was and just bringing him back won’t make the Habs a contender.

The good news is that there’s some star power at the top of this year’s free agent class, headlined by wingers Taylor Hall and Mike Hoffman as well as defencemen Alex Pietrangelo and Torey Krug.

Bergevin tried to make a big splash last offseason when he signed Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet. If he is intent on “swinging for the fences” again this year, making a run at someone like Hall or Pietrangelo would certainly qualify.

3. Identify the core

The Canadiens have five key players set to be unrestricted free agents after next season: Tatar, Petry, Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault and Joel Armia.

All of them are probably going to be in for significant raises, with the possible exception of the 32-year-old Petry, who already makes $5.5 million per year. He’s not going to be cheap to sign either, though.

Max Domi is also set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, and while he hasn’t produced at the same level that he did in his impressive debut season in Montreal last year, he still should be in for a nice raise from his current $3.15 million average annual salary.

The salary cap is going to make keeping all of those players beyond next season difficult. Bringing back mostly the same group that hasn’t been getting the job done, and with everyone making more money, doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, either.

Bergevin needs to get an idea of what it’s going to take to get all of these guys signed, then decide who he’s going to keep around and who’s going to hit the trading block.

4. Get. A. Backup. Goalie.

Carey Price will start for the Habs against the New York Rangers on Thursday. It will be his 17th start in his last 18 games.

It seems that they’re refusing to give up on their playoff hopes until they’ve been mathematically eliminated, and clearly have no confidence in any of Charlie Lindgren, Cayden Primeau or Keith Kinkaid, who all have as many NHL wins this season as David Ayres does.

At the top of their list this this offseason should be former Canadien Jaroslav Halak, who’s set to hit free agency after having done a great job as the Boston Bruins’ backup for the last two seasons, allowing them to give Tuukka Rask lots of rest. Other free agent goaltenders this summer include Robin Lehner, Corey Crawford, Braden Holtby, Craig Anderson and Jimmy Howard.

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