San Jose Shark Raffi Torres.
With the free-agency period rapidly approaching, there are a few holes in the Montreal Canadiens' lineup to be filled with one ultimate goal in mind: make the Habs become bigger, faster and stronger, as per general manager Marc Bergevin’s master plan. Oh, and add in a little character as well, just for good measure.
Clearly, despite Bergevin's extremely successful first season, that master plan has a few slight holes.
With every other team trying to build a similar hypothetical masterpiece at the same time, it’s easier said than done. Essentially, building the team of Bergevin’s dreams is in a way like each of us saying the only thing we need is to win the lottery. Sure, it would be nice, but don’t go house shopping in Monaco just yet.
With that thought process in mind, there are a few top priorities that should be on Bergevin’s wish list for the upcoming free-agency period. For example, winger Michael Ryder won’t be back, according to his agent, and defenseman Alexei Emelin will likely be out for the first two months of next season following knee surgery.
As such, the Habs should be in the market for a top-six forward and top-four defenseman who are fast, big and strong or some combination of the three. Here are the top five that fill at least some of those stringent criteria:
Mark Fistric, formerly of the Dallas Stars.
Current Edmonton Oiler Mark Fistric may not be the most fleet-of-foot defenseman out there, but what he lacks in foot speed, he makes up for in ass-kicking ability.
One of the hardest-hitting defensemen in the game, he is definitely not a complete defenseman, a fact which might make the Habs wary of reaching out to the 27-year-old.
For instance, the Oilers are reportedly letting him walk, according to the Hockey Writers, which is just a small red flag. Well, it would be a red flag if it was any other team. If the Oilers, who let in 134 goals this year, don’t want an able-bodied defenseman, it’s more a flashing red “stay away” sign complemented by a deafening siren. Or just a goal light after the team was scored upon with him on the ice.
Truth be told, though, according to the Edmonton Journal, the Oilers apparently did want to keep him, but the two sides were too far apart in terms of financial compensation.
Fistric may be a one-dimensional player (all due respect to him, but his face at times looks like it may be missing one or two dimensions itself). However, the sad reality of the situation is the Habs need someone to offset the loss of Emelin’s physicality.
The whole going-about-it-by-committee approach sure didn’t work out all that well this past April when the team went 5-10 down the stretch (including the playoffs) following his injury.
Whereas Emelin accumulated 110 hits in 38 games, Fistric had 88 in just 25 and on the cheap too ($1.475 million salary; Emelin’s is $2 million). At 6’2”, 230 pounds, he’s also quite the intimidating physical specimen (but again, that might be due to the uncanny resemblance to Frankenstein’s Monster).
In terms of alternatives currently on the roster, Davis Drewiske likely won’t be back, Tomas Kaberle will likely be bought out, Yannick Weber hasn’t exactly instilled head coach Michel Therrien with much confidence, and it’s unrealistic to think the Habs would ice both Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi regularly next season if at all.
With a projected top five consisting of P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Raphael Diaz and Francis Bouillon, Fistric should fit in nicely or at least he will for the few months Emelin will be out.
Salaries from capgeek.com.
To all those who believe Montreal could use another Brandon Prust, unfortunately the cloning process has yet to be perfected (and the whole name-on-jersey thing would just create needless headaches for the team’s equipment managers, anyway).
Raffi Torres, though, the closest thing in this year’s free-agent crop, will likely (and thankfully) be available come early July.
Now, one can certainly argue the Habs don’t need a redheaded problem child who claims he’s reformed yet insists on getting suspended every spring. However, if the Habs are serious about gaining grit, there are few players available who play a better rough-and-tumble style of hockey and fewer still that do it as cost effectively.
Having consistently scored around 30 points a season, Torres arguably brings more scoring skill to the table than Prust, who won the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy as the year’s biggest unsung hero. Torres also earned $1.75 million last year compared to Prust’s $2.5 million salary.
That isn’t to say the Habs should get rid of Prust if they were able to sign Torres, though. Keeping both would definitely translate into a meaner lineup overall.
Putting both on the same line, though? Serious problems for the opposition (and announcers trying to tell them apart).
Salaries from capgeek.com.
New Jersey Devil David Clarkson hits Pittsburgh Penguin Evgeni Malkin.
There are few things that are certain in this world, but you can add New Jersey Devil David Clarkson getting a raise to the list as he combines modest size, skill and grit into one convenient package that will have all 30 teams salivating at the mouth this summer.
The 29-year-old, who made just $3 million this past season, managed 10 goals in the season’s first 14 games, placing him among the league leaders. Of course, he went ice cold after that, ending with just 15 and 24 points total.
Nevertheless, he still kept on pace for around 30 (over 82 games) for the second straight year, meaning his early season tear was more a sign of his abilities than it was a fluke.
No, he won’t ever get 50, but all the same, he can theoretically lead a given team in scoring. He at least would have co-led the Habs in that category, with both Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher notching 15 too.
However, there are certain drawbacks to going after Clarkson. Firstly, as previously mentioned, 29 other teams will be seriously vying for his services as well, which will most certainly drive up his salary. Secondly, while Clarkson did drop the gloves six times this season, he isn’t all that physically imposing at 6’1” and 200 pounds.
On purely a physical level, Clarkson wouldn’t give Montreal anything Brandon Prust already does (for cheaper), and one has to question how wise it would be to invest a lot of salary-cap space in a goal scorer who puts himself in a position to get concussed relatively often.
Getting a big physical, scoring forward is certainly at the top of every team’s wish list, but why not go bigger if you can?
Salaries from capgeek.com.
New York Ranger Ryane Clowe.
It will be up to NHL teams this summer to decide whether Ryane Clowe’s lackluster three-goal performance this past season is representative of his actual skill level. Seeing as the 30-year-old scored a career-high 24 to go along with 38 assists in 2010-11, many might just see it as a golden opportunity to get him for cheap.
Now, someone is going to end up signing him this summer. It’s just a matter of when and for how much. Chances are good it would be for at most his current $4 million salary. If that’s the case, the Habs should make a serious play for the 6’2”, 225-pound winger.
In 40 games with the San Jose Sharks and New York Rangers, Clowe, yes, had just three goals, but he had 16 assists, putting him pretty much on the same point-scoring pace as Clarkson. As such, the Habs would get in Clowe similar output and grit (five fights last season) and more size, but at a smaller price.
Bottom line: Assuming he can get back to around 20 goals per year, he would pretty much be the prototypical player to play a top-six role with the Habs and replace Ryder.
That’s admittedly a big assumption to make, but that’s the nature of free agency. While Ryder is the Devil Montreal knows, Clowe at least would be able to contribute in other ways when going 10 games without scoring.
Salaries hits from capgeek.com.
Jaromir Jagr of the Eastern Conference-champion Boston Bruins.
While most teams will be eyeing Jaromir Jagr’s teammate, Nathan Horton, as arguably the most coveted free agent available, the Habs should be going after the future Hall of Famer instead.
Jagr will undeniably be one year older and slower than around this time last year when the now-41-year-old wanted to sign with Montreal. However, while Bergevin turned down the opportunity to sign him last year, according to the Montreal Gazette, times change. He would be a better fit now.
Then, the Habs weren’t looking to compete. After a surprisingly great season that saw them earn the second seed in the Eastern Conference, they should be at least looking at competing for the Northeast Division crown again.
Montreal is no doubt focused on the future and giving the prospects in its organization a chance, but signing a 41-year-old, who still has skill left in him, is the perfect short-term solution. Jagr’s renowned chemistry with Tomas Plekanec? All the more reason to sign him.
A theoretical second line of Rene Bourque, Plekanec and Jagr wouldn’t reduce Alex Galchenyuk or Brendan Gallagher’s ice time, and it would limit both Jagr’s physical exertion and the pressure on the also-aging Brian Gionta to produce. It also gives the Habs a PB&J line, which, let’s all admit, is pretty cool.
While much has been made about Jagr’s lack of production during the playoffs (just seven assists in 16 games), one need only sit down to watch a Boston Bruins game (admittedly a tall task if you’re a Habs fan) to see he is still a big reason why they are Stanley Cup finalists.
Another way to look at it: Jagr has more points than Tyler Seguin. And who wouldn’t want Seguin on their team? Well, other than Brian Burke or the Toronto Maple Leafs, that apparently is.
He may not have speed, but the undeniable truth is he has size and skill in droves. Jagr is a puck-possession monster and, for a team that focuses on possession, Jagr would be an incredibly precious one next season.