Montreal Canadiens Brandon Prust (right) and Brendan Gallagher celebrate a goal against the Ottawa Senators.
While the Montreal Canadiens and general manager Marc Bergevin have presumably been toiling away preparing for summer since the Habs’ first-round exit against the Ottawa Senators, the NHL offseason is almost officially upon us.
As the playoffs wind down and either the Chicago Blackhawks or the Boston Bruins get crowned Stanley Cup champions, it prompts the question: Just what do the Habs have to do to put themselves in a position to win it all themselves, preferably as soon as next season?
Despite the first-round upset, one must not forget the Habs were right there for most of the season. At the very least, they are a heck of lot closer than two years ago, when they finished last in the Eastern Conference.
Nevertheless, the offseason is a sobering time of year, at which point it becomes clear they, like all other teams, have a lot of work to do just to prepare for next season. Here is the Montreal Canadiens’ Complete Guide to the 2013 offseason, from the draft to the outlook for 2013-14:
Defenseman Tomas Kaberle, whom the Montreal Canadiens bought out.
With the salary cap set at $64.3 million for the 2013-14 season and defenseman Tomas Kaberle being bought out on Monday, the Habs currently have $9.02 million left to spend (cap payroll of $57.97 million less $2.70 million in bonuses if they’re not met).
That’s a decent amount of maneuvering room for general manager Marc Bergevin. He already has two goalies, eight defenseman and 10 of at least 12 forwards under contract. Considering $64.3 million is also the minimum salary cap moving forward, the Habs should also be okay in subsequent years.
All salary-cap info taken from capgeek.com.
Montreal Canadien Michael Ryder celebrates a goal against the Ottawa Senators.
While the recent Davis Drewiske deal (two years with an average cap hit of $637,500) was a surprise, it does leave less to the imagination in regard to how the roster will look come opening day.
With eight defensemen currently signed on for next year—including the injured Alexei Emelin and Jarred Tinordi, who replaced him during the playoffs—and 10 forwards, the Habs’ next signings will inevitably fill holes up front.
That fits, as all of the team’s free agents are forwards or have been used as forwards in the past. Four unrestricted (Michael Ryder, Colby Armstrong, Jeff Halpern and Petteri Nokelainen) and two restricted free agents (Yannick Weber and Ryan White) remain (Gabriel Dumont and Mike Blunden are restricted free agents currently on two-way deals).
Ryder will likely be seeking a long-term deal for around $5 million per season. Considering he ended the regular season on a low note, going scoreless in nine games, he made Bergevin’s decision quite an easy one. He won’t be back.
Similarly, Nokelainen, Armstrong and Halpern just don't figure into the team’s plans. Halpern is 37 and has become a one-trick pony of sorts, only useful in the faceoff circle. Armstrong was generally ineffective in a bottom-six role this past year and shouldn’t be back.
It’s important to note that Weber and White can be re-signed on cheap contracts. Nevertheless, Weber is a liability in the defensive zone. White is a liability in general. He has become known for taking bad penalties and playing with reckless abandon in regard to the team’s best interests.
Time will tell whether each will be back or Bergevin decides to clean house to a greater extent and look to sign another free agent or two.
Current-Boston Bruin Jaromir Jagr, who will become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
There are essentially three different tiers of available unrestricted free agents from the Habs’ perspective.
The first tier includes players like current-New Jersey Devil David Clarkson and Boston Bruin Nathan Horton. These are highly coveted forwards who play with an edge and will be pursued by most every team in the league.
As such, chances are bad the Habs, who could very much use their grit and goal scoring, will be able to seriously contend for their services. Devil Patrik Elias might fit into this category as well, but he is 37 and may not be worth the money he’ll end up receiving.
That brings us to the second tier, which includes Jaromir Jagr and Ryane Clowe, essentially players who look like they could be very good fits and can probably be had for cheap, but only because they carry elements of risk (more risk than an Elias).
Jagr, who, by most accounts, would play well alongside fellow Czech Tomas Plekanec on the team’s second line, is 41 and is not the superstar he once was. Clowe is just 31 and is a former 60-point scorer (2010-11), but is coming off a horrible season in which he scored just three goals and has been plagued by injuries in recent history.
The final tier comprises role players like forwards Matt Hendricks of the Washington Capitals and Bryan Bickell of the Chicago Blackhawks. Both would bring size to Montreal (Hendricks is 6’0”, 211 pounds; Bickell is 6’4”, 233 pounds).
Whereas Bickell has displayed more offense (23 points in 48 regular-season games), Hendricks is more proficient in the faceoff circle. With Halpern’s probable departure, a faceoff specialist will probably be needed next season. Hendricks can also probably be had for significantly less money than Bickell.
Considering the cap space the Habs at their disposal, Bergevin has the room to realistically sign one tier-two player and one role player and have some wiggle room left over. That being said, Bergevin has gone on record as saying he believes free agency is overplayed as a tool to turn teams into contenders.
Since the Habs were thought of as Stanley Cup contenders until the start of April and then slumped to a 4-6 record over the team’s last 10 games, it’s conceivable Bergevin follows in his footsteps from last year and signs, if anyone at all, just small pieces to his puzzle.
It may not be the sexiest of approaches. However, bottom-six forward Brandon Prust, who signed a four-year, $10-million deal last summer did end up winning the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy, proving this strategy does have at least some merit.
Montreal Canadien Jarred Tinordi.
Assuming Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have successfully graduated from prospect status, there are really only two up-and-comers with the potential to crack the roster on whom fans should keep an eye: Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu.
Both were called up this past April when Alexei Emelin injured his knee. While the team as a whole didn’t perform all that well with either one in the lineup, the recent Francis Bouillon and Drewiske re-signings mean the Habs really aren’t in a position to sign a free-agent defenseman anymore.
Seeing as Drewiske is more a depth signing than anything else, Montreal currently has five healthy top-six defensemen in Bouillon, P.K. Subban, Josh Gorges, Andrei Markov and Raphael Diaz.
As a result, it’s conceivable one or even both prospects gets a look over the course of the two months that Emelin will be out to start the season. Considering the similarities in Emelin and Tinordi’s games—both are physical, stay-at-home defensemen—the latter has an edge over Beaulieu and will probably start the season with the Habs.
This doesn’t mean Tinordi and Beaulieu are the only prospects fans should get excited about, as many highly-touted prospects within the organization made their Hamilton Bulldog debuts last season, including Danny Kristo, Sebastian Collberg, Charles Hudon, Patrick Holland and Michael Bournival.
That’s not even including Louis Leblanc, the team’s 2009 first-round pick, who struggled mightily last season with just 18 points in 62 games in Hamilton.
Leblanc still projects as a capable two-way forward in the NHL, and, should injuries arise, could potentially be one of the first call-ups, if he isn’t already in the mix in Bergevin’s mind for one of the last few roster spots.
Spots of course need to be earned, but Leblanc, in theory at least, possesses the skill to make it happen. Habs fans can rejoice in the fact that the team is rife with other prospects that have the skill as well.
Montreal Canadien P.K. Subban, who won the Norris Memorial Trophy as the league's best defenseman.
The Habs took a major step forward to becoming legitimate Stanley Cup contenders this past season. Granted, after finishing third to last in the entire league in 2011-12, there was almost nowhere to go but up. A second-place Eastern Conference finish was totally unexpected—but earned.
It’s a shame the Habs finished the way they did, going 4-6 ironically after a key 2-1 April 6 victory over the Bruins—the same team that is currently vying for their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
While the 4-6 finish (5-10 including the playoffs) cannot be ignored and adjustments need to be made, there are many more positives that should be taken away from this past season. For instance:
- Brendan Gallagher was a revelation, getting nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
- Alex Galchenyuk was right behind Gallagher in rookie scoring despite playing two lines lower in the lineup, giving fans a glimpse into what he can bring to the table as the Habs’ potential future No. 1 center.
- Lars Eller broke out as a legitimate offensive weapon, giving Montreal not just Galchenyuk, but a second potential big center for many years to come
- Andrei Markov dressed for all 48 games this season after playing just 20 the previous two seasons.
- P.K. Subban won the James Norris Memorial Trophy, silencing his critics league-wide and, most importantly, one has to assume within the team locker room.
- The Canadiens averaged over three goals per game, consistently getting offense from three different lines.
- While Carey Price did not have a good final half of the season, the Habs were still largely able to keep winning, making Montreal a theoretical powerhouse when he eventually regains his swagger.
All of this, and that’s not even taking into account Bergevin’s contributions at the helm of hockey operations after being hired following the debacle that was 2011-12. The ship has obviously been righted.
In a league of 30 teams, a championship is never a certainty, and there is no doubt work to be done. Though the team is admittedly little changed from a personnel perspective from two seasons ago, a lot has already been accomplished. Bergevin’s tweaks and simple shift in philosophy have essentially transformed the Habs from paper tigers into real ones.
Fans have been able to remove the paper bags from their heads in turn and see firsthand just what a winner looks like. Now that opponents know what to expect, though, it won’t get any easier, but it definitely will get more entertaining.
That much is guaranteed, as the Habs look to compete for their second straight division title, with those very same Bruins—against whom the Habs went 3-1 this season—likely Montreal’s main competition. Needless to say, the outlook not just for next season but the next few at least is pretty good and bound to get better.