Former Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow in front of Cory Schneider.
The free-agent frenzy of early July has died down to a veritable calm and the Montreal Canadiens appear pretty much done with all their offseason shopping.
What if they weren’t though?
Even though October is a mere month-and-a-half away, there are still a lot of available free agents who could help the Canadiens and be good fits in Montreal—assuming of course they were able to fit under the salary cap.
Forget the in-the-way facts like CapGeek.com indicating that the Habs only have $3.4 million to spend in cap space.
That they have the maximum 23 roster players under contract for next season (including rookie Jarred Tinordi and the injured Alexei Emelin and Brian Gionta)? Entirely immaterial...well, at least in regard to the purposes of this particular piece.
Imagine, if you will, that the Habs weren't constrained by such mind-numbing, albeit key collective bargaining agreement details. Imagine they were free to spend to their heart's content.
Here are the top five players still available who could theoretically (but no longer likely in practice) help the Habs next season.
There’s little question Brenden Morrow is over the hill. That he in a roundabout way helped the Dallas Stars land Tyler Seguin (via Joe Morrow) is actually about the most useful thing he did last season.
However, even looking at his pitiful stat line from the playoffs with the Pittsburgh Penguins (two goals and two assists in 14 games), there is little denying he could still contribute in a specific role—namely on a bottom-six line.
After all, the two-time 30-goal scorer has also had an additional five 20-goal seasons.
Now, his skating is about as offensive as a Family Guy episode, but, you know, the good kind of offensive...the comically offensive. Upon further thought, it probably isn't a compliment if his skating causes you to laugh out loud.
He also may be on the wrong side of 30. Hell, he may even be just slightly less washed up than a bloated whale carcass on shore, but not quite, because there is still life in his scar-ridden body.
All that being said, Morrow is a leader, a consummate professional and he’s got grit in spades. These are all things that, combined with a couple extra goals, could come in handy on the fourth line.
Of course, this is all dependent on him being willing to take a pay cut and accept a smaller role than his last starring one in Titanic from this past spring.
That he's former Hab Guy Carbonneau's son-in-law could play to Montreal’s favor in that regard...or not, considering how Carbo and the Habs left things…you know, both times.
With Alexei Emelin out for the first few months of the regular season rehabbing his knee, all signs point to Jarred Tinordi being granted an opportunity to step up in his absence.
It’s a smart choice in a lot of ways, seeing as Emelin is the Habs' most physical defenseman and Tinordi, at a towering 6’6”, would have little trouble having his way with most forwards.
Still, Tinordi is just 21.
If the Habs were looking to add experience and give Tinordi some more seasoning in the minors, defenseman Mark Fistric might fill the bill as a player who could keep Emelin’s spot warm.
A projected top six of P.K. Subban, Josh Gorges, Andrei Markov, Emelin, Raphael Diaz and Francis Bouillon isn't bad per se, but there is certainly a significant drop-off after each pairing.
As a result, either Tinordi or Fistric could realistically play their way into the coaching staff’s good graces and stay on as a sixth defenseman at the expense of the non-physical Diaz or the 37-year-old Bouillon once Emelin gets healthy.
Of course, there are drawbacks to Fistric’s game. There is a reason he is still available in mid-August, after all. A lack of foot speed and a tendency to make mistakes have limited the former first-round pick’s career opportunities.
Consider him in a lot of ways to be a younger, less Swedish Douglas Murray, but with the same mean streak. Whereas Morrow would be a luxury item of sorts, Fistric fills a need—just not perfectly.
In 2013, Emelin had 110 hits in 38 games. Fistric delivered 88 hits in just 25 games. That works out to 134 in the same amount of games and 169 in a full 48-game season, which would place him in the league’s top 10 in that category.
Speaking of that same top six, outside of Subban and Markov, the Habs lack much in the way of pure offensive defensemen who can do damage on the power play.
Diaz is of course an option (one goal and 13 assists in 23 games), but Emelin, Gorges and Bouillon are all defense-first guys. That gives the Habs just three viable offensive options—if that—on the blue line, and that’s only if Markov is able to stay healthy for a second straight year.
Now, former Detroit Red Wing Ian White has fallen on hard times over the past year. Serving as a healthy scratch for six consecutive games, he got in just 25 total regular-season contests (two goals and two assists) in 2013.
He didn't even see the ice in the playoffs.
However, one shouldn't forget that he was good enough to be paired with Nicklas Lidstrom last year. Of course, this being Lidstrom, that could admittedly mean White was just that bad.
I mean, the Hall of Fame-bound Lidstrom was so good that he could have probably turned forward Ryan White into an All-Star defenseman.
In any case, it’s easy to consider 2013 an off year for Ian White, who may have also been victimized in part by an influx of younger defensemen in Detroit.
The previous season, playing with Lidstrom, he did have 32 points. With the Toronto Maple Leafs/Calgary Flames a few years ago, he had back-to-back seasons of 10 and 13 goals.
White is undeniably small at 5’10”, 191 pounds, but he can definitely be useful in the right situations. At just 29, he still may have a lot left in him—and probably at a low cost considering no one else seems to want him.
Should Ryan White ever get demoted, the team could save more money on a jersey nameplate.
With Jeff Halpern gone, the Habs are theoretically out one faceoff specialist. If Ryan White and/or Gabriel Dumont don’t deliver at the dot, that could pose very real problems for the Habs down the stretch.
Enter David Steckel, who hasn't had a faceoff success rate below 54.5 percent over the last five years (even earning one as high as 62.3 percent only two years ago).
The 6’6”, 215-pound center may lack scoring ability, but he’s far from an ineffective player. To that point, he played in all of the Anaheim Ducks’ seven playoff games in 2013. He would give the Habs pretty much everything White does in addition to some penalty-killing prowess.
Granted, White does okay when the Habs are down a man…the few times when he’s not that man, that is.
White (6’0”, 194 lbs) is the more physical player between the two despite being considerably smaller. That doesn't necessarily translate into more value, though.
Steckel is by far the more experienced, less mistake-prone player, having made his debut during the 2005-06 season and never earning more than 34 penalty minutes in any one full 82-game season.
In sharp contrast, White had 67 PIM in 26 games last year, often scratched while healthy due to an inherent lack of discipline.
At this juncture, one has to wonder if White is just plain bad rather than the Habs' resident bad boy.
One of the biggest shocks of this offseason is that Damien Brunner has not yet signed with an NHL team.
The center, who can play on the right wing, is just 27 and scored a decent 12 goals and 26 points with the Red Wings last year. However, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reported that his $3.5-million price tag has been a holdup in negotiations with Detroit—and apparently other teams.
It all makes about as much sense as a hypothetical scenario in which the Wings pry Daniel Alfredsson away from the city in which he played his entire career and started a family for less money than he was being offered by the Ottawa Senators.
According to Cap Geek, the Wings are paying Alfredsson the same $3.5 million that Brunner reportedly requested as well as $2 million in bonuses.
Did we mention that Alfredsson is 40 years old, plays the same position as Brunner and had two fewer goals last year (exact same amount of points)?
Admittedly, Brunner slumped it up during the last half of the regular season, once going 15 games without scoring. However, if Alfredsson can earn $5.5 million, Brunner is certainly worth $3.5 million.
More importantly, at that price, Brunner is definitely a player the Habs should have at least considered before jumping the gun prior to the start of free agency and signing the bought-out Daniel Briere.
Yes, that Briere, who scored just six goals and 16 points last year. The Briere who is shorter, thinner, nine years older and makes $4 million.
Maybe there’s something that went wrong behind the scenes in Detroit with Brunner.
Whatever it is, can it really be worse than Briere snubbing Montreal six years ago to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers and then having an about-face only after getting tossed aside like yesterday’s trash?
The Habs have a great deal of depth, but the right side could use some work, even taking into consideration Brendan Gallagher’s great rookie season last year.
Brunner would make for a great secondary scoring option, at least a better one than Briere, who can similarly be moved to center should the Habs magically get the chance to sign the former.
Brunner is no doubt a question mark. Briere is no answer, though.