Ranking the Montreal Canadiens' 5 Biggest Needs in 2014 Offseason
The Montreal Canadiens postseason run came to an end last week, and the focus now becomes the 2014 offseason. The team has some pressing needs that will need to be taken care of over the summer months.
General manager Marc Bergevin will be a busy man as he tries to improve his squad. Even though the Habs made a surprise trip to the Eastern Conference Final, Bergevin realizes his squad is "not a mature team" and that there is still work to be done, as reported by CBC.ca.
There could be a lot of new faces in Montreal come September, as 11 players are set to become free agents (four restricted, seven unrestricted). There will be holes on the depth chart to fill, or perhaps upgrade, in hopes of having another successful season in 2014-15.
Here are the five biggest needs of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2014-15 offseason.
5. Get Some Defensemen
When looking at the Montreal Canadiens cap chart for the 2014-15 season, one thing is obvious: They need more defensemen.
Currently, the Habs only have Alexei Emelin, Josh Gorges, Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi under contract for next year. Restricted free agent P.K. Subban will be the fifth, but Bergevin still has some work to do.
The Canadiens carried nine defenseman in 2013-14 and they'll likely do so again next year. That means they need to sign a few more before training camp.
Internally, Andrei Markov and Mike Weaver are definitely options, as is Greg Pateryn. Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray are sure bets to find a new home.
Markov will be one of Bergevin's toughest decisions (more about that later), while Weaver earned the consideration to be re-signed with his excellent play down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Pateryn had a solid year in Hamilton and will push for a spot in Montreal. He had 34 points in 68 games and was a plus-four with the Bulldogs.
Bergevin will also have to look to the free-agent market to shore up his team's back end. Dan Boyle and Matt Niskanen lead the free-agent defensemen list, but Montreal will likely be looking for someone on the cheaper end.
Montreal's defense will certainly have a different look to it next season. Bringing in some new faces on the blue line is a top-five priority for Bergevin this offseason.
4. Move Peter Budaj or Dustin Tokarski
The Canadiens' decision to start Dustin Tokarski in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final is going to lead to a roster shake-up at the goaltender position this summer.
If the Tokarski experiment had failed, and the Habs went with Peter Budaj in Games 3 and beyond, this wouldn't be an issue this summer. Budaj would play out his contract as Carey Price's backup and Tokarski would return to Hamilton.
Instead, Tokarski played exceptional. It could be argued he was Montreal's best player during the ECF. If not, he at least proved that he is an NHL-caliber goalie who should not be sent back to the AHL in September.
Then there's Budaj, whose feelings were definitely hurt by Montreal's decision. He has not yet publicly stated a desire to be traded, but that could change as training camp approaches.
So Bergevin has a decision to make: Does he trade Budaj for a late-round pick or a depth player, or does he look to sell high on Tokarski and cash in on his playoff success?
Tokarski would net a greater return, but it seems doubtful Bergevin would trade him instead of Budaj.
Montreal's choice to start Tokarski was a pretty clear indicator that they don't trust Budaj to carry the goaltending load for any extended length of time. This makes him the more likely candidate to be moved out of town this summer.
3. Make a Decision on Andrei Markov
One of Bergevin's toughest decisions this summer will be whether or not to re-sign defenseman Andrei Markov.
The 35-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He is coming off a solid season which saw him score 43 points, 21 on the power play, in 81 games. He was also a team-high plus-12 while leading the Canadiens in ice time with 25:14 per game.
Markov stated his desire to remain in Montreal back in March with a statement from his agent, as reported by ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun:
“I can’t say much, we agreed not to say much, but talks are ongoing and Andrei wants to stay in Montreal,” agent Sergei Berezin said. “We’ll see where it goes. He’s played 13 seasons with Montreal. He wants to finish his career in Montreal.”
Now the big question is whether Bergevin wants him to stay in Montreal.
There is no questioning Markov's importance to the squad: He plays big minutes at both ends of the ice and is a veteran presence on the blue line.
But will his contract demands exceed his worth?
He'll probably be looking for a three-year deal in the $5-6 million-per-year range. That's a lot of time and money to invest in someone who is heading into the twilight of his career.
As stated earlier, the Canadiens have just four d-men signed on to the back end for 2014-15. Subban will be the fifth, but that means Montreal still needs a few more before training camp begins.
Will Markov be one of them?
Bergevin will surely re-sign Markov if the price is right, but the veteran will be looking to cash in on his excellent 2014-15 season for one more big pay day. Making a decision on whether to bring him back will be one of Bergevin's toughest this offseason.
2. Acquire a Scoring Winger
After his disappointing playoff performance, Thomas Vanek isn't likely to be back in Montreal next year. This means the Habs have a glaring need for a scoring winger.
A list of the top unrestricted free agents this summer, via Cap Geek, reveals a few wingers who could play a scoring role in Montreal next season.
Jarome Iginla proved this season that he is still a top-six forward, scoring 61 points in 78 games. Perhaps Montreal's win over Boston in the second round convinced him that the Canadiens can compete for the cup.
Other top candidates include Jussi Jokinen, Radim Vrbata, Mike Cammalleri and Ales Hemsky. Bergevin could also explore trade options, as it's likely he will move either Budaj or Tokarski.
Whether it's a free agent or a trade, the Canadiens need a winger who can score. Bergevin will surely be looking to acquire one this summer.
1. Get P.K. Subban Locked Up
Montreal's biggest need this offseason is a no brainer—get P.K. Subban to sign a long-term contract.
Subban had an excellent regular season where he finished third in team scoring with 53 points, a career high. He also chipped in with 23 power-play points.
His playoff performance was nothing short of heroic and sent his stock through the roof. He was dynamic and at times, especially in Round 2 against Boston, looked like one of the best players in the entire NHL. He finished the playoffs with 14 points in 17 games, tops on the team.
Subban has long been maligned for his defensive mistakes, but he cleaned up his play in his own end this season. He put a couple of midseason mistakes behind him and was one of Therrien's most trusted d-men in the playoffs.
The obvious question now is how much will P.K. command? It will surely be more than Dion Phaneuf's seven-year, $49 million contract, but less than Shea Weber's $14 million salary in 2015-16, the highest in the league.
Subban will want to sign long term, so the eight-year maximum makes sense. Taking Phaneuf's $7 million per year into account, expect Subban to receive $8.5 or $9 million per season.
That kind of contract will make him not only the highest-paid player on the team, but the highest-paid player in Canadiens history. But he deserves it.
The Canadiens' best skater is a restricted free agent this summer, and the first thing Bergevin should do this offseason should be to re-sign him. He doesn't want to let this situation drag on.