5 Roster Spots Montreal Canadiens Should Be Looking to Upgrade
The Montreal Canadiens will have a busy summer as they try to fill in, or perhaps upgrade, some key roster spots.
No fewer than 11 players from the 2013-14 roster are set to be free agents this summer.
Four of those, including P.K. Subban and Lars Eller, will be restricted, meaning the club still has some control over them.
Seven, including Andrei Markov and captain Brian Gionta, will be unrestricted free agents and free to walk away if they get a better offer on the market.
It's clear that Monteal's 2014-15 roster could look quite different than last season's, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Although the team did enjoy a nice postseason run, the squad was far from perfect and can definitely be improved.
Here are five roster spots the Montreal Canadiens should be looking to upgrade this summer.
The Montreal Canadiens played the 2013-14 season with David Desharnais and Tomas Plakenec as their top two centers. Both had decent years, but an upgrade at center would make the team more competitive next season.
Desharnais is a skilled playmaker with a knack for setting up his wingers. Last season, he finished third in team scoring with 52 points (36 assists) in 79 games.
But at 5'7", 177 pounds, he lacks the size to be a true No. 1 center. He'd probably be better off centering the second line.
Plekanec is a great two-way center who can play any role given to him. He acted as the jack of all trades for Michel Therrien last season and led the forwards in ice time at 19:46 per game. However, his play faded in the playoffs, perhaps because he was overworked during the regular season.
The veteran Czech will turn 32 in October. Cutting his minutes next season would probably be a good idea, meaning a third-line role might be to his advantage. There, he could focus more on the defensive side of the game and killing penalties.
So if Desharnais and Plekanec are each bumped down a line, who centers Montreal's top unit?
It's time for the Canadiens to move their prized prospect to the middle of the ice, where he belongs. He's a natural center with both the speed and the size to compete at the NHL level. He is a gifted playmaker with vision and anticipation that can't be taught.
Back in junior, Galchenyuk played center for the Sarnia Sting. In 103 career OHL games, he had 144 points while helping Nail Yakupov become the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft.
The Canadiens did the right thing by bringing Galchenyuk along as a winger. He had less responsibilities in his own end and was able to adapt to the NHL game. With that said, the 20-year-old has been in the league for two seasons now, and it's time to let him reach his true potential.
Shifting Galchenyuk to center for the 2014-15 season would give Montreal the true No. 1 center it has lacked for years.
Top-6 Right Wing
Looking at the Montreal Canadiens' depth chart, we see that the right-wing situation is quite ugly at the moment. Brendan Gallagher is the only true right winger who is currently under contract for next season.
Gallagher continues to improve and is perfectly suited for a top-six position on the right side. He's a gritty winger with scoring talent—a perfect compliment to pretty much any line.
Last season's squad usually had Brian Gionta as the second-line right winger, with Thomas Vanek also playing a top-six role after he was acquired. Both are unrestricted free agents, however.
Vanek is expected to walk away, with Minnesota being the likeliest destination. As Arpon Basu of LNH.com (h/t NHL.com) writes, he has long been linked to the organization, as his wife hails from the area and he played his college hockey there.
Gionta, regardless of whether he re-signs with the Canadiens or not, is simply not a top-six right winger anymore. He's 35 years old and his offensive skills have pretty much expired. He wasn't good enough in that position last season. An upgrade is needed.
The Canadiens badly need a scoring right winger, but they'll need to look to the free-agent market to find one. There are some big-name players available whom general manager Marc Bergevin will likely be tempted to talk to in the summer.
Jarome Iginla, Radim Vrbata, Daniel Alfredsson, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik are the best available right wingers.
Montreal needs to upgrade the right-wing position with a scorer. It will be interesting to see which free agents the Canadiens are linked to come July.
2nd-Line Left Wing
If the Canadiens do set Galchenyuk free and allow him to play center next season, they will need another left winger—unless they want to use Rene Bourque as their second-line left winger, that is.
Bourque had his moments in the playoffs, but let's be realistic here: He's nowhere near a top-six forward.
In fact, Bergevin should probably look to sell high on him this summer so as not to force the team to suffer through yet another uninspired regular season from Bouque. But given his average annual salary of $3.3 million and general lack of production, that seems unlikely.
If Bourque is back, he should be nothing more than a bottom-six winger, competing for third-line duties with Brandon Prust.
To ensure Bourque won't be needed on the second line, Bergevin needs to grab a better left winger.
The unrestricted free-agent market has names like Jussi Jokinen, Matt Moulson, Mike Cammalleri, Mason Raymond and Milan Michalek, among others.
Despite a down season in 2013-14, Moulson is the name that stands out among the bunch. He's a three-time 30-goal scorer who would look great in the red, white and blue.
Kenny MacMillan of A Winning Habit has an interesting idea that would make sense for the Canadiens: Trade Vanek for Moulson right now. Both are unrestricted free agents to be, but doing so would give the Habs and Wild the first crack at getting each player signed.
Granted, if they did acquire Moulson's rights, it would still be likely that he listens to other teams come July 1st. However, getting the chance to talk to him first could convince him to at least consider the Habs once free agency begins.
There are a lot of options on left wing and it's impossible to predict how this will play out. One thing is for sure, though: Bourque is not a top-six left winger.
If Galchenyuk moves to center, the Canadiens will need an upgrade.
Bottom-6 Right Wing
As mentioned earlier, the Canadiens' depth chart is pretty bare down the right side. There are holes to fill this summer.
Dale Weise was a nice addition by Bergevin in early February. He exceeded expectations by a wide margin and became an important piece of Montreal's deep playoff run while mostly playing on the third and fourth lines.
Weise is a restricted free agent this summer, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him re-signed. He fit into Michel Therrien's system perfectly, bringing speed and grit to whatever line he played on.
As good as he was down the stretch, he seems best suited for a fourth-line role at about 10 minutes per game. It would be ambitious to expect Weise to play a prominent third-line role for an entire season.
Slotting Weise into the fourth line means the third-line right-wing slot is wide-open.
In-house options include Daniel Briere, Brandon Prust and Michael Bournival, although the latter two are better suited for the left side, as they are left-hand shots.
Briere on the right wing could work, in theory, depending on who the center is. Playing him on a line with Lars Eller (if he is re-signed) would make more sense that lining him up with the defensive-minded Plekanec.
Either way, Briere simply wasn't very good last season and shouldn't be relied upon heavily in 2014-15.
A third-line right winger is another position Bergevin should look to upgrade via the free-agent or trade market. Perhaps trading backup netminders Peter Budaj or Dustin Tokarski could net such a player.
Heading into the summer, the Canadiens have just four defensemen under contract: Alexei Emelin, Josh Gorges, Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi.
P.K. Subban is, of course, a restricted free agent who will surely be re-signed.
It has recently been reported by Richard Labbe of La Presse (h/t Pro Hockey Talk and Chantal Ledoux) that veteran Andrei Markov is close to re-signing in Montreal as well. Assuming he does, he'll probably be back in his familiar position—next to Emelin on the second pairing.
Including Subban and Markov, that still only leaves the Habs with six defensemen heading into training camp, two of which have combined for 53 regular-season games played. Getting a few more depth players signed will be a priority for Bergevin this summer.
Mike Weaver was excellent in his limited time in Montreal and quickly became a fan favorite with his fearless play. He's an unrestricted free agent, but his play forced Bergevin to at least consider re-signing him this summer.
Even with Weaver on board, the Habs would still need another body or two just to round out the depth chart.
Greg Pateryn is an in-house option, but expect Bergevin to look to the market for a veteran type as well.
Contract information and free-agent statuses courtesy of CapGeek.com.
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