This upcoming summer could be a busy one for the Montreal Canadiens.
Andrei Markov, James Wisniewski, Hall Gill and Roman Hamrlik will become unrestricted free agents. Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot will become restricted free agents. With all these players having to negotiate new contracts, Pierre Gauthier will have the option of drastically reshaping the team he acquired from Bob Gainey.
Aside from trying to re-sign some of his more important blue-liners, Gauthier will have the opportunity to try and sign a capable top-six forward.
Assuming that Max Pacioretty will return at full strength next season, the Habs have five players who have shown the ability to excel in a top-six role.
Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta seemed to have been complemented well by the American power forward. Thomas Plekanec has cemented himself as the team’s best forward, while Mike Cammalleri has only been slowed down by injuries in his first two seasons with the Blue Blanc Rouge.
Trying to fill that sixth slot has been quite the ordeal for Gauthier. Pouliot and Kostitsyn have repeatedly failed when given increased responsibilities.
Although he has been productive in recent games, Jeff Halpern is not a long-term solution. The farm team also doesn’t seem to promise anyone being ready anytime soon. A look to the 2011 free-agent season does present some intriguing possibilities, however.
One of the more interesting pending UFAs is Simon Gagne. Gagne is currently having a rough year. With 11 goals in 51 games so far, Gagne may be having trouble in Guy Boucher’s much talked about system.
Seeing as though Gagne will likely be demanding much less than his current $5.25 million per season, the former 47 goalscorer could give this team an affordable veteran scoring threat.
His injury history should be noted, however. In his last four seasons, Gagne has only once played more than 70 games.
Mike Knuble is also set to hit the open market. Knuble was an absolute nightmare for the Canadiens in the 2010 Eastern Conference finals. No player made the life of Jaroslav Halak more difficult than the 6’3”, 230-pound Ontario native.
Despite his age, 38, Knuble has been relatively consistent over the past few years, generally hovering around the 30-goal mark. Furthermore, Knuble has proven to be one of the healthier power forwards in the league, only missing 10 games in the past four years.
The sub-par year he is currently having in Washington may lead some to think that his play is deteriorating, but keep in mind that everyone on the Capitals roster (including Ovechkin) is struggling to light the lamp.
A one or two-year deal could be ideal for Knuble, giving the Habs a few years to develop a player for the role internally.
He has good size at 6’1”, 200 pounds, and has the physical edge to his game that the Canadiens always seem to be in great demand of. He is still in the prime of his career at 28-years-old, and could potentially be a long-term solution for the vacant second-line wing position.
Finally, and perhaps the player with the most potential in the above mentioned group, Ville Leino. Leino was traded from Detroit for salary cap reasons. At this point, it’s likely that the Red Wings are regretting their decision.
In 19 playoff games last season with the Flyers, Leino had 14 points. In 67 games so far this season, the big Finn has 46 points. This is rather impressive considering he’s the fourth-least used forward on his team. He’s still only 27-years-old and has the size and strength to be a dangerous forward on the Habs for years to come.