NHL Free Agency: The Montreal Canadiens' Perfect Fit

Jason HitelmanCorrespondent IJune 30, 2011

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 27:  Anthony Stewart #22 of the Atlanta Thrashers attacks the goal against Joffrey Lupul #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs at Philips Arena on February 27, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With one of the thinnest free agency pools in history, there probably won't be much of a frenzy when players are set to become unrestricted on July 1 at noon ET.

Nevertheless, there are some players that are garnering interest among NHL general managers.

Pierre Gauthier will be looking for some help to bolster his forwards on the Montreal Canadiens.

The biggest name out there, of course, is Brad Richards, but with the money he will be commanding, he is obviously not on the radar.

There is a significant talent drop after the elite centreman.

Simon Gagne and Erik Cole headline the next group of forwards. I fear that with the limited resources out there, their price will be augmented and they will be paid more than they are worth.

Though I'm sure that several GMs will be after them, willing to dish out the extra cash, I don't think that Gauthier will be one of them.

Then there's Jaromir Jagr.

Jagr was expected to make his decision about returning to the NHL—presumably to the Pittsburgh Penguins—yesterday. With one of the oddest occurrences I've ever heard of, turtles caused a runway shutdown at JFK airport in New York and Jagr was never heard from.

Even with the turtle saga, one would think that if Jagr had made his decision, he could have relayed it by telephone.

Something is fishy—or perhaps, turtle-y.

If I were Pierre Gauthier, I would certainly be interested in Jagr's services. Failing that, there is one player that has piqued my interest.

Although Anthony Stewart may not be the sexiest forward available, he is one that certainly suits the needs of the Montreal Canadiens.

For years, the Habs have been critiqued as a small team without any grit. Well, Stewart is 6'2" and 240 pounds.

Stewart managed to score 14 goals and 25 assists on the Atlanta Thrashers last year. He was set to be a restricted free agent, but the Winnipeg Jets didn't make him a qualifying offer, thus making him unrestricted tomorrow.

I, for one, would love to see Stewart in a Habs jersey standing in front of the opposition's net. A player like that is nearly impossible to move. It seems like exactly what the Canadiens have been needing all these years.

Granted, the 26-year-old Stewart isn't exactly top-six forward material, but he would certainly be an affordable experiment: he could certainly be had with a one-year offer worth less than $1 million (he made $632,500 last year with the Thrashers).

Pierre Gauthier has been somewhat impressive this offseason with his signings. The contracts that he's given have been very fair and he isn't giving into the pressure of a weak free-agency crop.

I hope he continues the trend of smart, efficient managing and takes a look at players like Stewart: those that can be effective without breaking the bank.