NHL Free Agency: Montreal Canadiens Search for Another Centreman

Jason HitelmanCorrespondent IJuly 8, 2011

MONTREAL, QC - SEPTEMBER 26:  Andreas Engqvist #63 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Minnesota Wild at the Bell Centre on September 26, 2010 in Montreal, Canada. The Canadiens defeated the Wild 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With the last five Montreal Canadiens moves being minor league deals, it would seem that Pierre Gauthier is in no rush to sign another forward to the big club.

Brock Trotter decided that he would rather play in North America than in the KHL on Monday, signing a two-way deal with the Habs.

On Tuesday, the Habs general manger inked two goalies—Peter Delmas and Nathan Lawson—to two-way contracts, ensuring that the Hamilton Bulldogs have their two goalies for the season. Curtis Sanford had already signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets on the first day of free agency and last year's pick up, Drew MacIntyre, has since signed with the Buffalo Sabres.

The Bulldogs were in need of some veteran presence since Nigel Dawes and Dustin Boyd both defected to the KHL. Former NHLer and current AHL superstar Brian Willsie decided to play in Hamilton, signing a one-year deal. The 33-year-old will be a calming presence and good role model for all the developing prospects on the Habs' farm team.

Finally, Gauthier traded the regressing Ryan Russell to the Columbus Blue Jackets, giving him a chance to play with his twin brother Kris. The large Michael Blunden came back in the trade. He should add some physicality to the Bulldogs.

These moves look to be sending a message to the remainder of the free-agent crop: You need me more than I need you.

With Lars Eller recovering from shoulder surgery until November, Gauthier seems content in calling up a body from the AHL to centre the fourth line--in all likelihood, Andreas Engqvist.

The remaining centremen left in free agency, well, they're not that appealing. Chris Drury is a name that I've thrown around, but I'm not sure what kind of salary he'd command as a faceoff specialist and penalty killer.

John Madden and Brendan Morrison could be useful, but they are old, at 38 and nearly 36 respectively.

That's about all that's left as far as centremen go.

It looks like, barring a trade, that the best available option is Engqvist, who, in three games with the Canadiens last season, was very quiet: He failed to register a point during his call-up from the Bulldogs.

I wouldn't mind seeing what the kid is made of and giving him a shot during Eller's absence. He's 6'4" and if he bulks up, he could be a hulking presence. If it doesn't work out, Gauthier could deal for another centreman after the season begins.

I think that with the two signings on July 1, Habs fans are craving more, perhaps unjustly. We should be happy with what we have and if we get spoiled with another signing, all the better.

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