The Montreal Canadiens dipped into the free agent market yesterday and acquired two veteran players to fill two of the organization’s biggest holes.
Defenseman Roman Hamrlik signed a four-year, $22 million dollar contract to stabilize an otherwise weak Montreal defense corps while center Bryan Smolinski comes in with a one-year deal that will pay him $2 million dollars next season.
In 75 games with the Calgary Flames last year, Hamrlik collected 7 goals and 31 assists for 38 points. The blueliner also maintained a rating of plus-22. Meanwhile, Smolinski split the season between the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks for a total of 82 games where he scored 18 goals, 26 assists, and 44 points with a +7 rating.
The moves can be considered quite lateral if you consider the losses of Sheldon Souray and Radek Bonk to free agency. Some, however, would argue that the Habs now have two all-around better players in Hamrlik and Smolinski.
The single year deal with Smolinski leaves both sides with ample flexibility down the line. The contract comes with a no trade clause which gives Smolinski a sense of security. At 35-years of age, Smolinski would likely want nothing more than to compete for a Stanely Cup, so if the Habs’ season doesn’t go as planned, he’ll have the power to decide where he would land in a trade.
Meanwhile, on the Habs side you have relatively cheap contract for a strong player, and should all things fail, the club has no obligations to Smolinski after this season. Though, Smolinski is a smart player and one would expect a smooth season from the Toledo, Ohio native.
Another point concerning the Smolinski signing is that 21-year-old Kyle Chipchura may be another year away from the NHL.
While nothing is set in stone until the final cuts of training camp are made, Canadiens’ management has preached patience when developing their young players into NHL regulars. With successful graduates under this system – including Christopher Higgins, Michael Ryder, Michael Komisarek, and Tomas Plekanek – one should expect the same treatment for Chipchura.
During his press conference with the media today, General Manager Bob Gainey indicated that 22-year-old Ryan O’Byrne has a spot with the team should he take the opportunity to claim it. O’Byrne possesses a right shot and could very likely find himself playing along side Hamrlik in the future.
When Hamrlik takes to the ice for the first time next season, the 33-year-old will be suiting up for his 1000th regular season NHL game in a Habs’ uniform. Hamrlik, a former first overall pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992, has completed 14 seasons, registering 131 goals, 505 points, and 1129 PIMs.
With 992 games under his belt, Smolinski isn’t too far off from the 1000th game mark either. Of his 626 points, 266 have been goals. Meanwhile, Smolinski had done a good job keeping himself out of the box having amassed only 585 PIMs in his 14-year career.
Both players have seen their share of different locations. While Montreal makes the fifth and potentially final stop in Hamrlik’s career, Smolinski joins the Habs to play for his eighth different team since being drafted by the Boston Bruins in the first round (21st overall) in 1990.
Gainey is surely hoping that both veterans will add leadership and stability 5-on-5. While it appears that the Canadiens have concluded their free agent shopping, the attention now turns to restricted free agents Ryder and Plekanec.
Of course, pondering the Habs’ RFA signings won’t be exciting enough to keep you busy during the long, hockey-less, summer months. Thus, I suggest trying to figure out just whom Montreal’s starting goalie and backup will be next season. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.