The Canadiens already have a sizable contingent on their NHL blueline.
With Jeff Petry being extended earlier this month, he joins P.K Subban, Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Tom Gilbert, Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateyrn and Jarred Tinordi in forming an 8-man logjam at the back. Given that, it almost seems insane to write a piece about potential free agent targets on defense.
We all know Marc Bergevin puts a great premium on defense and, with Tom Gilbert and Alexei Emelin featuring prominently in trade rumours, the General Manager may look to the UFA pool to replenish some depth. Add to that the fact the IceCaps are notably thin on at the back, and you can bet there will be some new blueliners wearing the CH next year.
Let’s look at some of the potential names, from the improbable to the realistic.
Let’s start with the biggest name on the market, the often polarizing Mike Green. Reputed as an attack-first player earlier in his career, last season was viewed by many as the strongest defensive showing in his career, posting a +15 and a 1.6% relative SAT to go along with 38 points. At over 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, he is also more than willing to initiate contact, as shown by his 82 hits last year.
The truth is that there is almost no chance that the Canadiens sign him, but stranger things have happened. And, with an abysmal power play and an aging Andrei Markov, Green would certainly fill some important areas.
Franson will command big bucks on the open market and is an unlikely possibility, but he has been targeted by Marc Bergevin before. The big BC native was a bright spot for the Maple Leafs last season, putting up 32 points in 55 games in the Big Smoke. He was traded to Nashville later in the year and struggled to fit in there, putting up only four points in 23 games.
In his career, he never had less than 21 points in any campaign.
Improbable as it may be, like Green, he fills some rather glaring short and long-term needs thanks to his size, youth and offensive prowess.
An aging but experienced blueliner, Beauchemin will garner attention from many contenders. A Montreal Canadiens draft pick in 1998, Beauchemin only really came into his own after he left La Belle Province. Since, he has emerged into a solid, big-minute defender capable of putting up points from the back end. He has never been the fastest skater and age is catching up to him, but he remains a gritty veteran presence and has his name on the Stanley Cup. He could potentially fill a, decidedly more skilled, Hal Gill-type role.
He made $3.5 million last year and is seeking a raise, though, so he wouldn’t come cheap.
Frederic St-Denis and Jean-Phlippe Coté
These two players have been grouped together as they share a few commonalities. Both were Montreal draftees and spent significant time with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Both have bounced around a fair bit in the last few years, and neither has managed to log over 21 NHL games. In a lot of ways, these two players seem ideally suited to play big minutes with the IceCaps while also providing quality depth in the ‘8’ slot.
And, especially if Davis Drewiske is not retained, Marc Bergevin will have to find players to fill that role.
Colby Robak, Matt Donovan, Aaron Ness, and Mark Cundari
These four 25-year olds above are all left shooting defencemen. This is important because, on the IceCaps, the left side is rather void. Darren Dietz, Morgan Ellis, Brett Lernout, Josiah Didier and Dalton Thrower are all right shots while Mac Bennett is the only left hand option.
The six-foot-three Robak split time between Anaheim and Norfolk last year, appearing in five NHL contests and another 29 at the AHL level. Not much of an offensive force, he put up a grand total of seven points all year.
Aaron Ness is a product of the New York Islanders system and, though he has played a career 29 NHL games, spent the entirety of the season in Bridgeport, where he was an offensive catalyst from the back, putting up 45 points in 74 games.
Matt Donovan, like Ness, is an Islanders product. He, however, only suited up for the big club, appearing in 12 contests with the Isles. The Oklahoma native also has some offensive skills, twice surpassing the 40-point plateau at the AHL level.
Finally, Mark Cundari played in Adirondack last year with Calgary’s farm team. A smaller player, measuring five-feet-nine, he is also an offensive minded blueliner, putting up 29 points in 50 AHL contests.
Adding one or two of these players (or similar Group 6 free agents) would go a long way towards making St. John’s a more competitive team next season while giving Montreal a couple of call-up options should injuries arise. Signings like these won’t generate much attention but they will be important ones to make nonetheless.
Make your predictions as to who signs with the Habs and elsewhere by entering our UFA pool.