It’s that time of year again but draft day trades moves across the NHL may have taken some of the momentum out of the upcoming July 1 free agent frenzy. With Montreal not making any moves on draft day to get an NHL ready forward, opting for a strong defenceman to replenish the back end pipeline, and with the recent buyout of P.A. Parenteau’s contract, the Canadiens are getting thinner in an already thin department.
While there is some talent coming up in terms of forwards, there aren’t any that you can look at with bonafide confidence in stepping into a top 6 scoring winger role – something they are in dire need of. Looking at the crop of UFA’s available, there isn’t a big name scoring draw that jumps out leading pundits to believe someone on defence could be packaged with a prospect, or roster player, to bring a name in.
LW Matt Beleskey (ANA)
The 27-year old benefited greatly from playing on Anaheim’s top line, posting career high stats. While it’s being touted as a breakthrough season, shades of David Clarkson and Ville Leino spring to mind. Apparently he’s looking for big dollars and it’s risky, to say the least, to pay him given the small measure of success he’s had in his career.
C Mike Ribeiro (NAS)
The gamble paid off in Nashville as Ribeiro had a very good year. He’s certainly talented, which we remember from his time in Montreal, but he can also be a distraction, which we remember from his time in Montreal. He also has some outstanding legal issues that need sorting. Reports are pointing to him staying in Nashville.
RW Martin St-Louis (NYR)
At 40 years old, his best has come and gone. He had a decent year in New York but far off the lofty standards he’s created over a sparkling career. It doesn’t look like there’s too much left in the tank. A team adding St-Louis would likely be making the move as a veteran helping out youngsters. But who knows, he’s made a career out of proving people wrong and a move to his hometown club might put a little wind in the sails.
C Antoine Vermette (CHI)
He proved to be a valuable pickup for the Stanley Cup winning Blackhawks and would be a good addition to any team as a second or third line centre. Unfortunately, the Canadiens have a galaxy of second and third line centres. His resume has also been sharply padded, with expensive words such as “clutch” and “winner” likely adding dollar value.
RW Justin Williams (LA)
Another guy with clutch on the resume, with a career’s worth of consistency doing it, Williams gives that “uh-oh, he’s on the ice” feeling in the postseason. His price tag would likely be reasonable and his contribution during the season is fairly consistent. This is a guy who knows what it takes, and when it takes it, to shift important hockey games. The Canadiens should give serious thought to bringing him in.
RW Michael Frolik (WPG)
He posted his best numbers during his first two seasons in Florida, and has recently seen a near return to those mid-40 point numbers. He showed consistency over the last two seasons with Winnipeg, but his price tag is expected to be between $4 million and $5 million a year, which seems to be a on the high side given the return. He does reportedly have Montreal at or near the top of his wish list though.
RW Joel Ward (WAS)
This an interesting one, and maybe a measuring stick for Beleskey. Ward found his offensive game later in his career, and now at 34 years of age, he’s no spring chicken. He is a character guy who scores character goals and he’s a presence and performer in the playoffs. Reports show he’s keen on remaining a Capital, but nothing’s set in stone.
LW Jiri Tlusty (WPG)
Tlusty is one of those frustrating players that displays the talent to succeed but could never really keep any consistency to his game. When he’s hot, he’s hot, and when he’s not, he’s not. That kind of player would drive the city bananas.
C Brad Richards (CHI)
The offensive decline seems to have set in over the last few seasons, and coming off another cup win, it will likely be his third team in three years. Aside from leadership, I’m not sure what he would offer a team that’s looking for top six wingers. If the price is right and a centreman is moved for a goal scoring winger, he could add value to a young team.
RW Drew Stafford (WPG)
He had a strong end to the season in Winnipeg after leaving a horrid Buffalo team. He’s a big guy with scoring ability who’s played in the same division as Montreal for nearly all of his career. Limited playoff experience is an issue, but depending on what kind of money and term he’s after, it would be worth exploring.
It’s slim pickings for viable top-six players that fit the mould for what the Canadiens are looking for. The bottom six forwards appear to be shored up, and you have to think it will be through trades that Montreal can bring in a high scoring winger. Marc Bergevin already said he wouldn’t be very active on July 1, but having just created a bigger need to fill out the wings with the Parenteau buyout, something’s got to give.
Make your predictions as to who signs with the Habs and elsewhere by entering our UFA pool.