The logjam at centre for the Montreal Canadiens is well known and many expect something to be done about it this offseason. What’s the situation down the middle like for the rest of the organization though? Our depth series continues with a look at the centre position.
Players are listed in the league that they played the most games, not necessarily the one they finished in. Alternative positions are listed in parentheses.
Signed: David Desharnais, Lars Eller, Tomas Plekanec
UFA’s: Manny Malhotra, Torrey Mitchell
The trio of signed centres have all been with the Habs for at least the last five years. And while they all bring some positives to the table, it has been demonstrated that with those three slotted 1-3, it’s not likely that the team will take that next step. It’s expected that at least one will be on the move.
Plekanec is the longest-serving forward on the Canadiens and despite having just one year left on his deal, would carry the most trade value. However, there really isn’t anyone who can realistically take on his defensive responsibilities and it’s doubtful that any top centre brought in will be able to play as well in his own end.
Eller perpetually teases but has yet to show enough consistency to be worthy of a top six spot. His salary is set to take a big jump after 2015-16; if he struggles next year, his trade value will be in the tank as no one will want to pay a third line centre just shy of $5 million in salary. That could serve as motivation to move him now.
Desharnais is one of the more vilified players on the team. While he is a good playmaker, the rest of his game isn’t anything to write home about. His cap hit ($3.5 M for two years) for a second line centre isn’t terrible but will the warts to his game scare teams off?
Needs Assessment: Medium: There are a lot of questions here that need to be answered. If one of those three move, is it to bring in a replacement C or to make room for Alex Galchenyuk? If it’s the former, do they need or want to move a second one for Galchenyuk? Do they want to develop Jacob de la Rose as a centre? If so, the fourth line would be a good spot but would mean that Mitchell would have to leave. There could be a lot of turnover here but there also could be very little. It all depends on those questions.
Signed: Gabriel Dumont, Charles Hudon (LW)
AHL Free Agents: Jake Dowell, T.J. Hensick, Maxime Macenauer
Hudon had a great rookie season with the Bulldogs last year (despite tailing off a bit down the stretch) and will once again be a top line forward in the AHL if he doesn’t crack the Canadiens roster out of training camp. Dumont recently signed a new deal to stick around as captain (guaranteeing him $200,000) and will slot in as the second or third line centre to start next year.
Needs Assessment: Low: As much as the depth looks thin here, there are a couple of centre options coming in from the junior level, more on them momentarily. In terms of the AHL free agents, at least one will need to be brought in. Ideally Hensick would be kept but if the plan is to develop the youngsters, they may opt for a veteran bottom six guy instead. Dowell and Macenauer both fit that bill but neither should be in the equation next year.
The Habs had four players in this group this past season although two of them are set to turn pro. Michael McCarron, the much maligned 2013 first rounder, had a much better second junior season and is positioned to have an important role with St. John’s next year. If he plays centre, he and Dumont will likely battle for the 2/3 positions. McCarron playing there is far from a guarantee though. It wasn’t Montreal’s request to make him one and comments since then hint that they may still envision him as a big winger. If so, he may shift back to his natural side with the IceCaps.
Jeremy Gregoire is a prospect who is quickly moving up the ladder in the organization. I think he’ll impress at training camp but will be best served starting in the minors, likely in a bottom six spot as this will be his future role in the NHL. (And as we know, the Habs like to play some of their prospects in their NHL-likely roles as quickly as possible.)
Daniel Audette had a decent year in the Quebec league and will return there next season where the hope is he’ll take a big step forward offensively. Jake Evans had a nice freshman campaign at Notre Dame but will still be several years away from turning pro. Neither player is expected to be more than a depth piece at this stage though.
Needs Assessment: Medium: While the cupboard looks full now, that will change when McCarron and Gregoire turn pro. With centre being thought of as the key forward position, having just Audette and Evans in the amateur ranks is pretty weak. Adding a player with some sort of realistic NHL projection would help; adding one with top six potential would be really nice.