With the emergence of Nathan Beaulieu and the long-term signing of Jeff Petry, the defence situation for the Habs is looking good. Can the same be said for the rest of the organization? Our depth series continues with a look at the blueline.
Players are listed in the league that they played the most games, not necessarily the one they finished in.
Signed: Alexei Emelin, Tom Gilbert, Andrei Markov, Jeff Petry, P.K. Subban
RFA’s: Nathan Beaulieu
UFA’s: Sergei Gonchar, Mike Weaver
We all know any blueline discussion has to begin with Subban, a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the second time in the last three years. Petry’s new six year deal kicks in, giving the Habs a high quality one-two punch on the right side with Gilbert slotting in on the third pairing.
On the left side, Markov leads the way but has come under some criticism after a subpar playoff showing. He did, however, have a very strong regular season and even if he is wearing down, he’s still an above average defender. Emelin is widely considered to be trade bait with the Petry deal but he’s the lone physical blueliner of the bunch. Beaulieu had some up and down moments last year but he should comfortably slide in as a regular at the very least in 2015-16.
The defence situation has changed considerably compared to this time last year. The five players under contract have a combined cap hit of over $27 million. One year ago, only two were signed, Emelin and since-dealt Josh Gorges. What a difference a year can make.
Needs Assessment: Low: The big to-do item here is to decide whether there’s a need to move one of the signed defenders to re-allocate more money up front. After that, the only real thing to consider adding would be a veteran depth player if there are concerns about two of the AHL’ers below that figure to be full-time with Montreal next season.
Signed: Mac Bennett, Darren Dietz, Morgan Ellis, Greg Pateryn, Dalton Thrower
RFA’s: Jarred Tinordi
UFA’s: Bryan Allen, Davis Drewiske
AHL Free Agents: Joe Finley, David Makowski, Bobby Shea
Both Pateryn and Tinordi have to clear waivers next season and given Pateryn’s play down the stretch and Tinordi’s pedigree, it seems likely that they will break training camp with the Canadiens (barring a trade between now and then, of course). That pulls away two key blueliners from the farm team though, making the defence corps a lot different heading into their first year with St. John’s.
In terms of those under contract that should be with the IceCaps, it’s a very underwhelming list. Dietz had a nice second pro season and is the best of the players down there but he’s not ready to play a top pairing role. Bennett had his struggles in his rookie season, Ellis couldn’t even make the Hamilton lineup until more than halfway in the season, while Thrower couldn’t crack the lineup period (and didn’t fare particularly well in the ECHL).
Needs Assessment: High: It’s hard to give anything in the AHL a high rating but it’s warranted here. At least two quality veteran blueliners are sorely needed (re-signing Drewiske would really be nice) while it’s likely another two or three players on AHL deals will be needed. Expect a lot of movement here.
The Habs had four blueliners outside the AHL last year although two of those will turn pro full-time in 2015-16. Brett Lernout had a strong final junior season with Swift Current and didn’t look out of place in a handful of games with Hamilton last year and he’ll likely crack St. John’s roster. Josiah Didier had a decent year to end his college career and he too played alright with the Bulldogs. He’ll also be joining St. John’s but will do so on an AHL deal, meaning that the Habs will relinquish his NHL rights.
As for those who will stay unsigned, Nikolas Koberstein had a slow start to his USHL career but improved as the year went on, especially after getting dealt to Bloomington midseason. He’ll be off to the NCAA next year and will require several seasons of development before being AHL ready. Colin Sullivan is now three years removed from being drafted and has done next to nothing in that time. He’s a write-off at this point.
Needs Assessment: High: Forget the cupboard being bare – it’s practically empty. While things are looking up long-term at the NHL level in terms of young, controllable blueliners, there is still a need to have players in the pipeline. The Habs could stand to pick three or four in this draft alone; realistically, a couple of blueliners (one of which being from the CHL) need to be added in the near future.