The unrestricted free agency period is nearly upon us with July 1st just hours away. One of Marc Bergevin’s favourite expressions is ‘you can never have too many defencemen’. With that in mind the Montreal Canadiens may be in play to obtain a blueliner to shore up their back end, or perhaps even a goaltender for additional depth. Here are a few of the available candidates Montreal may consider.
Dan Hamhuis (VAN)
Hamhuis is a responsible defenceman with decent size who makes good decisions with and without the puck. He can move the puck out of his zone and represents a decent second pairing player, who can play on the power play and penalty kill also. He’s had a few different injuries over the past two seasons. He’s 33 now and the oldest blueliner on Vancouver’s squad.
His current team is his hometown Canucks and from all accounts they aren’t going to try to re-sign him. These last few facts may make a few teams wary to sign Hamhuis for more than a couple of seasons, including Montreal.
Kris Russell (DAL)
If a team is looking for a shot blocking defenceman, than Russell is their man. One of the league leaders in that category the past couple of seasons, Russell is coming off a $2.6M contract with Dallas, after a trade deadline deal moved him from Calgary. Russell is undersized and can struggle against bigger forwards in his own zone.
As a 29 year old UFA, Russell should easily find a team to call home in a long-term situation, likely 4-5 years. Kris is a good defender but I’m not sure he would make a good fit in Montreal.
Jason Demers (DAL)
Demers represents a local guy having been born in Dorval, Quebec, so there may be a sentimental reason for his wanting to play in Montreal. Jason is a very solid blueliner, able to move the puck out of his zone easily and rush the puck out when necessary. He has decent size and strength and is very reliable in his own zone. It won’t hurt his cause that he’s a right handed shooting defender too.
His last salary cap hit in Dallas was $3.4M, and there are reports he will be looking for at least $5.5M, which the Stars won’t be able to afford. If there’s a defenceman I would like to see Marc Bergevin sign, it’s him.
Brian Campbell (FLA)
Campbell is a very mobile blueliner, with strong hockey sense and the ability to move the puck out of his zone easily. He’s a power play stalwart, and as a left shooter could be a good complement to Shea Weber at the point. His defensive game is average and due to his lack of size he can be out muscled in his own zone.
There are rumours that he’s interested in returning to Chicago, for around half the $7M he was earning in Florida. The Blackhawks have been in a cap crunch but with their recent trades of Bryan Bickell to Carolina and Andrew Shaw to Montreal they may now have enough room to accommodate ‘Soupy’s’ return to Chi-town if his price is right. I don’t believe Montreal will have a lot of interest in signing him.
Nicklas Grossmann (ARI)
Grossman has settled into a bottom pairing role with the teams he played on in the NHL. At 6’4″ and 230 pounds, he’s a big specimen, and uses his size well on the penalty kill and to block shots. He’s a good skater with good puck handling skills but tends to stick to the safe play. He could be more physical to boost his value to a team.
At 31, he’s facing his first chance at free agency. It’s more likely that another team with a bigger need at defensive depth will woo Grossmann, and the Habs will likely not be one of Nicklas’ suitors on July 1st.
Eric Gryba (EDM)
Every Habs fan remembers Eric Gryba laying out Lars Eller with a dangerous hit in the 2013 playoffs. Yes Eller took a chance on a “suicide pass” from his own defenceman, but Gryba is the type of player who looks to punish an opponent any way he can. That’s his calling card at the pro level. His skating skills are limited as he can have difficulty dealing with fast forwards especially to the outside. Gryba will gladly drop his gloves and is fearless, taking on anyone.
His last contract had a $1.25M cap hit. As a 28 year old free agent, he’ll likely land with a team in the west that needs a big defender to deal with teams that have large forwards. He’s a bottom pairing player, but I predict Montreal will take a pass on trying to sign Gryba, regardless of the bad blood that may or may not linger between him and Montreal.
Matt Donovan (BUF)
It’s puzzling why a player like Matt Donovan didn’t manage to get into the Buffalo lineup this season. He’s a good skater with good offensive instincts, who can move the puck well. Despite that, he spent the entire season in the AHL instead of getting a single call up to the Sabres, a team that’s relatively young on the blueline. His size is not ideal for a defender, but at 6’1″ and 205 pounds, he’s not small either.
Donovan is only 26 and in an unusual position of being an unrestricted free agent this early in his career. He’s not very established and his last cap hit was $825K so there’s a good chance a team will take a chance on signing him as a depth defender. Given the Habs did the same thing to Mark Barberio last year and it turned out well for both the team and the player, Donovan may be a player Montreal will try to ink to a contract.
Zach Redmond (COL)
Redmond has had a few chances to break into the pros with Winnipeg and Colorado. So far he’s been given the yo-yo treatment between the AHL and NHL. He has decent size, is a very good skater, who can move the puck well or make a strong pass. He has struggled with consistency this season and was relegated to the 3rd pairing most games.
For a team like the Avalanche who needs puck moving defenders, it’s difficult to understand why Redmond wasn’t given another contract. Much like Matt Donovan, Zach may be a player a team like Montreal would gamble with a short term contract at a low cap hit, especially if he was willing to make it a two way deal.
The Hab’s braintrust may decide to be proactive and pick up a veteran netminder to provide some insurance in case Carey Price has an injury issue again. A few players like Chad Johnson, Al Montoya, Jhonas Enroth and Karri Ramo represent some of the better options in this category. All are true backups that are not really meant to challenge the incumbent, but someone who can handle some an extended workload if needed. Out of the group I would lean towards Johnson, who filled this exact role for Buffalo last season when their starter (Robin Lehner) was out of the lineup for most of the season.
There are also a few other options such as Yann Danis, Cedrick Desjardins, Jeff Zatkoff, and Alex Stalock if they want an older goalie for the minor leagues. All of these veterans may be more likely to start in the AHL than above it, but out of this group Zatkoff would be an interesting option.