In terms of unrestricted free agents, the strength of the market lies on the wings. While that also happens to be Montreal’s strength up front, that shouldn’t stop them from adding more if the right option presents itself.
At the moment, the Habs have eight wingers who are top nine forwards – Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher, Artturi Lehkonen, Paul Byron, Andrew Shaw, and Ales Hemsky. Considering only six of those can be on the wing inside that top nine, adding more to the mix may seem a bit like overkill but it still isn’t a bad way to go.
The reality is that the Canadiens aren’t particularly a high scoring team. Yes, they’re in dire need of centre help but there isn’t much help realistically out there unless there are some surprising names in play on the trade market that haven’t come out publicly. If they can’t add scoring depth there, adding even more scoring depth on the wings is the next best thing.
In terms of free agents, players like Thomas Vanek, Jaromir Jagr, and Drew Stafford (as a bounce back candidate, he’s an intriguing option) can all still help a team. While they may seem redundant as things currently stand, the Habs aren’t in a spot to be turning down offensive help by any stretch.
Of their current wingers, a few of them have spent some time at centre in the past and could conceivably shift over. Galchenyuk is the obvious one and easily the popular choice among the fan base. I get the sense that management would like to keep him on the wing but if there are no new centres come training camp, they could be forced to give it another try. Drouin spent some time there in junior but that was a few years ago which may make it risky to shift him back now.
Then there’s Shaw, who has recent experience down the middle and was surprisingly above average at the faceoff dot as well last season. It’s plausible that he could slide into a third line centre role although doing so would likely mean Phillip Danault and Tomas Plekanec would reprise their one-two roles from this past season. That’s not an ideal scenario but the point is that there are some internal options that could move to centre and alleviate some of the logjam.
It’s also not a bad idea to hedge against the potential for injuries or players not matching their 2016-17 production. Ales Hemsky is coming off major hip surgery and has a bit of a track record of missing time over the years; it’s probably not realistic to expect him to play all 82 games. In terms of players falling back a bit, it’s hard to imagine Paul Byron holding down a 22% shooting percentage for a third straight season so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him drop into a lesser role at some point as well.
In terms of making room on the roster, it’s the same situation if they sign a centre. Andreas Martinsen is certainly a candidate for waivers while Michael McCarron is waiver exempt (and there’s a case to be made he should be in the minors to keep working on his offensive game anyway). There is 23-man roster room to work with if they need it, even with Charles Hudon hoping to make a push as well.
In a perfect world, GM Marc Bergevin will find a way to land a top six centre to help alleviate the scoring concerns up front. If that doesn’t happen though, adding further to their strength on the wings isn’t a bad way to go either. Scoring help is scoring help and there’s no need for them to be picky about how they get it.