The Habs headed into the summer with a need to upgrade down the middle. A little more than a week into free agency, it’s still a glaring need and unfortunately for GM Marc Bergevin, quality options aren’t in abundance.
Here are the few centres of note remaining in free agency.
Stephane Da Costa: The former Senator went to the KHL three years ago and has emerged as an intriguing bounce back candidate after posting 96 points in 94 games over three seasons. He also made a strong impression with Team France at the World Championships back in May. However, he has been quite injury prone over the past two seasons and he didn’t exactly light up in his first NHL stint. There’s a little bit of potential upside here but adding him could also backfire as he’s not the type of player who can rely on other elements to succeed.
Matt Cullen: Although he’s 40, Cullen has shown he still be productive from the bottom six and can move up in a pinch as well. However, if he does decide to play next season, it likely will once again be with Pittsburgh or with Minnesota to move closer to home. Even if he were to go elsewhere, he’s not an ideal top six option despite being one of the top centres still available.
Mike Fisher: The most productive centre left on the open market, Fisher could potentially fit into a second line role in the short-term. At 37, he hasn’t decided on whether or not he intends to keep playing and the expectation is that he’d likely return to the Predators anyways.
After those three (which realistically is basically only Da Costa), the next guys up are Mike Ribeiro, Brandon Pirri, and Ryan White. To put it nicely, pickings are really slim.
Accordingly, the trade route may be the way to go although again, there aren’t a whole lot of quality options readily available that represent notable upgrades on Phillip Danault and Tomas Plekanec.
Matt Duchene is available for a king’s ransom (and then some) and while Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a popular speculative option, they can easily afford to hold onto him for another season. An offer sheet for Leon Draisaitl is a pipe dream. Artem Anisimov was thought to be available but Chicago has got their cap situation in better shape so he will likely stay now. Washington’s Lars Eller may be available given their cap situation but he wouldn’t make much of a difference. There are others with not-so-desirable contracts but with Carey Price’s extension kicking in a year from now, Bergevin probably won’t have much appetite to take one of those on for only a marginal upgrade.
We’re still in July and a lot can still happen, most of which will be decided by Andrei Markov when he decides on his future in Montreal or elsewhere. If he re-signs, most of their cap space will be gone and they’ll be forced to look for cheap upgrades or keep the status quo. If not, they’ll have the money to add someone but not a whole lot to choose from unless they’re open to taking on a bigger contract.
Alex Galchenyuk may be tired of the questions about whether or not he’ll play on the wing or at centre but barring some sort of trade in the weeks ahead, he’d be wise to ready himself to face them some more as there’s a decent chance that the centre situation in Montreal won’t be much different than it is now when training camp rolls around.