While the Habs already have quite a few defencemen under contract, they’re still likely to be pursuing some blueliners on the open market. Here are some of the players to watch for.
Mike Green (DET): Green was shaping up to be one of the more coveted rentals back at the trade deadline but neck issues wound up scuttling any deal. He’s now fully recovered from offseason surgery and enters the open market as the top offensive blueliner available after John Carlson re-signed in Washington. Given the shortage of options out there, he could land a three- or four-year deal with a cap hit relatively close to the $6 million he made the last three years. As a righty, the Habs probably won’t be pursuing Green.
Calvin de Haan (NYI): A midseason shoulder injury that required surgery ended his year much earlier than he would have liked but he is still going to attract a lot of interest. He’s just 27 which makes him one of the youngest players on the market and he’s a steadying presence in his own end. De Haan doesn’t have much experience playing in a top-pairing role (he’s more of a second-pairing player) but he would help to stabilize Montreal’s defensive unit on the left side.
John Moore (NJ): Moore has largely flown under the radar but he has quietly put up 19 goals over the past two seasons, well above average for a defenceman. He’s not someone that would ideally play alongside Shea Weber regularly but he could slide in nicely on the second or third pairing while giving them a left-shot threat from the point on the power play, something they’ve lacked as of late.
Ian Cole (CBJ): Cole has established himself as an old-fashioned defender who hits and blocks shots and can hold his own for 16-18 minutes a night. That may not sound too thrilling but consider what Montreal’s third pairing has looked like the last couple of years. A little bit of stability wouldn’t be a bad thing although his price tag will probably be high.
Jack Johnson (CBJ): He’s coming off of a year to forget, one that saw him as a healthy scratch for the postseason. Despite that, he can still log big minutes although his offensive upside isn’t what it once was. Montreal has been speculatively linked to him previously although it seems like he’s closing in on a deal elsewhere already.
Dan Hamhuis (DAL): He’s getting up there in age (35) but Hamhuis has shown that he can still hold down a top-four role and kill penalties. He’s not an ideal option to partner with Weber on the left side but they could certainly do a whole lot worse. For teams simply looking for a short-term upgrade, he would be a good option.
Thomas Hickey (NYI): While he’s often remembered as the player that the Kings drafted way too early in the first round years ago, Hickey has actually carved out a role for himself as a 4/5 defender in recent years. He’s actually the second-highest point getter on the open market and he plays the left side. He’d complement Weber’s skill set but it’s fair to question if he’d be able to handle the tougher workload.
Alexei Emelin (NSH): He’s familiar with the Habs, they’re familiar with him, and he actually briefly held his own with Weber a couple of years ago. Depending on what he’s looking for on his next deal (and if the Habs can ship out some of their excess depth), a reunion with Emelin could actually make a little bit of sense. (Speaking of former Habs, Greg Pateryn is available as well but given how he left, a reunion doesn’t appear to be in the cards.)
Nick Holden (BOS): After putting up 34 points two years ago, his production was cut in half this past season. He’s shaky at times in his own end but is a good skater and would give the Habs a decent offensive threat on the left side. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him look for a one-year deal in the hopes of rebuilding his value and Montreal could very well be in a spot to put him in a situation to succeed.
Dylan DeMelo (SJ): It may seem hard to believe but DeMelo had the third-most assists of any UFA blueliner in 2017-18. He has struggled to find a full-time spot in San Jose’s lineup in recent years which likely played a role in their decision to not tender the 25-year-old a qualifying offer. If management wants Noah Juulsen to start in Laval, signing DeMelo to play on the third pairing on the right side wouldn’t be a bad idea. If he pans out, he’d even be RFA-eligible for another year.
Tobias Enstrom (WPG): While he has been overpaid for quite some time, Enstrom has been a decent player in past years when he is healthy (which hasn’t been all that often). He’s still a quality skater and passer, elements that Montreal’s defence corps could certainly benefit from. He’s only a year removed from playing nearly 22 minutes per game so he could play up the depth chart in a pinch as well. Enstrom isn’t a top blueliner anymore but he may still have another good year or two left.
Michal Kempny (WSH): After not doing a whole lot in Chicago, Kempny took off upon being dealt to Washington (which wound up helping prevent Jakub Jerabek from playing a whole lot there) as he held his own alongside Carlson. That’s not really an ideal role for him though as he’s a better fit on the third pairing. If the Habs liked what they saw of him in the postseason, they could make a run at him but he’s more likely staying with the Caps.
Xavier Ouellet (DET): While the Habs have no need for another 6/7 defenceman, they have reportedly shown interest in Ouellet. He’s well-known to Joel Bouchard who was his assistant coach for two years in junior and that is probably a factor in their interest. The asking price would be pretty low considering he went unclaimed on waivers at a $1.25 million cap hit.
Presently, Laval has Matt Taormina, Rinat Valiev (assuming they clear waivers), David Sklenicka, Michal Moravcik, Simon Bourque, and Adam Plant all on the left side. (And if Simon Despres truly wants to play for his hometown team, he’d slot in there as well). On the right side, there’s Brett Lernout (pending waivers) and T.J. Melancon. (If signed, Cale Fleury would also fit here.) That’s not great depth on that side. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Habs target a right-shot player in free agency on a two-way contract. Here are some players that could fit the bill.
Adam Clendening (CHI): The 25-year-old was recently non-tendered by Chicago after spending most of last year in the minors. Clendening has actually been more of an NHL seventh defender over the last few years and is someone that could conceivably make a push for that role in Montreal or be a top recall option.
Frank Corrado (PIT): His days of being a prospect are over but Corrado has been a steady AHL player over the last couple of years while being an option to be called up. He can’t log big minutes in the NHL but they could do worse.
Paul Postma (BOS): He’s actually only one season removed from being close to a regular with Winnipeg but he spent a lot of time in Boston’s press box while also clearing waivers. At this point, I think Postma is going to be hard-pressed to find a team where he could make a push for an NHL roster spot so finding a team where he could be an early recall would be the better way to do.
Ryan Sproul (NYR): He’s my preferred signing of anyone in this group. Sproul didn’t fare too badly down the stretch with the Rangers and he was quite productive in the minors. He’s also just 25. I don’t think he’s a late bloomer and there’s upside to bring out still but he’s a legitimate top pairing option in the AHL and could give the Habs 14-15 capable minutes per game if need be.
Zach Trotman (PIT): He has bounced around the last couple of years after being a part-time NHLer for the previous two seasons. Trotman doesn’t have the offensive upside as some of the others here but he’s a stable player who might help Taormina when he jumps up in the attack (which happens an awful lot).
Options for AHL-only contracts: Garrett Cockerill (San Antonio), Jesse Graham (San Antonio), Sean Walker (Ontario)
While these are all right-hand shots, I also want to mention a name to watch for that isn’t drawing much attention in Jacob MacDonald. Two years ago, he was a decent offensive threat at the ECHL level but he has since blossomed into an elite producer in the AHL; he actually led all AHL defencemen in scoring in 2017-18. I know the Habs have good depth on the left side in the minors already but a one-two punch of Taormina and MacDonald would make their back end a major offensive threat.