The Habs were rebuffed in their attempts to land the biggest UFA fish in a while when John Tavares didn’t grant them a meeting last week. Beyond him, it’s a thin crop indeed, particularly at centre, however, there are a few intriguing options the team could take a look at.
John Tavares (NYI): Hey, a guy can dream…right?
Paul Stastny (WPG): The consolation prize in the Tavares sweepstakes is Stastny. He’s consistently put up good numbers throughout his career but has also consistently battled injuries. He would add immediate top-six centre help to the Habs, but he won’t come cheap as teams that missed out on Tavares may be going hard after him. His strong playoffs with the Jets increased his value and a return to Winnipeg is certainly a possibility, especially following their trade with Montreal on Saturday.
James Van Riemsdyk (TOR): JVR has been a consistent 30-goal threat throughout his career and is only expendable due to the infusion of talent in Toronto. He is likely the top winger available and would be a great replacement for Max Pacioretty should he be dealt (but then, why not just keep the captain around?).
James Neal (VGK): Another top-end winger available is Neal. While he seems to have gained a bit of a bad rep over the years, he seemed to fit in well with the misfit crew in Vegas and has never failed to score 20 goals in a season – now up to 10 years and counting.
Tyler Bozak (TOR): Teams that miss out on both Tavares and Stastny may want to have a look at Bozak. Already 32, he is a solid addition to the middle-six forward group and would be an excellent third line centre on a great team, or a decent second liner on a lesser one. Bozak has consistently produced offensively over the years on some poor Leafs teams and is in a great position to cash in.
Rick Nash (BOS): The big scoring winger is not the man he used to be as the years have begun to take their toll. Nevertheless, he has racked up more than 400 goals throughout his career and could provide some depth scoring. Nash may still retire due to injury concerns and has decided to step back from the UFA frenzy for the time being.
David Perron (VGK): It’s likely due to the French connection, but it seems like Perron is constantly linked to the Habs in one way or another. Coming off a strong year in Vegas, during which he put up 66 points in just 70 games, Perron is set to join his seventh team. He’s tough to play against and can put up points but has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. Given the Canadiens’ depth on the wings it’s hard to see where he would fit, but his ability to play both sides helps.
Michael Grabner (NJD): The Austrian speedster just keeps putting up goals, with 27 last season, repeating his total from the season before. Much like current Hab Paul Byron, speed is his greatest asset and he is often used on the penalty kill where he is a threat to score shorthanded. Grabner is another player that can line up at both wing positions.
Riley Nash (BOS): Nash broke through with Boston last season, putting up 40 points for the first time in his career after just 17 the year before. While Nash will attract significant interest as a potential third line centre in a thin market, it should be buyer beware on a 29-year-old coming off a breakout season.
Patrick Maroon (ANA): Maroon brings a lot to the table – toughness, physicality, and the ability to score from the wing. He’s demonstrated that he has the ability to play with good players and just two seasons ago potted 27 goals with the Oilers. He took a step back last season but will attract plenty of suitors.
Anthony Duclair (CHI): The 22-year-old Laval native wasn’t tendered as an RFA by the Blackhawks and may be a good, cheap option for the Habs. Duclair had success playing with new addition Max Domi in Arizona and at the World Juniors and would be an interesting reclamation project for a Montreal squad with plenty of young forwards to start building around.
Tobias Rieder (LA): Another RFA that wasn’t tendered, the 25-year-old German was traded to LA midseason by the Coyotes. While he won’t light up the scoresheet, Rieder has the ability to play up and down the lineup, kill penalties, and contribute a bit offensively. His versatility will make him an attractive option in this year’s free agent market.
Antoine Roussel (DAL): One of the great agitators in today’s NHL, Roussel has racked up at least 100 PIMs each of the last five seasons, but has also shown some offensive ability. Adding him to a roster that already includes the likes of Andrew Shaw, Brendan Gallagher, and Domi could be a nightmare for opposing teams, but given that he is a UFA he would likely cost too much to justify having him and Shaw on the roster.
Tomas Plekanec (TOR): With any luck, the turtleneck will make its return to Montreal this season. He never looked right in a Maple Leafs jersey and bringing him back to play his 1,000th game and finish his career in Montreal sounds just about perfect. Additionally, Plekanec is still an effective depth centre that could serve as a mentor for some of the teams’ young up-and-coming centres and the fit is just too good to pass up.
Derek Ryan (CAR): Another late bloomer like Riley Nash above, Ryan broke out with 38 points in just his second full NHL season at 30 years of age. Ryan built a successful career in Europe prior to making his return to the NHL with Carolina. While it may be too much to ask for him to continue to improve, he could be a strong depth option down the middle.
Jay Beagle (WAS): A solid, veteran, two-way centre, Beagle won a Stanley Cup with the Capitals last season and would be a good bottom-six addition to just about any team. He brings strong penalty killing and good faceoff skills to the table.
Antoine Vermette (ANA): Much like Beagle, Vermette is now a veteran depth centre at this stage in his career. At 36 he played his 1,000th game last season and is clearly winding his career down, but he could be added to provide depth down the middle.
Austin Czarnik (BOS): Czarnik was signed by the Bruins as a UFA coming out of the NCAA just a few years back, and is still just 25 years old. He failed to break into the Bruins’ lineup despite posting over a point per game in the AHL. Undersized at just 5’9, there does appear to be some potential for Czarnik to contribute at the NHL level and word is he’s attracting plenty of interest.