We’re now one month into free agency and the pickings left on the open market are slim. Is there anyone still available that could be of use to the Habs?
Rick Nash: He was one of the more prominent players to get to free agency but the fact he remains unsigned is solely his choice as he’s unsure if he wants to play next season. If he decides to, it’s unlikely the Habs would be a fit for him but if they were to move Max Pacioretty and wanted a competent replacement for the short-term (and trade bait at the deadline potentially), he’d make some sense to try to add.
Mark Letestu: He’s more of a fourth line centre at this point but he can win draws, help a power play, and fetch a draft pick at the deadline. (Antoine Vermette has a similar profile minus the power play stuff.) That’s about all that needs to be said.
Mike Cammalleri: He isn’t a legitimate top-six forward anymore but he managed to put up a respectable 29 points in 65 games last year. In a third line offensive role, he could make a bit of sense.
Basically, the market up front is Nash and then a whole lot of role players and Montreal has quite a few of those already.
Toby Enstrom: If the Habs want to add more mobility to their back end, that’s one part of Enstrom’s game that hasn’t deteriorated much in recent years. He’s a decent possession player and might actually be a better option for a playing partner for Shea Weber (when he returns) than anyone else on the roster.
Luca Sbisa: It feels like Sbisa has been around forever already but he’s only 28 and is coming off of a decent, albeit injury-plagued season with Vegas. Unfortunately, he’s another lefty and the Habs have enough of those already.
Kevin Bieksa: He’s not really a top player anymore (or close to it) but he’s a right-shot player and Montreal’s depth on that side isn’t the greatest. Cody Franson is another who could fill a role if they don’t have confidence in Brett Lernout. Call these two PTO options if they want more completion at camp.
Enstrom is the best of a pretty thin list here but it’s hard to envision the Habs adding more to their left side without dealing someone else away first.
Potential Two-Way Options
This is a group of players who are still relatively young (25 or under), have some NHL experience, but may have to take a two-way deal this time around.
Ryan Sproul: He fared okay with the Rangers down the stretch last year in a third pairing role and if they want someone other than Lernout that’s a right-hand shot, Sproul is the best bet on a two-way deal. At 25, there could still be a tiny bit of upside (but that’s not too likely). Toss Frank Corrado in this category as well.
Nick Shore: He’s 25, a centre, and consistently posts positive possession numbers. He’d be a nice top liner in Laval that’s capable of playing on a third or fourth line in Montreal if need be.
Tomas Jurco: The offensive skills are certainly there but he has yet to really harness them consistently. The Habs have strong depth on the wing already, however, so there isn’t really a path to playing time right away.
AHL Contract Options
These are players who were on an NHL deal last year but went unqualified in June and are unlikely to get an NHL contract right away.
Emile Poirier: He certainly didn’t live up to expectations after being a 2013 first-rounder but was relatively productive in the minors last year. If he’s going to take a minor league deal, perhaps he’d be open to taking one close to home where he’d give Laval some extra depth on the wing.
Jesse Graham: Graham had a decent season with Colorado’s AHL affiliate (21 points in 46 games) and would supply the Habs with more depth on the right side on the back end.
As you can see, pickings are relatively slim across the board with the exception of players who could be PTO candidates in the weeks to come. With that in mind, don’t be surprised if the rest of Montreal’s free agent activity is the re-signings of Michael McCarron and Kerby Rychel.