While Montreal already has plenty of forwards under contract for next season, there are quite a few options available in free agency that could boost their roster.
Top of the Class
Matt Duchene: It doesn’t seem like he’ll be back with the Blue Jackets and with Kevin Hayes now signed in Philadelphia, he’s the top young(ish) centre available by a considerable margin. Nashville seemed to signal their intentions to try to sign him with the P.K. Subban trade but Duchene has met with the Habs. The price tag won’t be cheap though as it could surpass the $9 million per season mark.
Anders Lee: Quite honestly, it’s quite surprising that he’s still unsigned as everyone expected that he’d have re-signed with the Islanders by now. The sticking point seems to be term as he’s seeking close to a max-term deal but New York seems to be holding close to a four-year offer. Lee is coming off of a bit of a quieter year offensively with 28 goals after scoring 40 and 34 in the previous two seasons. He’s one of the top natural scorers available but if he’s seeking a long-term deal, there is some risk involved.
Artemi Panarin: While Duchene is the top centre in this class, Panarin is by far and away the top player still available. It seems likely that he’ll remain in the East with the Panthers, Islanders, and Rangers among the teams showing interest. He’d be a great fit in Montreal (or anywhere) but he’ll likely become the highest-paid winger in league history which prices most teams out of the market in a hurry.
Joe Pavelski: It looks like he’s on his way out of San Jose due to salary cap constraints. While he’s about to turn 35, he’s coming off the highest goal total of his career (38) and is still one of the better two-way forwards in the league. He’d be a nice final piece to add for a contender and that’s not exactly where the Habs are at the moment.
Derick Brassard: Last season was a nightmare for him. He didn’t fit in with Pittsburgh, was a little better in Florida, and didn’t play well down the stretch with Colorado. As a result, he’s probably looking for a short-term deal in the hopes of rebuilding his value. If he’s winning to play on the wing (something he has resisted previously), he could make a bit of sense for the Habs as a short-term supplemental piece.
Brett Connolly: Connolly very quietly posted career highs offensively last season despite barely averaging 14 minutes a night. Perhaps more impressively, 44 of his 46 points came at even strength; finding someone who can be that productive at even strength isn’t easy. This isn’t his first crack at unrestricted free agency after being non-tendered earlier in his career but he’ll have a lot more interest this time around.
Ryan Dzingel: It will be interesting to see how much his post-deadline play hurts him. Dzingel was quite strong in Ottawa but wasn’t able to sustain that in Columbus. While his numbers on the season suggest he’s an impact piece, will teams be hesitant based on how things went with the Blue Jackets? There might be a bit of risk here but there’s some upside as well.
Micheal Ferland: It turns out his offensive uptick in Calgary wasn’t a one-off as he was able to maintain that in Carolina. Power forwards are always in high demand and unlike some of the others in this class, Ferland is still in the prime of his career. There’s going to be a lot of interest and his contract is going to be a pricey one.
Marcus Johansson: When healthy, Johansson can be an effective middle-six forward. Of course, staying healthy has long been a concern for him. Nonetheless, as one of the younger forwards on the market and the fact that he has played all three forward positions, it’s believed there are a lot of suitors for his services.
Mats Zuccarello: He was heading for a career year before a lingering groin issue and then an arm injury in his Dallas debut put an end to that. Nonetheless, he’s one of the more consistent wingers out there, averaging being 0.63 and 0.83 points per game in the last six seasons. However, he’s going to be 32 soon and is believed to be coveting a five-year contract.
Patrick Marleau: To no one’s surprise, he showed no interest in playing for Carolina after they took on his contract to buy a first-round pick and they have bought out the contract. Expect him to head West, probably back to San Jose.
Corey Perry: After getting bought out from Anaheim, Perry has garnered a lot of interest so far (including from the Habs). While he wouldn’t exactly fit in on a team with an up-tempo style of play, he can still get to the dirty areas and as the playoffs showed, it’s still useful to have some players like that on the roster. Because of his time missed due to injury, he’s eligible for a contract with incentives as long as it’s a one-year term which will open up more options for him.
Wayne Simmonds: He took a big step back last season as the rigours of playing a very physical style started to take its toll on the 30-year-old. Nonetheless, as a power forward, he will still attract some interest (including from Montreal according to reports) but he may not be able to command the big contract he was seeking at the start of last season.
Jason Spezza: He bounced back a little bit in 2018-19 after a rough season the year before but his days of being a top-six impact player are pretty much done. He’ll need to go year-to-year moving forward and he’ll probably be seeking a spot with a contender.
Joonas Donskoi: He had a nice first half of the season in San Jose despite moving up and down the lineup. However, he didn’t score in the final 34 games of the regular season and tallied just once in the playoffs. Nonetheless, he’s one of the younger free agents out there and there are quite a few teams that believe a change of scenery will get him back to producing like he was earlier.
Richard Panik: I’ve always liked Panik as a third-line option that can move up in a pinch. That’s probably the role teams will be envisioning for him. The Canadiens have a lot of those guys already but someone’s going to like the 10-15 goals he’ll bring.
Brandon Tanev: Anyone remember the Brandon Prust contract from years ago? This situation is pretty similar. Tanev went from being a fourth liner to someone that could be trusted in a larger role. He responded with a career year offensively and was one of the top hitters in the league. He’s probably going to wind up with a pretty serious commitment from someone.
Colin Wilson: He isn’t going to live up to his draft billing but Wilson has emerged as a reasonable third-liner. That’s not going to get anyone overly excited but he should be able to contribute double-digit goals despite not getting much power play time. There’s still some value in that.
Top AHL Scorers
The past few years, the Habs have gone after some key AHL veterans to help their farm team. If they do that again this summer, these are some of the players to watch for.
Riley Barber: Barber was a prolific scorer in college and has been pretty good at the AHL level too. Despite that, he never really got a look in Washington and was quick to declare after the season that he’s looking forward to getting a shot elsewhere. He plays with enough of an edge to his game to make him a sneaky fourth line option as well. Even better, he doesn’t count against the veteran limit in the AHL.
Daniel Carr: Here’s a familiar name. Carr went to Vegas in the hopes of getting a better NHL opportunity and wound up spending almost the entire season in the minors where he led the league in scoring. He’s going to get a lot of interest this summer as a result which probably takes a return to Montreal off the table.
Jean-Sebastian Dea: I wouldn’t be shocked if this is Montreal’s target to be a new Byron Froese. The Laval native has been quite productive in the AHL the last few years and has done enough to hold his own on the fourth line as well when injuries arise. One negative is that he qualifies as a veteran and if the Habs wind up waiving a few of their extra pieces, that could create a logjam.
Andrew Poturalski: After being a quality AHL player the previous two seasons, Poturalski emerged as a star on Carolina’s farm team last year and followed that up by leading the playoffs in scoring. He’s the closest forward to Matthew Peca and Austin Czarnik on the market (VI free agents that are going to get a pretty big contract) and doesn’t even qualify for veteran-exempt status let alone being designated as a veteran which will help his value.
T.J. Tynan: He has never been a prolific goal scorer in the minors but he’s reached at least 40 assists in three of the last four seasons and teamed up with Carr to become the most dangerous one-two punch in the AHL. While the Habs have some promising youngsters down there, bringing in a quality setup option would be a nice boost for Laval’s attack and help in their prospect development.
With 45 committed/encumbered contracts (the RFAs), there isn’t a lot of room for the Habs to add up front, especially if they bring in another goalie and/or a defenceman. Duchene certainly appears to be an option and they might take a run at someone in that second tier if that falls through. If GM Marc Bergevin wants to give Laval a boost (they’ll need it), expect them to be in on one of the players in that class of AHL players as well.
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