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Every year NHL free agency includes several players who are considered headliners and capture the attention of the fan bases and media alike. But sometimes it is the players who avoid the spotlight for whatever reason, because they are rated lower or don't have similar statistics, that turn out to be the truly ground breaking acquisitions. This year's free agency isn't deep at any position but there are plenty of players who could potentially make headlines years later but not the day that they are signed.
The Montreal Canadiens will also be taking a hard look at this pool of players. Montreal could use another bottom 6 winger with scoring potential as well as one or even two top 6 wingers. This list of players could bring them a potentially key player for a low cap hit.
Bargain Buys:Mikael Samuelsson
Right Wing, 35
2011-12 Salary Cap Hit: $2.5 Million
2011-12 Statistics: 48 GP 13 G 15 A 28 P
When Samuelsson wants to he can have a huge impact. This is why at $2.5 Million he could be a huge steal for any team that pick him up. He has plenty of skill and experience both at the NHL level and internationally for Sweden. Injury trouble is obviously a factor for Samuelsson but had he played the full season this year he would have projected for 26 goals and 30 assists for 56 points which would have placed him among the headliners in this yearís free agency poor. Samuelsson wouldnít look too bad alongside Tomas Plekanec and could end up being a good short-term buy for the Canadiens if they wanted to make the pick up. However as usual with this sort of player term and price dictate whether it is worth picking the player up but I could see Samuelsson coming on the cheap.
Right Wing, 29
2011-12 Salary Cap Hit: $0.525 Million
2011-12 Statistics: 63 GP 11 G 16 A 27 P
This would be a big help for the Habs' bottom-6 forwards in terms of scoring. Montreal didnít get much secondary scoring this year and therefore with 27 points Stapleton could be a huge contributor. Although at 5í9 he isnít the biggest player on the market Stapleton would look very good on a ling alongside Lars Eller and Travis Moen that could be one of the best bottom 6 lines in the entire National Hockey League in terms of talent. Stapleton comes at a very small cap hit and could therefore be a huge steal for the Canadiens or any other team looking for this type of player.
2011-12 Salary Cap Hit: $0.7 Million
2011-12 Statistics: 77 GP 18 G 29 G 47 P
After a nearly 50 point season Kyle Wellwood could easily become one of the biggest steals at the centre position available in the 2012 free agency pool. Wellwood comes at a very low cap hit for what he produces and is highly underrated by many in the league. This means that there will probably be plenty of teams who take a pass on him only to regret it later. While Wellwood is a bit older now he would still make an excellent third line or possibly second line centre. In terms of the Canadiens they likely are not in the market for this kind of player with their present roster.
2011-12 Salary Cap Hit: $1.45 Million
2011-12 Statistics: 80 GP 10 G 7 A 17 P
Although he only made $1.45 million he is worth a look from NHL teams. At that price this solid NHL'er and penalty kill specialist could be worth every penny. McClement, at the right price could be a solid addition to any teams' group of bottom 6 forwards and a quick fix to a poor penalty kill. McClement is also a leader and could be a great acquisition for a team with a young core or young bottom 6 forwards. Again Montreal is probably not in the market for this kind of player at the moment with their top three centres already under contract.
The Other Guys:Peter Mueller
Right Wing, 24
2011-12 Salary Cap Hit: $2 Million
2011-12 Statistics: 32 GP 7 G 9 A 16 P
Mueller was once a very highly regarded player in this league and was originally regarded as a big piece for the Colorado Avalanche to have picked up. However injury problems have set him back and limited him to only 32 games this regular season. The Avalanche have decided that these injuries are too severe and let him go. But the potential is still present with Mueller and therefore he may become a low risk signing for any team that could potentially turn into a huge payoff. Letís not forget that in his rookie season he had over 50 points including 23 goals. That form isnít necessarily that far away from Mueller in the right situation with the right team. Could be the kind of ďhome runĒ offseason acquisition that Marc Bergevin may be looking for.
Left Wing, 25
2011-12 Salary Cap Hit: $2.5 Million
2011-12 Statistics: 16 GP 5 G 4 A 9 P
The former Montreal winger was highly touted in the city before leaving for the Minnesota Wild. Since leaving Latendresse has also encountered his share of injury troubles and this has caused the Wild to allow him to become an unrestricted free agent at the age of 25. Latendresse has never been a huge point scorer in the NHL although in his first season in Minnesota he did score 25 goals, although he only had 12 assists on top of that (Rene Bourque 2011-12 anyone?). Guillaume is again a low risk selection for any team in the market and could potential be a great fit for the Canadiens on the left side. However, there are circumstances behind why he left Montreal, I am assuming that it does not have to with former management but rather the city or media which means there may be little chance of a Montreal return for Guillaume.
Left Wing/Right Wing, 37
2011-12 Salary Cap Hit: $1.5 Million
2011-12 Statistics: 79 GP 17 G 31 A 48 P
Steve Sullivan is a very difficult character to judge at this point in his career. His stats during the 2011-12 season were still very, very good for a player of his age and the salary he is earning. At almost 20 goals and over 30 assists he is still a threat at 37. But how many of those points where generated by the players who played around him? At this point it seems like quite a few. For any team he would be a fairly big risk to take at this point, although his salary cap hit isnít huge. He does have a certain amount of leadership that could benefit any team. But for the Habs, or any other team looking for a left winger Sullivan probably isnít the direction to go.
2011-12 Salary Cap Hit: $2.3 Million
2011-12 Statistics: 70 GP 7 G 14 A 21 P
Gaustad was one of the shocks at the 2012 trade deadline when he was dealt from the Buffalo Sabres to the Nashville Predators for a 1st round pick, something Iím not sure he was worth for the Predators. What Gaustad brings is a solid third line centre that you can count on and is dependable. But that doesnít mean that he will necessarily put up points. With only 7 goals and 14 assists at a large salary cap hit of $2.3 million there are better players on the market at this position who will come at a lower price if you are looking for a point producing third liner.
Right Wing, 28
2011-12 Salary Cap Hit: $0.8 Million
2011-12 Statistics: 5 G 12 A 17 P
Prust is the kind of player that Montreal have been looking for in terms of a bottom 6 forward. He can provide some secondary scoring, mind you limited, while playing a grit role that every team needs a little bit of. Would fit nicely alongside a Ryan White on the fourth line. The main problem with Prust is that he may turn out to be a little bit pricey for a fourth liner. Any more then a million dollars a season and it becomes a bit dicey as to whether a player like Prust is worth the buy. He is seeking a long term deal in the $2 million range but it remains to be seen if he will find it.
Right Wing, 35
2011-12 Salary Cap Hit: $0.65 Million
2011-12 Statistics: 82 GP 21 G 23 A 44 P
Sykora can still score, that much is known. With 21 goals this season he once again looked like a decent threat. But at this point I only think it will go downhill for the aging winger who is past his prime. Plus Sykora has already made it clear that he intends to return to the Devils, a team he has spent a lot of his career with. For Montreal it is unlikely that they will even get a shot at signing Sykora but he is also a little too old for their benefit unless they could get him for a low price one year deal.