Writers Weigh In: The Habs in Free Agency
Writers Weigh In: The Habs in Free Agency(2012-07-14 21:08 posted by B. La Rose)

Much to the surprise of many, GM Marc Bergevin was quite busy in the early hours of free agency with the additions of several new players.  Since then the club has been quiet, opting instead to take care of re-signing their own players.  With a chance to sit down and reflect on the moves made and what's still available on the market, our writers offer up their thoughts on free agency so far.

Kevin Beaumont: Since the evolution of David Desharnais, the growth of Lars Eller and the selection of Alex Galchenyuk, the need for a centre has seemingly been alleviated. So this pushes the need for a top-six winger front and center. With all hope lost in Scott Gomez and little enthusiasm for Rene Bourque the question of who will complement Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec is the most pertinent one. The signings of a few depth players were good ones indeed - but a lack of scoring is what ultimately lost the Habs most of their games last year. Their only real option is probably Shane Doan. I would give him what he wants (apparently 4 years or so) and make a statement that we want to put a winning product on the ice each year. It seems like a long deal, but there will be room for a few veterans still in two to three years as Gionta will most likely move on. Alexander Semin could be a gamble but he will be an expensive one. The likes of Petr Sykora and Tomas Holmstrom, in my opinion, should be left alone. Bergevin made no big free agent splash as of yet and indeed it may only come in the form of a trade as the free agent options are quickly thinning.

Alexander Lťtourneau: Aside from Shane Doan, maybe, I donít see much in the markets that would really help the Canadiens. Anything beneficial will have to come via trading prospects and or roster players. And to be blunt, Bergevin would be a fool to touch the current pool of prospects until they get some pro action under their belts. The next core of this team is in the pipeline, no sense jumping the gun until getting some kind of feeling of what they can do. I liked the additions of Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong, and Francis Bouillon, who won my heart after delivering a crippling punch to Darcy Tuckerís chin and flooring the pest. These moves added an element of toughness to the roster and should they all remain healthy, you can guarantee Carey Price will get run a whole lot less this season. The terrible three will be a focus as well and I donít think much will happen until management takes a decision on Scott Gomez, Tomas Kaberle and Rene Bourqueís contracts. Whether they can even entertain the idea of trading any of them is almost laughable, but funnier things have happened. Hopeful prediction: all three will not finish the season in the bleu-blanc-rouge.

Brian La Rose: Heading into July 1st, I thought the Habs would 'put all their eggs in one basket' and either go after a top six forward or a top four defenceman.  Instead, they chose to improve an area that got particularly weaker by the year, their depth.  When you look back to Montreal's playoff run a couple of seasons ago (it really seems like longer), one of their big strengths was having above average depth.  They have that now, even if it came at a pretty hefty price in the case of Brandon Prust.  Although most have him slotted as a fourth liner, I think there's a good chance he starts the season on the third line.  He has showed in the past that he can contribute a bit on the scoresheet; his career high point total of 29 wouldn't be bad for someone on that third unit (especially when compared to players in that role the past two years).  His PK contributions may take some pressure off of Tomas Plekanec which could help him in his efforts to contribute more offensively.

Colby Armstrong is a nice reclamation project to take a chance on.  If he's a complete bust, it's only $1 million and it's only one year, you cut bait with him at the end of the year and move on.  If he can provide some offence while playing his usual physical game, he'll be an above average fourth liner who could move up on the depth charts when injuries arise.  A depth defenceman was something I was hoping wouldn't be on Montreal's shopping list but Francis Bouillon isn't a bad one to get.  You'll get an honest effort every night (something that couldn't be said last year for a lot of players) and he is somewhat reliable in the offensive zone.  A short term contract also doesn't block the likes of Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu as realistically they will need and would benefit from a full year in Hamilton, a team that should benefit greatly from the return of Cedrick Desjardins.  I think the Bulldogs are going to struggle early on offensively as they try to integrate all of the incoming rookies into the lineup; having a goalie capable of stealing some games will keep them in some games until the youngsters find their bearings.  Adding another veteran to that squad (be it through an NHL or AHL deal) should be high on Bergevin's priority list once he takes care of his remaining RFA's.

Norm Szcyrek: There's a definite theme in the Habs UFA player signings:  toughness.  You can easily add character to that theme as well.  Bergevin appears to be trying to make the Habs a harder team to play against with these free agent signings.

Brandon Prust:  This is an excellent pick up, a legitimate tough guy who can actually play hockey too!  Prust tied for the league lead with 20 fights last season, so he's obviously willing to drop the gloves.  He's not a true heavyweight, but he's a great team player who sticks up for his teammates.  However, his penalty killing prowess and sandpaper approach to every game, is what will especially endear him to Habs fans.  He's missed only 1 game [a suspension] in the past 2 seasons. I found it interesting that his current girlfriend is from Montreal, since he's played in New York the past few years and lives in London, ON. Perhaps that was a factor in his choosing to sign with the Habs?

Francis Bouillon:  As a Habs returnee, "Boo" is in a relatively rare class of former players who came back for a second tour of duty in Montreal.  A favourite of Michel Therrien, he's short in stature, but sturdy on his skates and hard for bigger player to knock over, but not vice-versa.  He's on a 1 year contract which should give him enough incentive to play for the next one.  I remember an interview with him after his signing, and he still has a home in the Montreal area that is about a 10 minute drive from the practice facility. So I believe him when he said he always hoped he would have another chance to play in Montreal.

Colby Armstrong:  He had a terrible season in Toronto, suffering a broken foot, then a concussion from a puck hit off his head.  Armstrong's last two seasons were injury filled, but he only missed 3 games in his previous two seasons in Atlanta.  He brings toughness to the bottom six wing positions, and is good defensively. I remember Armstrong being the kind of player I hated to watch play against the Habs when he was in Pittsburgh and Atlanta, since he would play dirty often in order to win.  If he can stay relatively healthy, he'll likely become a player I'll cheer for with Montreal.

Mitchell Tierney: Montreal improved their team over the free agent period but they didnít fill either of the real holes on the roster. They shored up their bottom six forwards which look solid going forward. But they were not able to acquire a top six winger, preferably on the left side. The other thing the Habs would have ideally added would have been a solid veteran defender who could log some minutes and provide physicality on the backline. To be fair there were not many options at either of these positions in the free agent pool this year and most of those who would have filled the position the Habs would have had to overpay for. With their limited cap space and the fact that they still have to re-sign P.K. Subban this isnít an option for the Canadiens. However, the point of this piece is not to focus on what Montreal didnít do during free agency but what they did do.

To begin with Montreal signed Colby Armstrong. Of all the moves on July 1st I think this was the best. The Habs get a player in who is hungry after being bought out by Toronto and has plenty of talent if he can stay healthy. He brings physicality to the bottom six while at the same time plenty of skill. Beside Lars Eller I can see Armstrong returning to what he once was in this league which is an exceptional offensive bottom six forward. His best NHL season saw him score 22 goals and add 18 assists. Furthermore, Montreal added to their defensive depth by adding former Canadien Francis Boullion. Boullion wonít fix the problems on the Montreal blueline fully but he is a nice band-aid. His physicality will be welcome alongside a player like Raphael Diaz or Tomas Kaberle. Finally the biggest splash, compensation wise anyway, was bringing in New York Rangers enforcer Brandon Prust. Montreal signed Prust to a 4 year deal and while it was a nice signing they certainly overpaid for a player who will be mostly a fourth liner. However, with a division that is becoming increasingly tough Prust will look excellent alongside Ryan White on the fourth line, a line that could really intimidate. Overall good signings for Montreal, however they still have plenty of work to do before they can be considered a legitimate competitor.





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