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As the last few contracts get finalized throughout the NHL, our thoughts turn to some of the pending free agents for the Habs. Rather than wait until next offseason to get deals done, would it be worth trying to get some extensions done before the 2013-14 campaign begins? Our writers have pondered this and offer up their preferences on who they'd like to see GM Marc Bergevin get a deal done with sooner than later.
Each writer was asked the following question: If you could only extend one pending free agent during training camp, who would it be and why?
Matt Dilworth: Although Subban is the obvious answer and would quiet any contract talk (you know itís going to be beaten to death by the media), Iíll go a different route: Alexei Emelin. Emelin is going to be an UFA at the end of the season, and given the way he has played and addressed the major need for physicality from the back end, heís going to warrant a significant raise from the $2M he will get this year. As we all know, Emelin will be injured to begin the season as he recovers from knee surgery, and there are doubts that his game will be the same upon his return. Signing Emelin to a longer term contract would be a great risk, and a demonstration of tremendous faith by Marc Bergevin... but the Canadiens could also end up netting quite a bargain given those circumstances.
A similar situation played itself out with Josh Gorges in 2011, when he was only able to get a one-year contract until he proved that he could was 100% recovered from a major surgery. Once he proved that he could, he cashed in the next season on a 6-year deal ($3.9M/year), and made it no secret that he would have signed for less had they taken a chance on him the year prior. So, since itís not my money, I say take a risk on Emelin long-term. The way that he was playing prior to his injury could very well price him out of Montreal once heís healthy again, and heís exactly the kind of player the Canadiens need.
Brian La Rose: When it comes to early extensions, I'm looking for bargains or players that the organization strongly believes has another level to his game. That's not P.K. Subban, you're not getting a bargain when a player is coming off a Norris-winning season so I'd be inclined to wait there. My priority would be Lars Eller. He's on the final year of his bridge deal and will be due a raise. However, he's coming off of a season where he saw mostly third line minutes but it's expected that his line (with sophomores Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher) will have a bigger role this year. A bigger role should yield a higher points total and with it, a higher asking price. Thus, I think the cost to ink Eller will be higher at the end of the year than it is now so as long as the organization thinks he has another level to his game, he's someone worth approaching to get an extension done now.
Alex Lťtourneau: Extend P.K. Subban as soon as possible. Outside of the clear fact that heís entering the season as the reigning Norris Trophy winner and his upside still seems to be limitless, Iím more interested in avoiding the media coverage that will come from any time spent on his contract. The longer it takes, the more the talking heads will overanalyze everything he, or the organization, does. Get it done, get it done quick, and immediately remove an imminent distraction for the players as training camp begins.
Matt Macaskill: Coming off a Norris Trophy season, Subban would be the obvious choice. However, given his RFA status I would wait it out and see if he can repeat this season. With his contract expectations already hovering around the $7 million dollar mark, signing him now or later wonít make too great a difference. Management will have a clearer idea as to where to draw his salary increase from at the end of the season. For example, getting Giontaís $5 million off the books would suffice. Of the Habs pending free agents, I would re-sign Emelin as soon as possible. While heís still rehabbing a serious injury, it would be best to have him signed and secured. It was hard enough to convince him to come over to Montreal, so hopefully they can keep him. Securing him might even convince Markov to stick around at a cheaper cost than his current $5.75 million price tag.
Kevin Meldrum: The long term future of the Habs is Subban and Eller, but they are RFA's that you have time to sign in the offseason or through the year so for me the top free agent to extend is Emelin. He proved his worth to the Habs last year and without that punishing body checker on the blueline the Canadiens were exposed in the playoffs. I believe Emelin is only going to get better which makes his extension the most important as you do not want to lose him for nothing and he can not be replaced within the organization.
Norm Szcyrek: Subban is the key player the Habs should extend as soon as possible. He's the cornerstone on defence, the face of the Habs and the franchise player for the team. How many other Habs players have been awarded any league trophies in the past few years? It's been hinted that the team is interested in starting the negotiations, but Subban's agent is likely going to bide his time to help drive up the price. Hopefully Bergevin will also spend some time on extending other Habs upcoming free agents. My order of signing importance would be: Subban, Eller, Diaz, Emelin, Markov, Gionta.