Arguably, the Canadiens most glaring need is at forward, both in terms of obtaining some proven scoring in the top-six and finding some players to fill in the bottom units, especially with Tom Pyatt, Benoit Pouliot and Jeff Halpern seemingly not destined for a return next season. In Part 2 of our UFA preview, we discuss potential attackers that may be of interest to Pierre Gauthier and his staff. The players will be broken down into three categories: big names, scorers and pluggers.
The Big Names
Brad Richards: In a year devoid of massive star power, Brad Richards clearly stands out amongst the forward pack. The former Conn Smythe winner has been excellent in Dallas, posting better than point-per-game numbers in his time there. Having said that, the salary he is likely to command will probably disenchant Pierre Gauthier rather quickly.
Jaromir Jagr: Probably the only other big name being bandied about this summer, the Jaromir Jagr saga has not died down yet. While my feelings on the matter were discussed at length in a previous column, it is worth mentioning again that he has 1599 points in 1273 games along with two Stanley Cups. At the right price, he could be an intriguing option, especially given his visible chemistry with Tomas Plekanec.
Andrew Brunette: The 37 year old winger may be getting long in the tooth, but he is nothing if not consistent. He has played over 80 games in all of the past nine seasons, scoring over 40 points each year. While perhaps not the most flamboyant or glamorous choice, he could prove to be a useful, one-year stop-gap on the Canadiens top forward lines.
Erik Cole: A player who has haunted the Habs on many occasions, Erik Cole also possess the kind of size and grit long coveted up front. Having said that, it would be foolish to confuse him for a dream power-forward. While Cole may have produced over 50 points in five of the past six seasons, he has never surpassed 61 points and has an underwhelming 14 points in 43 playoff appearances.
Simon Gagné: Many in Montreal would be thrilled to see the Canadiens bring in a Quebec native such as Gagné. And, mind you, he certainly is an efficient scorer who could help the Habs, as illustrated by his 564 career points. However, concussion issues have become a major concern over the past few years, limiting Gagné to 25 games in 2007-08 and under 64 games in each of the last two seasons.
Tomas Fleischmann: The Czech-forward had a disappointing start to the season, but once he was moved to the Avalanche he set the league ablaze, averaging a point-per-game until a blood clot condition sidelined him for the year. Assuming his health is in check, he could prove to be a versatile addition to the squad, especially since he can play both wing and centre. With fellow countryman Tomas Plekanec on the squad, there is also some potential for instant chemistry. Or, if Jagr joins as well, the Czech-connection. But I digress.
Ville Leino: Over the past two seasons, the Finnish forward has established himself as a legitimate offensive threat with the Flyers, proving invaluable in their run to the Final two years ago and notching a respectable 53 points this year. Blessed with tremendous speed, he could fit in nicely into Montreal’s team philosophy.
Eric Bélanger: The Sherbrooke native has made a niche for himself as a mid-level centre able to fulfill defensive duties while also contributing offensively, notching over 30 points for 8 consecutive seasons. In many ways, he fits the mold set by Jeff Halpern and Glen Metropolit before him.
Maxime Talbot: The hometown factor is certainly a bonus in his case, but the fact is Talbot is precisely the kind of player the Canadiens could use in their bottom-six. A gritty forward able to kill penalties, contribute offensively and, by all reports, who is well liked by his teammates. In addition, the LeMoyne native has shown a propensity to step up his game in the post-season. Not only did he score the Cup-winning goal in 2009, but he also owns an impressive 33 points in 66 playoff games.
Zenon Konopka: A fixture in the rumour mill around last season’s trade deadline, Konopka is certainly able to play on a fourth unit and fill the enforcer role, a fact amply illustrated by his 300+ penalty minutes last year. However, he also made a niche for himself as a faceoff specialist, finishing fourth in the league with a 57.7% efficiency.
In the end, in spite of the lack of big-name talent, the free agency pool features many intriguing options at forward. Some who were not discussed at length here but could be of some interest include Jason Arnott, Sean Bergenheim, Tim Connolly, Chris Higgins, Tyler Kennedy, Tomas Kopecky, Alex Kovalev, Chad Larose, Cory Stillman, Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward. It will now be up to Pierre Gauthier to do his homework properly in order to avoid making any Sergei Samsonov or Randy McKay-like missteps.
Louis Moustakas is an editor at HabsWorld.net and works for the Coaching Association of Canada in Ottawa. He can be reached at [email protected].