HabsWorld.net -- 

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 Létourneau:

Aside from Shane Doan, maybe, I don’t 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 Tucker’s 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 don’t think much will
happen until management takes a decision on Scott Gomez, Tomas Kaberle and Rene
Bourque’s 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 didn’t 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 isn’t an option for the Canadiens. However, the point
of this piece is not to focus on what Montreal didn’t 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 won’t 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.