HabsWorld.net -- 

With the Habs looking like they’re finished or close to it in free agency,
the UFA focus shifts to the Hamilton Bulldogs.  Despite a plethora of
changes already, there is still a lot of work to be done on the blueline as the
team has just six defencemen signed, one of which is likely to start in the NHL
(Jarred Tinordi).  Fortunately there are several quality options to be
considered; here is a look at some of the top d-men available.

Presently, the depth chart in Hamilton is as follows:

– Jarred Tinordi (if he isn’t in the NHL to start)
– Nathan Beaulieu
– Greg Pateryn
– Magnus Nygren
– Morgan Ellis
– Darren Dietz

There are a few areas of concern that jump out.  The first is that
Nygren, despite never playing in North America before, is the elder statesman on
the team.  If Tinordi is with the Habs, there is also a need for a shutdown
defenceman and the toughness quotient could also stand to be upgraded. 
Also, there is a need for a top four defenceman who can play a variety of roles
– Ellis played third pairing minutes while Nygren and Dietz are rookies and will
likely be eased in early on.  With those in mind, here are some of the
options out there that fit each of those needs. 


Garnet Exelby: He was an NHL’er up until a few years ago but has
settled in nicely as a rugged AHL defenceman that can also play a defensive
role.  He has worn the ‘C’ or ‘A’ in each of his past three years and would
likely be a candidate to wear one in Hamilton.

Nathan McIver: McIver has always had a reputation of playing tough but
took that to a new level, collecting 287 PIMS with Bridgeport last year, good
for second in the AHL.  Unlike some of Hamilton’s ‘enforcing d-men’ of
years past, McIver has enough talent to take a regular shift on the third
pairing as well.

Jim Vandermeer: The 33 year old doesn’t drop the gloves as often as he
once did but he still plays a physical style.  He also is only one year
removed from being an NHL’er so he would be a passable option as a callup if
injuries arise.

Defensive Defencemen

Sean Collins: He won’t wow anyone with his offensive prowess (he’ll
only score one or two goals per year) but he has carved out a niche for himself
as a steady stay-at-home player.  Hamilton’s penalty kill was a concern
last year, he’d be a big help in that area in particular.

Derek Joslin: Despite being just 26, Joslin has 300 AHL and 116 NHL
games under his belt.  His days of being anything more than an injury
fill-in in the NHL are likely gone but he can still log decent minutes in the
minors and provide a steadying defensive presence.

Jay Leach: A name that should be familiar to some, the former Hab has
been an AHL mainstay the past few years, playing the same style he did in his
brief stint with Montreal.  He isn’t going to log big minutes but he can
still handle the third pairing and penalty kill while being a possible
captain/alternate candidate.

Jeff Woywitka: The Canadiens brought him in just two years ago to fill
this exact role before he was snapped up by the Rangers on waivers.  After
spending all of last year in the AHL, he is more likely to pass through this
time and would instantly slide into a top four role.

Two-Way Defencemen

Brett Clark: The former Hab is getting long in the tooth (36) but had
a terrific stint with Oklahoma City last year, turning that into an NHL deal
with Minnesota.  He showed he still has something in the tank and he that
can still play a few different roles at the minor league level.

Danny Groulx: Management may opt to go for a player who is willing to
take a minor league only deal.  If so, Groulx would be a good option to
consider.  His offensive game rebounded after dipping in the KHL two years
ago and he has played for the Bulldogs before.  He’s far from the 66 point
d-man he was in 2010 but would be a solid add that wouldn’t count against the
contract limit.

Brendan Mikkelson: For a 26 year old, he has bounced around a lot in
recent years.  Early in his career, his offensive game was his strength and
his defence a weakness but that has flipped somewhat recently.  He’s not a
big point-getter anymore (but can still move the puck well) but he is a steady
enough presence in his own end to play a top four role for the Bulldogs.

Bryan Rodney: Another player that would likely be willing to take an
AHL-only deal, Rodney has been a consistent point producer from the blueline in
his career.  He would be able to help on the powerplay and is still young
enough to be able to handle a regular shift on the second pairing.

Mike Vernace: After being a stay-at-home player for most of his
career, the former Bulldog had a breakout 2012-13 campaign at the offensive end,
setting career highs across the board.  That takes him from a third pairing
AHL’er to a legitimate top-four blueliner.

There is a definite need to add some defensive help in Hamilton. 
Personally, I’d like to see them add a pair of veterans, one on an NHL two-way
deal similar to recently signed Martin St. Pierre and Nick Tarnasky plus another
on a minor league pact.  Any of the above options would be quality
additions that would help ease some of the pressure off the youngsters and would
go a long way towards keeping the Bulldogs away from the league basement this
upcoming season.