HabsWorld.net -- 

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 it’s going to be beaten to death by the
media), I’ll 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, he’s 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
it’s 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 he’s
healthy again, and he’s 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 Létourneau: Extend P.K. Subban as soon as possible.
Outside of the clear fact that he’s entering the season as the reigning Norris
Trophy winner and his upside still seems to be limitless, I’m 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 won’t 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 Gionta’s $5 million
off the books would suffice. Of the Habs pending free agents, I would re-sign
Emelin as soon as possible. While he’s 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

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.