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The Habs have been very quiet so far in free agency with their lone pickup being someone who many think is heading for Laval.  While most big names are off the board, there are a handful of forwards left who could fit a minor role in Montreal.

While Joe Pavelski hasn’t officially retired, he has pretty much indicated he won’t play again so we’ll keep him off this list.

Names Of (Some) Note

Daniel Sprong: Quietly, the 27-year-old has put up back-to-back seasons of over 40 points despite playing 12 minutes a night or less.  Notably, Sprong has had more than 30 even-strength points each year so he’s not a power play specialist.  Now, the fact he’s playing so little is a sign of how much he struggles defensively but the Habs don’t have much firepower in their bottom six (despite how much they spend on it).  Is there enough defensive skill that they could hide him a bit?  I think there might be and if he’s willing to take a short-term deal, he could be an intriguing option to give a chance to.  It’ll take a couple million or more but they easily have that available.

Max Pacioretty: Yes, the long-time Montreal captain has struggled to stay healthy lately and is coming off a tough year with Washington.  Frankly, that’s about the only reason this idea becomes plausible.  He’s a candidate for a bonus-laden one-year deal so the Habs (or whoever signs Pacioretty) could give him a cheap base salary with some easy bonuses, then potentially look to flip him at the trade deadline (assuming he’s amenable) where the acquiring team would only be responsible for the base salary, meaning retention shouldn’t be needed.  There’s something to be said about giving him a shot to finish where he started but if you think the Habs are going to sell again in 2024-25, he could become a trade chip as well.

Kevin Labanc: He has had some rough years as of late as his contract with San Jose really didn’t age well.  But the raw offensive talent is still there; it’s just a matter of trying to get him to be more engaged defensively.  Similarly to Sprong, Labanc is someone who probably plays in the bottom six at five-on-five but in a new (and more creative environment), the 28-year-old could fit in Montreal’s system on a short-term agreement.

Samuel Blais: I’m not just mentioning him as a token local.  Blais doesn’t bring much to the table but he would provide a still-small Canadiens forward group with some size, grit, and board play.  He’s also only a year removed from a 25-point season.  In a division that has gotten bigger and tougher this offseason, a bit of support for Montreal’s few physical pieces couldn’t hurt.

James van Riemsdyk: At five-on-five, van Riemsdyk isn’t a legitimate top-six option anymore.  But he’s still valuable as a net-front option on the power play.  As anyone who follows this team knows, Montreal’s man advantage has been a problem for a while now and they’ve often had to use Brendan Gallagher, a player who is too small to be effective in that role, as a net-front option, or Joel Armia, whose offence can drift away for months at a time.  Bringing van Riemsdyk in would give the Habs a much better option on the second unit.

Younger Options

(Players who are RFA-aged but weren’t tendered qualifying offers last month.)

Filip Zadina: Remember him and how many thought he was going to be a Hab in his draft year?  Here’s their chance to make it happen finally.  Sarcasm aside, Zadina has scored double-digit goals in two of the last three years and is still only 24, young enough to mesh with the age of the Habs’ core group.  If you were going to take a dart throw on finding a younger player that, if all went well, could plausibly stick around for a few years, it might be him.

Alexander Nylander: NHL playing time has been hard to come by and until the second half of last season, Nylander didn’t do much with it.  However, the 26-year-old potted 11 goals in 28 games with Columbus before being non-tendered to avoid arbitration.  He might just be an NHL/AHL ‘tweener’ but his strong finish should warrant a longer look from someone.

Kailer Yamamoto: The last couple of years haven’t been great but Yamamoto is one of few players left with a 20-goal season under their belts and he’s still only 25.  He’s also one of the smallest players in the league which I could see being enough to keep the Habs away but again, he’s young enough that if something clicked, he could stick around for a few years.

Maxime Comtois: Let’s end with a player who a lot of you should be familiar with.  This is the player who was a regular in Anaheim just a year ago before being non-tendered.  He’s not too far removed from putting up 33 points in 55 games in 2020-21 and brings a bit of size and grit to the table.  He was on an AHL deal for most of last season so it shouldn’t take more than a low-cost two-way offer to bring in some experience (he has 211 games played) and someone who could push for a spot at the end of the roster.  Worst-case scenario, he’s a middle-six winger for Laval.

Let’s face it, none of these options are particularly exciting.  But most of these players could either fill a minor role next season or could be worth taking a flyer on to see if a new environment unlocks some of their previous potential.  And in pretty much all of these cases, if a younger player is ready for that spot, whichever placeholder lands here could be on waivers; it’s not as if signing one would automatically block a prospect from getting a real chance to play.  Will that be convincing enough for the Habs to sign one?  We’ll find out within the next couple of months.

While it’s unlikely that the Canadiens will be looking to do anything else on the back end, we’ll take a look at the state of free agent defencemen in a future piece.