The Montreal Canadiens have some tough decision to make when it comes to deciding which free agents should be re-signed and which should be allowed to test the market. Montreal’s current unrestricted free agents are Michael Ryder, Colby Armstrong, Jeff Halpern, and Davis Drewiske. Their restricted free agents include Ryan White, Gabriel Dumont, Michael Blunden and Yannick Weber.
The biggest obstacle in bringing back their upcoming free agents is the shrinking salary cap.
At first glance it appears the Canadiens have next to no wiggle room with the cap coming down to 64.3 million next season. However, under the new CBA, Montreal can take advantage of the cap-free compliance buyout to rid themselves of Tomas Kaberle’s oversized deal much the same way they waved goodbye to Scott Gomez at the beginning of the year.
With Kaberle sent packing, the Habs will have ten forwards, six defencemen and two goaltenders who saw regular action this year under contract next season. Those 18 players have a combined cap hit of 56.25 million dollars. That leaves just over eight million to spend while staying below the cap ceiling. Before deciding who to keep, we shall take a look at the current depth chart to decide what holes need to be filled in the lineup. Returning next season are:
Pacioretty Desharnais Gallagher
Bourque Plekanec Gionta
Galchenyuk Eller Prust
With only eight million to spend, Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin will have to decide if he wants to shell out a big chunk of it to upgrade the top nine forwards or leave them as is and spend on depth pieces.
So, which free agents will be wearing a Habs sweater next season and which ones will be elsewhere? Let’s take a closer look on a case by case basis.
Michael Ryder will be the toughest decision Bergevin will have to make regarding these current free agents. With 20 points in his first 20 games after being re-acquired by the Habs midseason, Ryder hinted that he could be a mainstay on the Canadiens top line for years to come. Ryder’s streaky past would continue to haunt him as he finished the regular season goalless in nine games and having just one point in his last seven. Ryder would follow up his sluggish finish to the regular season with just one goal and one assist in five playoff games.
Ryder would be the only re-signing that could bolster any of the top three lines, but considering he is a 33 year old streaky scorer who will be looking for 4 million dollars per year, it would be wise for Bergevin to take a pass on the Newfoundland native.
Jeff Halpern was plucked off waivers midway through the season and played 16 games with the Canadiens in what was also his second tour of duty in Montreal. Halpern was an ideal fourth line center since he can win faceoffs and take some shorthanded minutes away from Tomas Plekanec. Halpern filled his role admirably down the stretch and into the playoffs and should be brought back for one more year to continue his depth role as a veteran contributor.
Colby Armstrong was signed to a one year deal last summer and will likely be looking for a deal elsewhere this summer. Armstrong was not brought in to be a top scorer but his offensive game is non-existent. He had countless glorious opportunities to score big goals this season but could only find the back of the net on two occasions. Colby did help out on the penalty kill but he is no longer a big hitter or a very physical presence on the fourth line. Armstrong’s lack of a true specialty makes him easy to replace and his roster spot will likely go to a younger, more tenacious player.
Davis Drewiske was brought in as a depth defender for a 5th round draft pick at the trade deadline. Drewiske is a big defenceman at 6’2 and 220 pounds but he could not find his way into the playoff lineup after the larger Jarred Tinordi was called up from the Hamilton Bulldogs. With Alexei Emelin recovering from knee surgery over the Summer and youngsters such as Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu getting priority for ice time, Drewiske will not be back with the Canadiens next season.
Restricted free agents are almost always given a qualifying offer and retained as property of their current team. This will be the case for all of Montreal’s RFA’s even if Blunden and Weber’s future with the organization remains uncertain.
Ryan White brought an aggressive style to the fourth line but had a hard time staying out of trouble, being suspended and often finding himself in Michel Therrien’s doghouse. His undisciplined play led to many trips to the penalty and press boxes, but Ryan was effective in his role on many nights. White will be brought back on a short term deal, likely only one year and with a cap hit less than a million dollars. If Ryan can play on the edge without crossing the line he can be a very effective player for the Canadiens as he brings grit that the Habs are very short on.
Gabriel Dumont was one of the best players on a young Hamilton Bulldog team in the American Hockey League during the lockout. His play led to a chance with the big club and he performed very well in his short stint. Much like White, Dumont is a bit undersized but plays well above his measurements while bringing a gritty, tenacious style to the ice. Dumont has proven in his short NHL time to be effective in the faceoff circle and will receive a much deserved contract offer.
Dumont will likely sign a two way deal that will see him shuttled back and forth between Montreal and Hamilton for the next season or two. If Dumont continues to progress as he has the last three seasons in Hamilton, he will claim a roster spot as the Canadiens fourth line center in short order.
Yannick Weber was healthy all season, yet only found his way into the lineup on six occasions. He has shown some flashes of offensive potential during his 115 game Canadiens career but it appears he will not fit in Therrien’s system. Weber will be given a chance to resurrect his floundering NHL career elsewhere. Expect him to be dealt at the draft for nothing more than a fifth round draft pick.
Michael Blunden brings size but not much more to the table. He suited up for 54 games in the AHL this past season while only dressing for five NHL games. Expect him to be brought back to fill a similar role next season. His size and experience can be of help to a very young AHL team, where he can fit in on any line and act as somewhat of a bodyguard for his teammates. His experience in the NHL can come in handy if injuries mount at any point next season.
With Halpern, Dumont, White all brought back into the fold and none of them seeking more than a million dollar cap hit, the depth chart becomes:
Pacioretty Desharnais Gallagher
Bourque Plekanec Gionta
Galchenyuk Eller Prust
Moen Halpern White/Dumont
If Bergevin has confidence in White and Dumont being everyday contributors next season, he could take a pass on Halpern and would then have six million dollars to play with under the cap. Halpern’s last three contracts were all one year deals at under one million so a similar deal would be expected if he is brought back. Therefore, even with Halpern in the lineup, Bergevin has five million dollars in cap space to use.
With that much cap space, the Canadiens have plenty of options entering the offseason. They can use the majority of it to go after a big winger such as Ryane Clowe, Brenden Morrow or even Nathan Horton. Of course, the roster could be left the way it is to begin the campaign and the cap space used to fill whatever hole becomes the most glaring during the season.
We are getting a little ahead of ourselves looking at possible free agents from other teams right now. With well over a month before the opening of free agency, we can only focus on Montreal’s own players at this point.
The number of players that are re-signed by Bergevin will be a telling clue as to how active he plans on being when free agency opens for bidding on July 5th. If Ryder, Halpern and Armstrong are all brought back there will be no room for new acquisitions under the cap or on the active roster.
If Bergevin allows two or three of his players to test the market anything becomes possible to replace them.