Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Top 10 Unqualified RFAs That Could Interest Habs

Our previous two Tuesday Top 10 articles are the most viewed in this blog's short history, so we hope not to disappoint readers this week!

Yesterday was the deadline for teams to tender qualifying offers to their pending restricted free agents in order to retain their rights beyond July 1st. Players to whom offers were submitted remain sole property of their club, and could only be signed to offer sheets by other teams, in which case their club would receive draft pick compensation for them should they choose not to match.

Today, however, we will look at some of the players to whom offers were not submitted. These players - if a deal is not reached with their former team before then - will become unrestricted free agents on Friday, able to offer their services to any team they please. For the Canadiens, this meant saying goodbye to Benoit Pouliot, Tom Pyatt, and Alexandre Picard. Similar players were let go league-wide, and some of them just might interest Montreal given the limited names available on the market.

Throughout the league's history, there have been many players who simply didn't fit in well with a team's philosophy or in that club's line-up. This is sometimes no real fault of the player's own, and in some situations, the player may excel once joining a new team. It is with that hope that I present to you a list of 10 players not tendered yesterday th
at I feel may be worth a shot with the Habs.

10) Byron Bitz, RW
Previous Team: Florida Panthers / 6'3" / 200 lbs / 26 years old

Bitz looked to be establishing himself as a solid 4th line role player with the Boston Bruins, able to lay the body and kill penalties when needed. He even showed some limited offensive upside at times. A rare and awkward skating style, not unlike that of former Canadien Jason Ward, may have held him back somewhat at the NHL level, and his career path derailed when he joined the Panthers. But for a team lacking size and muscle like Montreal, he could be worth a look, and could always be waived down to Hamilton should he not fit in (I'm sure the Bulldogs could make better use of Bitz than of Jimmy Bonneau). There are preferable players on the market like Ben Eager and Zenon Knopka, but never hurts to have another back-up plan!

9) Anton Stralman, D
Previous Team: Columbus Blue Jackets / 6'2" / 193 lbs / 24 years old

A former Toronto top prospect, Stralman is an offensive defenseman who has produced well but has some inefficiencies in his own end. Still, puck-moving blueliners are something the Canadiens seem to feel they can never have enough of based on the 2012 entry draft and the past seasons' signings of Alexandre Picard and Marc-Andre Bergron, and Stralman would likely come cheap. If Gauthier can get him to sign a two-way deal, he could provide some added organizational depth to either the AHL or NHL club, even if he doesn't really fit a need at the time being. It may also free up the GM to shop Yannick Weber for some offensive help, as Stralman could fill a similar role in a #7 or 8 spot.

8) Nicklas Bergfors, LW
Previous Team: Florida Panthers / 5'11" /190 lbs / 24 years old

The second Panther on this list (but hey, keep in mind, they're the same team that waived Michael Grabner!), Bergfors seemed like he would make the New Jersey Devils regret including him in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade with his initial performances in Atlanta. However, as an undersized scoring winger, his inconsistent performances quickly had the Thrashers lose patience, and he ended up in Florida, where 7 points in 20 games were not enough to earn him a new contract with the Panthers. As a first round pick in 2006, his skill and potential are undeniable, so perhaps he's just waiting for the right coach or line combination, but at 5'11" and under 200 lbs, he doesn't bring anything truly new to the table for the Habs.

7) Patrick O'Sullivan, C
Previous Team: Minnesota Wild / 6'0" / 180 lbs / 26 years old

For a player who initially looked like another testament to just how deep and strong the 2003 NHL Entry Draft was, O'Sullivan's path has contained plenty of bumps and bruises. After a year and a half as a point-per-game or better producer in the American Hockey League, O'Sullivan's initial performances with the Los Angeles Kings showed strong future potential as an offensively gifted 2nd or 3rd line centerman. A trade to the Edmonton Oilers sent him into a tailspin, however, and stops in Carolina and Minnesota proved no more fruitful. He may be nearing the end of his lifelines at this point, spending half of last season back in the AHL (and again dominating offensively, rekindling some hope that he may someday put it all together). With Dustin Boyd and Nigel Dawes leaving Hamilton for the KHL, couldn't hurt to have another offensive C in the organization.

6) Jiri Tlusty, LW
Previous Team: Carolina Hurricanes / 6'0" / 209 lbs / 23 years old

On the earlier note of former Maple Leaf top prospects, Tlusty was Toronto's first rounder from 2006. After getting past scandalous photos of him leaked on the internet around the time of his arrival in North America, Tlusty established himself as a prolific scorer in the American League (not unlike O'Sullivan), but for whatever reason, he hasn't been able to translate his game to the NHL level. Still only 23, certainly a third team will at least give him a shot after stings with the Leafs and Hurricanes. With Benoit Pouliot leaving Montreal, Tlusty could easily be a replacement for added offensive depth within the organization, though the team would rather have a bigger and tougher player.

5) Matt D'Agostini, RW
Previous Team: St. Louis Blues / 6'0" /201 lbs / 24 years old

Yes, yes, I hear your objections already. "Been there, done that." "That ship has sailed." "Why would he work this time?" Well, D'Agostini had a good season for the Blues, scoring 21 goals and 46 points in 82 games, but St. Louis chose not to qualify him to avoid having him take them to arbitration. They are still interested in signing him, but now the ball is in Matt's court - he's free to wait to hear what offers are out there this summer. A speedy winger who would provide scoring depth and whose game might fit in nicely with the mix of forwards already in Montreal, D'Ags is maturing as a player and showing the potential we saw as a superstar in Hamilton. A return to Montreal might be unlikely, but it certainly shouldn't stop Gauthier from giving his agent a call for a team that needs guys who can score at 5-on-5.

4) Matt Gilroy, D
Previous Team: New York Rangers / 6'1" / 201 lbs / 26 years old

A coveted college free agent back in 2009, Gilroy made the leap straight from University to the NHL with his hometown New York Rangers. A two-way blueliner who has been a solid contributor to the Rangers back end, Gilroy's QO proved too rich for the Rangers who - thanks in part to the Scott Gomez trade - have a couple of young d-men they need to make room for as it stands. The acquisition of Tim Erixon from the Calgary Flames earlier this summer made Gilroy even further expendable, but the d-man who played anywhere between 12 and 19 minutes a night will find a home on some other team's roster. Able to take a dependable shift while also playing 2nd powerplay unit minutes means he could be an option to add more bodies on to the Montreal back end should a need arise (trades, injuries, etc.).

3) Sami Lepisto, D
Previous Team: Columbus Blue Jackets / 6'1" / 195 lbs / 26 years old

A near carbon copy of Gilroy, Lepisto has shown strong offensive instincts from the back end (including seasons of 42 and 45 points in the AHL), Lepisto logged significant minutes while playing for the Phoenix Coyotes (often over 20 minutes a night). If the Canadiens are satisfied with their defensive depth after signing Raphael Diaz and Alexei Yemelin, there may not be a need for Lepisto, but on a cheap contract, he will provide reliable service to whichever team he ends up with.

2) Anthony Stewart, RW
Previous Team: Atlanta Thrashers / 6'2" / 239 lbs / 26 years old

A 2003 first rounder with less to show for himself than Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn, Stewart finally arrived on the scene in a big way this past season, with breakout (or were they fluke) numbers in Atlanta (39 points in 80 games). Another big body winger who could be worth a look with Pouliot's departure, Stewart could chip in some goals and create some room on a third line with a smaller center like David Desharnais. The skill and size combination is what will earn Stewart another buy-in, much like Pouliot who is destined to find employment (and perhaps success) elsewhere as well.

1) Tyler Kennedy, C
Previous Team: Pittsburgh Penguins / 5'10" / 183 lbs / 24 years old

Tom Pyatt, meet the you that you wish you could be. A two-way center coming off a 20 goal season with the Penguins, Kennedy can fill in at any forward position on truly any line, while taking shifts on the powerplay and penalty kill. His versatility makes him a valuable asset, and it is only a contractual snafu that led the Penguins to not qualify him - he may very will still sign in Pittsburgh prior to the 1st. Should he hit the market, however, despite his diminutive stature, he will have plenty of teams calling, as he is the type of 110% every shift player that you can win with. Would make for a great replacement of Jeff Halpern and Tom Pyatt in one and would contribute some secondary scoring outside of the top 6.

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