Monday, July 4, 2011

Top 10 UFAs Still Available for Habs

NHL Free Agency opened with a real bang over the weekend, and many of the top players available were quick to sign new deals. The Canadiens themselves managed to add both Erik Cole and Peter Budaj, and sit with a roster that is at least as close to contending as any they've had in recent years.

However, they've still got some cap room, and there is tinkering that can still be done to increase their chances. This is no to say Pierre Gauthier will necessarily move this summer, as he may choose to wait it out and see what kind of players appear on the trade wire, but if he does want to spend before training camp, there are still a few names out there that may draw his attention.

To assess the type of player(s) we may want to add, let's look at where we stand today, projecting out the roster for opening night:


Mike Cammalleri ($6.000m) / Tomas Plekanec ($5.000m) / Erik Cole ($4.500m)
Max Pacioretty ($1.625m) / Scott Gomez ($7.357m) / Brian Gionta ($5.000m)
David Desharnais ($0.850m) / Lars Eller ($1.270m) / Andrei Kostitsyn ($3.250m)
Ryan White ($0.650m*) / Andreas Engqvist ($0.900m) / Travis Moen ($1.500m)
Mathieu Darche ($0.700m)

Andrei Markov ($5.750m) / Josh Gorges ($3.000m*)
Hal Gill ($2.250m) / P.K. Subban ($0.875m)
Jaroslav Spacek ($3.833m) / Alexei Yemelin ($0.984m)
Yannick Weber ($0.850m)

Carey Price ($2.750m) / Peter Budaj ($1.150m)

BUYOUTS: Georges Laraque ($0.500m)

CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $60,545,509; BONUSES: $400,000
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $3,754,491

First, this roster is at 22 players, meaning the team could add another forward or defenseman with their remaining $3.75M without cutting anyone. The most obvious need for an upgrade is on defense, where ideally Jaroslav Spacek would be moved and a legitimate top 4 (or better) caliber player is brought in. But given that Spacek is unlikely to find a new home right now, there is still room to bring in a solid, veteran defensive player who could help in the development of one of our younger players (Alexei Yemelin or Yannick Weber).

Up front, there is room to add one forward, where the biggest need would seem to be a tough fourth liner. When both are in the line-up, one of Lars Eller or David Desharnais would play out of position on the wing, so a top 9 winger could also be brought in to resolve that, though neither pivot is particularly fitting of a fourth line role, meaning something may have to be done to clear the logjam.

With that in mind, let's see who is left that might fit the bill. For our full list of candidates, see our Free Agent Frenzy coverage HERE. (remember, this isn't Top 10 UFA available, where Tomas Kaberle would lead the list, but rather Top 10 remaining for the consideration of the Habs)

10) Cory Stillman, LW

If the Habs want to ensure some instant chemistry with Erik Cole, picking up 37-year old Stillman will accomplish this cheaply. Stillman could replace Halpern in the aging veteran role, and would mean we wouldn't have to shift either Desharnais or Eller to the wing. A better fit would be a bigger, tougher player, but the 6'0" Stillman showed life after re-joining the Hurricanes last year with 16 points in 21 games. It Kostitsyn is to stay with Plekanec and Cammalleri, and Pacioretty with Gomez and Gionta, a "third" line of Stillman - Eller - Cole could rival any in the league.

9) Antti Miettinen, RW

Similar to Stillman, there is no dire need for Miettinen, but he keeps a third line offensive without shifting a center to the wing, while adding two-way forward depth. Able to score goals and play the penalty kill, the 31-year old 6'0" Finn is just one year removed from a 20-goal campaign. His quick, straight-line game seems like it would jive well with Jacques Martin's coaching style, which enhances the value we place on him.

8) Brent Sopel, D

The last piece we really would like to see added to the Habs roster is a defensive d-man who could reliably play with a youngster (Alexei Yemelin or Yannick Weber). Since he isn't truly a top 4 guy, Sopel only becomes an option if we can find a taker for the much-maligned Jaroslav Spacek, which would still allow us to add and upgrade at the trade deadline (here's looking at you, Ryan Suter), and only on a 1-year deal. Still, he's a good vet who showed his worth in the post-season last year, able to block shots and help keep the net-front clear. A return would be quite unlikely, but then the market is thinning rapidly.

7) Jason Arnott, C

Andreas Engqvist may be NHL-ready, but it also wouldn't hurt for him to start the year with the Bulldogs. Even if his offensive game is tappering off, as a 6'5", 220 lbs center, Arnott could easily grab a regular spot on the fourth line and move up in case of injury or a repeat performance of last year by one Scott Gomez. It would all come down to his willingness to take a cheap one year deal, but if he does, the low risk could produce high reward. After getting out of New Jersey, Arnott did score 8 points in 11 regular season games and 6 in 9 playoff contests with the Capitals last year.

6) Brad Winchester, LW

I'm not the biggest fan of Winchester's overall game, but if the Habs want to add some size and muscle to a fourth line, they could do worse. At 6'5", 228 lbs, Winchester doesn't back down from anyone and can drop the gloves when needed. At the age of 30, it is clear he won't live up to the scoring potential seen in him as a junior-aged player drafted in the 2nd round, but he can still chip in 7-10 goals in the right situation.

5) Ty Conklin / Patrick Lalime, G

The Canadiens MUST add at least one more goaltender to the organization, and possibly two. While its more likely they'll sign a Drew MacIntyre or Cedrick Desjardins, given my low confidence level in Peter Budaj, I'd love to see them sign one of these two credible back-ups and let him compete with Budaj for the #2 job in Montreal. Unlikely since it would mean sending one of these vets on a one-way contract down to the AHL (not really the team's thing to do), but it would provide nice depth in goal.

4) Sami Lepisto, D

Lepisto is flying under the radar right now, but with reasonable size at 6'1", and just 26 years of age, he would be a signing with good potential upside. The Finnish native's defensive game is sound, boasting a +14 rating in Phoenix a year ago, and a +10 split between Phoenix and Columbus this past season, over which he averaged about 18 minutes a night. A sound third pairing player, though his offensive production is minor, he is a reasonable puck mover, and would be a sound choice as a third pairing d-man alongside an Alexei Yemelin if signed to a cheap contract.

3) Shane O'Brien, D

The similarities between Shane O'Brien and Ryan O'Byrne stretch far beyond their family names. At 6'3", 224 lbs, he has an imposing frame and takes advantage of it in laying out large hits when he can. He isn't the most mobile of players, however, so he can get beat by speedy forwards, meaning he might not be the ideal partner for one of Montreal's young defenseman, but does bring a lacking element of physicality. After struggling to find a niche for himself in Vancouver, the Ontario native played 80 games for Nashville last year, averaging 18 minutes a night, but saw his time reduced in the playoffs as #5 on the Predators depth chart (but still taking a regular penalty kill shift).

2) Zenon Konopka, C

As mentioned, the Habs could stand to add a fourth line center, which is the only role Konopka is suited to, but one he has grown well into. Playing just 10 minutes a night for the Islanders last year, the 6'0", 209 lbs Konopka is a modern day enforcer, in the sense that he had to develop other skills to be able to stick around the league. With a league-high 307 penalty minutes last year, he would add some protection for the smaller Montreal forwards, but the team must also be wary of adding such a player to a club that already led the league in minor penalties last season. He does, however, help in another area where the Canadiens were weak, finishing 4th in the NHL with a 57.7 face-off win percentage. Given the price that a guy like Mike Rupp signed for this summer, I'd be scared of what Konopka might cost with his limited hockey sense and skillset, but if it's a short-term deal, the risk is minimal.

1) Scott Hannan, D

Hannan could step in as a strong replacement for Roman Hamrlik, minus the powerplay minutes. He played in 78 games last year, averaging about 20 minutes a night, and then was second amongst all Washington Capitals in the post-season at over 23 minutes per game. Dependable defensively, playing a third pairing role, he is an ideal guy to cover for Yannick Weber and/or Alexei Yemelin's rookie mistakes early on. While he has no offensive game to speak of (a la Gill), one area where Hannan has a big advantage over Hamrlik and James Wisniewski is in discipline, in that while he can play a physical defensive game, he takes few penalties. The only concern is that, at age 32, he's likely looking to cash in on a last multi-year deal, which would be risky for cap space moving forward. If he'll sign short-term in the neighbourhood of $3M a year, it would cap off a near-perfect summer in my eyes.


blackshap9 said...

Very informative however concerning the goalie situation;if you know the team will NEVER send a player down to the minors then there is little reason to suggest it. (imo)

Dan K. said...

I would say it's more "unlikely" than knowing it won't happen. There aren't many goaltending vacancies, and Lalime and Conklin need jobs if they don't want to retire. It's possible one of them is willing to spend time in Hamilton knowing he has a shot at the back-up job in Montreal.

Anonymous said...

What about Jamie Langenbrunner?

Dan K. said...

Langenbrunner is possible; would fall into the same category near the bottom of the list as Stillman or Miettinen. But I went with a younger player (Miettinen) or one to help ease Cole in (Stillman) over him. Langenbrunner would likely be a Martin-type player though, so not unreasonable.