Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Top 10 Offensive Forward Hab UFA Targets

Last Friday, I pointed out three areas where I felt the Canadiens need additions this summer in order to bounce back from a very difficult season.  Today and the next two Tuesdays I will look at the UFA class, suggesting the 10 best free agents fits for each of these three weaknesses.  We start today with the need for a top 6 player up front - someone ideally with some size and scoring punch.

Before we get to the names I did include on the list below, I have to preface it with three big names I left out.  First there's Teemu Selanne, for whom it is abundantly clear the choice is just between Anaheim and retirement.  Next there's Shane Doan who may be unlikely to leave Phoenix, but even if he does, it won't be for Montreal.  I'm quite confident that his alleged linguistic slur run-in with Denis Coderre who accused him of uttering anti-Francophone sentiments towards referees will keep him out of La Belle Province.  Finally, and perhaps most debate-ably, I didn't include Alexander Semin as a candidate.  Sure, he has the frame the Habs are looking for at 6'2" and 208 lbs, and yes, even in an off-year last season, he scored 54 points in 77 games.  But his attitude off the ice just doesn't strike me as the kind of player Marc Bergevin - a guy who fully endorses a team-first strategy - would be interested in signing.  He seems like a typical Pierre Gauthier / Bob Gainey acquisition.  A Sergei Samsonov UFA signing.  I don't see Bergevin biting.

Also note that you may consider some of my proposed contract offers to be on the low end.  This is because the list as a whole doesn't really impress me, so I'd rather see Montreal strikeout in this category than overpay for a guy they'll be stuck with when other names may be available in a future off-season or via trade.

With that said, let's get on to 10 players I think Bergevin might consider in a "wish list" of sorts.

10) Brad Boyes, C - Buffalo Sabres
6'1", 195 lbs - 2011-12: 65 GP, 8 G, 15 A, 23 PTS
Age 30

Boyes had phenomenal seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09, with 43 and 33 goals respectively, but then his game mysteriously went south.  The Sabres thought a change of scenery might do him good when they dealt for him last season, but his first full year in Buffalo produced only 23 points - the lowest total of his career.  Is now the time to take a chance on a possible reclamation project?  He isn't a particularly top notch skater, nor does he always use his frame as well as he should, but he's adapted his game to be a hard-working two-way forward, and perhaps if the NHL goes back to a post-lockout obstruction and interference standard, he'll find the kind of success he once knew.

Contract offer: 1 year, $2M cap hit

9) Kristian Huselius, LW - Columbus Blue Jackets
6'1", 185 lbs - 2011-12: 2 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS
Age 33

After being limited to 39 games in 2010-11, Huselius managed only 2 games last season, so any possible suitor will have his health as a primary concern.  In those 39 games, the large and speedy winger impressively potted 14 goals, while in his last near-full season in 2009-10, he totaled 63 points to rank third on the Blue Jackets.  If - and it's a big if - he's given a clean bill of health, he could be one of the better fits on the market, likely seeking a short-term contract to prove himself which would be rather low-risk from a Habs' perspective.

Contract offer: 1 Year, $2.5M cap hit

8) Jiri Hudler, C - Detroit Red Wings
5'10", 186 lbs - 2011-12: 81 GP, 25 G, 25 A, 50 PTS
Age 28

The Red Wings have plenty of cap space available to keep any of their players they'd like, so for Hudler to leave it would likely be the player himself seeking a new challenge.  Hudler is the smallest guy on this list, but with such a limited talent pool, it would be impossible to leave a 28-year old 25-goal scorer off of it.  He lacks in strength and consistency, but has slick hands and is a countrymate of Tomas Plekanec, with the two having played on the same World Junior Championship club in 2001-02.  Like Boyes, in addition to center, Hudler is comfortable at either wing position, so perhaps a line of he, Plekanec, and Erik Cole might have potential to balance Montreal's offense aside from the Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais duo.

Contract offer: 3 years, $4M cap hit

7) David Jones, RW - Colorado Avalanche
6'2", 220 lbs - 2011-12: 72 GP, 20 G, 17 A, 37 PTS
Age 27

Jones was unable to replicate his 27 goals and 45 points of a year ago, but did manage a second consecutive 20-goal season, proving that he can score in the right situation.  He's a bit more of an off-the-radar candidate than the other names on this list, but has one of the more imposing physiques and at 27 likely still has better days ahead of him.  He can bring a physical element to the game, moves well enough for a big man, and has a quick release.  Not a textbook top 6 forward, but might not look out of place beside David Desharnais so that the Canadiens could experiment pairing Erik Cole with Tomas Plekanec.

Contract offer: 3 years, $3M cap hit

6) Ryan Smyth, LW - Edmonton Oilers
6'1", 192 lbs - 2011-12: 82 GP, 19 G, 27 A, 46 PTS
Age 36

After requesting a trade from the Kings so he could return to Edmonton (based on on-ice reasons, this certainly looks a little silly right now), one would think it was a foregone conclusion that Smyth would re-sign with the Oilers.  And yet, there is talk that even though the team could use a veteran presence around its group of promising youngsters, that they may opt to part ways from Smyth and look in a different direction.  Smyth isn't an Erik Cole; he's nearing the end of his career and after a red hot start to last season, went out with a whimper.  But he is a big body capable of putting up some points, and if he's willing to leave Alberta, like Jones, could give the Canadiens some flexibility in perhaps freeing Max Pacioretty or Erik Cole from David Desharnais's hips by providing another big option and thus giving Tomas Plekanec some better linemates.

Contract offer: 1 year, $4M cap hit

5) Olli Jokinen, C - Calgary Flames
6'3", 210 lbs - 2011-12: 82 GP, 23 G, 38 A, 61 PTS
Age 33

At 33, Jokinen's heydays with the Florida Panthers are a thing of the past.  But the Finnish forward has had a bit of a resurgence in Calgary the last two seasons, recording 54 and 61 points respectively.  He's not the #1 center the team needs and isn't particularly gritty, but he brings a 6'3", 210 lbs frame, and is capable of filling a second line role.  If the team is interested in him - and I do think they should be at the right price - it would likely mean Lars Eller shifting to the wing on a second or third line.  Eller most recently played and starred there for Team Denmark at the World Hockey Championship.

Contract offer: 2 years, $4M cap hit

4) Andrei Kostitsyn, RW - Nashville Predators
6'0", 205 lbs - 2011-12: 72 GP, 16 G, 20 A, 36 PTS
Age 27

That Kostitsyn ranks so highly on this list is a testament to the lack of talent in the free agent pool this summer, but in truth, it is his departure which - in part - creates this need in Montreal's line-up.  If people will stop holding where he was drafted against him, they would see a thick forward with one heck of a release.  He can play physical when the mood strikes him, but certainly he adds to the club's goal-scoring potential.  Does he want to come back to Montreal?  That may be a moot point, as his post-season team suspension for violating curfew may stand in too much of a contrast with Bergevin's team ahead of anyone player philosophy.  But on the ice, he would undoubtedly improve the roster, and he's still well in his prime.

Contract offer: 4 years, $3.8M cap hit

3) Jaromir Jagr, RW - Philadelphia Flyers
6'3", 240 lbs - 2011-12: 73 GP, 19 G, 35 A, 54 PTS
Age 40

One year ago, at this time, Jaromir Jagr was the #1 name on my free agent wish list, just ahead of one Erik Cole.  Jagr performed pretty well as I had expected him to, but falls two spots as another year of strain on his body doesn't help the situation, and the Habs look a little further from contention today than they did last June.  Still, if the Canadiens lack scoring and want to add a powerplay threat, then Jagr is a fit, especially considering they won't have to commit big dollars over long-term to bring him in.  His role would have to be monitored carefully, playing with Tomas Plekanec at 5-on-5, but not taking every shift on that line, swapping for a defensive forward when Pleks is out there in a more shutdown capacity.  This would keep Jagr fresher for the PP and other offensive situations, while limiting his minutes to prevent late-season fatigue that we saw notably in this year's playoffs.

Contract offer: 1 year, $4M cap hit

2) Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, RW - New York Islanders
6'0", 193 lbs - 2011-12: 80 GP, 18 G, 49 A, 67 PTS
Age 29

Parenteau gets instant consideration as a French-speaking native of Hull, Quebec, with Bergevin indicating that he sees it important to try to increase the local content on the Canadiens over time.  But he's earned being among the more interesting names in a shallow pool this summer with his late-blooming production.  He began his first complete NHL season at the late age of 27 after a successful AHL career and immediately put up 53 points when gifted with talented linemates in Long Island.  He improved to 67 points last year, and would be another flexible option who could move up and down the Montreal line-up depending on the play of Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta.

Contract offer: 3 years, $3.75M cap hit

1) Zach Parise, LW - New Jersey Devils
5'11", 185 lbs - 2011-12: 82 GP, 31 G, 38 A, 69 PTS
Age 27

Parise will undoubtedly be the most-coveted forwards this summer if he makes it to July 1st without re-signing.  The New Jersey Devils's captain currently playing in the Stanley Cup Final doesn't have the size Montreal is looking for - one of only two names on this list under six feet - but is a big-time scorer with four 30-goal seasons and one 40-goal season over the past six years.  At 27, Parise is likely looking for a long-term contract, which would mean he'd be around long enough to play with the big center Montreal hopefully picks up in the first round of this year's draft.  Until then, he can play with Tomas Plekanec and a bigger winger, allowing Brian Gionta to line up next to Lars Eller in creating three solid scoring lines.

Contract offer: 7 years, $6.75M cap hit


Anonymous said...

u forgot ALEX SEMIN who said hes not going back to washington!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

Dan K. said...

I address Semin in my preamble at the top:

"Finally, and perhaps most debate-ably, I didn't include Alexander Semin as a candidate. Sure, he has the frame the Habs are looking for at 6'2" and 208 lbs, and yes, even in an off-year last season, he scored 54 points in 77 games. But his attitude off the ice just doesn't strike me as the kind of player Marc Bergevin - a guy who fully endorses a team-first strategy - would be interested in signing. He seems like a typical Pierre Gauthier / Bob Gainey acquisition. A Sergei Samsonov UFA signing. I don't see Bergevin biting."

Nobama said...

Good article and insightful. Habs needed a power player and like you mentioned the UFA's this year lack that. Trading Cammellari was idiotic bc he was that impact player. They needed to build around him even though he was slumping with the rest.

Hudler is the best name on your list but why come to montreal after experiencing the professionalism of Detroit. I think Jagr will be Habs big signing since the team is overly fixated on making a cultural statements instead of putting out a stanley cup winning team.