2018 Offseason Preview: Montréal Canadiens

Day 1 of our offseason preview series reaches a close with the third lottery-winning team, the Montréal Canadiens.

After finishing the season with a 29-40-13 record good enough for fourth-worst in the NHL, there’s little doubting the league’s most-storied franchise is in a bit of a funk right now. The offense was anemic (averaging a third-worst 2.52 goals per game), the defensive zone was equally as bad (allowing a seventh-worst 3.15 goals against per game) and the defense did little to make G Carey Price‘s life any easier (Montréal allowed a 12th-worst 32.3 shots against per game).

What can General Manager Marc Bergevin do to fix this mess?

2018 NHL Entry Draft

I’m of the firm belief that, barring select and rare circumstances, teams of any sport should always draft the best player available. Should Bergevin – as well as Buffalo and Carolina with their own selections – prescribe to that theory, I’d bank on Czech W Filip Zadina continuing to study his French after a season with QMJHL side Halifax.

Having played only one season with the Mooseheads, the 18-year-old was far and away the brightest rookie in his league. In 57 regular season games, Zadina posted wildly impressive 44-38-82 totals for 1.44 points per game, the fifth-best mark of any player in that league that played at least 51 games.

The tough predicament with Zadina is figuring out if he’ll join the Canadiens and begin his rookie season immediately, or if he’ll return to Halifax to develop another year in juniors. He certainly has the talent on his own, but the answer to that question has a better chance of being discovered after taking a look at how Montréal tackles free agency.

Pending free agents

The Habs have five forwards with NHL contracts that expired at the culmination of the regular season, but only RW Ales Hemsky is of the unrestricted variety. LW Daniel Carr, F Phillip Danault, F Jacob de la Rose and F Logan Shaw are all RFAs.

Turning 35-years-old before the 2018-19 season gets underway, there’s a chance Hemsky’s playing days could be behind him. In the last two seasons, he’s appeared in only 22 NHL games and hasn’t registered a point since his goal against the Devils on March 26, 2017. If anything, I’d expect the Oilers to offer him a one-day deal so he could retire with the team that drafted him 13th-overall in 2001.

Without a doubt, Carr and Danault should be seeing some of the Canadiens’ available $12 million slid their way, as the club’s struggles were far from a result of their play.

In the contract year of a $1.825 million, two-year deal, Danault posted decent 8-17-25 totals in 52 appearances (made only better in light of Montréal’s overall poor offense) for .48 points per game. At 25-years-old, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sign another two-year deal – this one worth at least $1.5 million per year.

In a similar strain, I’d also be just fine with seeing Carr sign for $1 million, even if it was only a one or two-year contract. Carr only played in 38 games this season, but he posted 6-10-16 totals to average .42 points per game. Carr may never develop into a top-six player, but most teams will gladly take that kind of production from a third-liner.

Back on the blue line, there’s exactly zero pending NHL free agents. That’s not exactly a good thing for Montréal considering its miserable defensive performance this season, so I would expect at least one of the Habs’ D-men to be on the move.

Even though he’ll turn 33-years-old this August, D Shea Weber is still the Canadiens’ best defenseman, but his attractiveness on the trade front is severely hampered by the eight remaining years on his $110 million contract (yes, your math is correct: Nashville signed Weber until he is 41-years-old).

Instead, D Jeff Petry might fetch a very nice return from a team lacking defense but wants to win now. He has three years remaining on his $5.5 million AAV contract and would likely fetch a similar, if not higher, price the Habs paid for him three years ago (a second and fourth-round pick).

Similar to the defensemen, Montréal has little to worry about in the goaltending department. This season is the first of Price’s eight-year, $84 million contract extension, and G Antti Niemi still has one year left on his sub-$1 million deal. Especially in light of Niemi posting a .929 save percentage in 19 appearances with the Canadiens last season, I doubt much will be changing here.

The only way this situation might be altered is if a team wants to trade for Niemi, but my guess is that sort of transaction is better suited for the trade deadline given his lackluster performances over the last few seasons.