So the Habs have shown that they’re a bit of a buyer in the free agent market this summer.
But so far, none of the moves have done enough to address the Montreal Canadiens main problem: lack of depth at forward.
Sure, Erik Cole might be a 20-goal scorer, but the Habs gave him a lot of money for a lot of years and a no-trade clause. And it probably won’t help come playoff time. Mainly, if Mike Cammalleri isn’t scoring, the Habs aren’t winning.
So if Cole moves onto the second line, for example, that means Travis Moen is moving down to the third or fourth line. No offence to Moen, but that doesn’t exactly help the Habs with their scoring depth.
So there’s still time, and available players, left for the Habs to make a move. Now, I’m not talking about needing to go get a 50-goal scorer, or poaching other team’s free agents (such as Habs Eyes on the Prize recently suggested). Instead, I think there are plenty of unrestricted free agents out that could make a difference — and most importantly, cheaply — with the Habs this season.
According to Capgeek.com, the Habs have $8.3 million in cap space left. Assuming they sign Josh Gorges for $3.3 million (a little on the high side, but he should max out at that number), that leaves $5 million left to play with. And with no goalies or defencemen needed to be signed, it should be easy to get a couple of players that can help the Habs on each of the top three lines.
Here are my top five choices (Note: While I love Teemu Selanne, I don’t think he would sign in Montreal; I don’t want Alexei Kovalev back on the Habs; and I also wanted to include Michael Nylander, but I don’t know his status after spinal fusion surgery last October, but he could have made this list easily if he’s healthy and wants to play in the NHL):
5) Robbie Schremp: Lots of talent, but hasn’t put everything together. He could be worth it for the shootout attempts alone (check out his moves on Youtube here, here and here). Since the Habs don’t really have a shootout specialist, it might be worth having him in the lineup just for that. But with the Islanders the last two seasons, he was averaging a point every two games, before being claimed on waivers by Atlanta Thrashers (aka, the Winnipeg Jets). If he plays a full season, he could crack 40 points, and would be a great steal.
4) Antti Miettinen: Not sure why no one has gone after this guy yet, or if they have, why he hasn’t signed. He’s been consistent the last four years (three in Minnesota, and one in Dallas), scoring at least 15 goals in every one of those seasons. Should be a steady 40-point guy with the Habs.
3) Nikolay Zherdev: If he can stay healthy, would be another threat to get to 20 goals. Lots of talent, but there’s always a risk of him going to the KHL, where he spent the 09-10 season. So a one-year contract would have to be the deal.
2) JP Dumont: Used to be one of the most consistent 20-goal scorers in the NHL, hitting that mark in six out of seven seasons earlier in his career. But his numbers have taken a hit in his last three years in Nashville. But I don’t really blame Dumont as much as the situation. When the leading point-getter in Nashville the last two years have trouble getting to 50 points, that doesn’t bode well for some of the second- and third-liners. Plus, he’s from Montreal, so that’s a bonus for the French media.
1) Vaclav Prospal: He had 23 points in 28 games last year, and 58 points and 45 points the previous two years before that. And those are his off-years as his career winds down. He’s only four seasons removed from posting up regular 70-point season. But if he can pot 20 goals, add 50 assists and help the powerplay, he’d be worth the risk of a $2 or $2.5 million paycheck.
So let’s say the Habs decide to sign my top two choices, and get them for about $5 million combined. The forwards lineup for next season could look like this:
Spares: Moen, White
That gives three strong forward lines, spreads the scoring around so it’s not all on the top line. The fourth line isn’t as gritty as it could be, but Moen and White could fit in there pretty easily and help add a bit of sandpaper if needed.
Look, it may not be great choices, but the Habs need to take a chance. They’ve adopted a win now approach — hence the signings, no trade clauses and players they’ve acquired the past two seasons — but don’t have the depth to accomplish it. When it look at the teams that have made the finals the last few seasons (Boston and Vancouver this year, Chicago and Philadelphia two seasons ago, Pittsburgh and Detroit the two years before that), they all had great depth.
The best example Habs fans would remember should be Boston this past playoffs. Despite the Canadiens holding the Bruins top line off the scoresheet for most of the series, the Bruins won games because of their depth. Milan Lucic not scoring? Nathan Horton comes through. No David Krejic? Not to worry, there’s Michael Ryder. Patrice Bergeron having an off night? That’s okay, as one of Chris Kelly, Brad Marchand or Mark Recchi is there to pick up the slack.
But if Cammalleri wasn’t scoring, who was going to help out? Mathieu Darche? Ryan White? Lars Eller? Travis Moen? Tom Pyatt? The list goes on.
The Habs need depth if they are going to go anywhere in the playoffs. And there’s a couple of players out there that can help the Habs achieve this.