The NHL Entry Draft and the Seattle Expansion have both come and gone, paving the way for free agency to commence. The Montreal Canadiens have made some notable moves, spending a decent amount of money on numerous players to fill some of the vacancies within their active roster. This Habs team will look very different in many areas than it did during their Stanley Cup Finals appearance against the Tampa Bay Lightning. That being said, there are still certain things Montreal must take care of before training camp begins.
The biggest on-ice loss for Montreal will end up being Philip Danault. The 28-year-old native of Quebec signed a six-year deal worth $33 million with the Los Angeles Kings on day one of free agency.
Danault averaged 16:52 of ice time this past season, had a 52.5 FO% and finished the year with 24 points in 53 games. He achieved this while shutting down the opposition’s best players on a nightly basis. Danault was the key centreman for the Canadiens when it came to managing defensive assignments, as well as helping the young centremen in Nick Suzuki, Jake Evans and Jesperi Kotkaniemi learn and develop at their own pace.
Marc Bergevin has not filled the empty void left by Danault via free agency nor via trade and the hole is still there in the team’s middle-six. Do the responsibilities spread through the young centremen or does Bergevin go and acquire a player to replace Danault?
Another significant loss to the Canadiens’ bottom-six is veteran forward Corey Perry. Perry signed a two-year deal worth $2 million with the league’s reigning champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Though he played a limited role with Montreal on a cheap contract, his impact was unmeasurable both on and off the ice.
Perry was never going to come in and play top-line minutes and collect a handful of points. He came in for his character and intangibles and left the Canadiens having scored 21 points across 49 contests. He did so while also taking a leadership role, making a positive impact on Montreal’s younger players. His on-ice shenanigans, puck control and presence are simply things you can’t just brush off. His crease play was a major plus when given the ice time and he tended to be a solid player when it came to the cycle game.
With that in mind, replacing Perry is going to come from within. The Canadiens re-signed both Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen, while having Paul Byron available should the franchise see fit.
Tomas Tatar inked a two-year deal with the New Jersey Devils worth an AAV of $4.5 million.
Tatar was a strong five-on-five contributor, having played on one of the league’s best lines alongside Brendan Gallagher and Philip Danault when it came to puck possession and xGoals percentages by any offensive line, with a minimum of 100 minutes collected together.
Despite his success with the team, Tatar seemed to fall out of favour in the playoffs, appearing in just five of the team’s 23 playoff games in their lengthy run for the cup last season. The Slovakia native was not as productive as expected when the matchups mattered most.
Tatar’s spot at left wing will be filled by the return of Jonathan Drouin, who is coming back from a personal hiatus, as well as the free agent signing of Mike Hoffman.
The six-foot-two defender from Saint-Hycianthe was brought in on a four-year deal worth a total of $14 million.
Savard is coming off a Stanley Cup-winning season after he was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he eventually defeated the team he would later sign with. He brings a rugged and physical playing style to a defence that has been built in that mould.
His addition to the top-four behind Jeff Petry will likely see him on a pairing with Ben Chiarot. Chiarot was a mainstay partner of Shea Weber’s, and the two share a similar style of hockey, however, it’s almost impossible to replace the fallen captain.
As mentioned above, Savard will bring a physical presence to the defence corps, as well as being a mentor and leader for younger players, especially Alexander Romanov. On top of all this, he is bringing his Stanley Cup-winning experience that might prove to be key for the younger core to learn from.
A welcome addition for Montreal, Mike Hoffman signed a three-year deal worth $13.5 million to join the Canadiens.
Hoffman is primarily a shooting winger, with a sprinkle of transitional play and playmaking in his game. He was linked to Montreal a season prior before signing in St. Louis on a one-year deal. The same scenario repeated itself this year, but he chose the Habs to sign with simply due to the contract term.
As brought up before, he’s a goal scorer and most of his production is a result of the power play, where Montreal has been extremely inconsistent in recent years. Hoffman doesn’t have as much of a dominant impact at five-on-five and does not contribute so much defensively, however, he will likely be placed on a line with strong two-way players.
Cedric Paquette was signed to a one-year contract worth a total of $950,000.
The signing of Paquette is a very clear one. He was brought in to play on the fourth line, where he is expected to be both edgy and versatile. He can play in all three forward positions and will is likely to see time on the penalty kill as well.
Paquette comes armed with a high motor, playing with a ton of passion and bite, while able to drive to the net with power. Paquette is someone who finishes his checks and will constantly be involved in skirmishes and post-whistle battles, and most importantly, trash-talking.
His role with the Habs will be a simple one, but he fits the play style that Montreal’s fourth line is built around. It was a key a factor in Montreal’s push for Lord Stanley’s Cup last season.
Another francophone addition by the Canadiens, Perreault signed a one-year deal in Montreal worth $950,000.
The product of Drummondville, Quebec is headed to the Habs as a bottom-six winger who is more than capable of contributing offensively. His involvement with the Jets had diminished over the years and the forward’s production was also affected by it. Both parties believe he has more left to the tank to offer, especially on the ice in his home province.
Montreal has many players on the roster who present with various skill levels. Perreault isn’t guaranteed anything, but will get the opportunity to play a fourth-line role at training camp.
Chris Wideman signed a one-year deal to join the Montreal Canadiens on day one of free agency.
Wideman had a very productive season in Russia and is making his return to the NHL for the long run.
The veteran is an offensive defenseman who will likely see time on the power play play, while helping with defensive zone exits and the transition game. He’s a low-risk, medium-to-high reward signing.
It wasn’t easy to watch that while Tampa Bay was celebrating their Stanley Cup win. The Montreal Canadiens were seen grouped around their captain.
Marc Bergevin confirmed that the defenseman had played through various injuries, leaving his future in question and leading to talk of retirement. His 2021-22 season was then confirmed by Montreal to be a no-go.
With this news, Bergevin signed David Savard to help fill the void which would then be left with Weber headed to the injured reserved.
Weber’s loss will likely be filled as a unit, with the Petry-Edmundson pairing getting the top pair minutes, followed by Chiarot and Savard trailing closely behind. Chances are we’ll see Alexander Romanov rack up more minutes and responsibilities in his second year at the NHL level.
Paul Byron’s injury is not as serious as Shea Weber’s, however, he will be sidelined to open the season, having undergone surgery to repair a hip injury. The forward should be ready to hit the ice come mid-season.
The Habs shook the hockey world when they left Carey Price exposed at the Seattle Expansion Draft in favour of backup goaltender Jake Allen. It didn’t take long for his injury to be made public, which put his immediate future with the Canadiens in doubt. The Kraken carefully considered drafting Price, but ultimately elected to go a different direction. After making it through the process as a member of the Habs, it was then confirmed that Price will be ready for the start of the season.
Those In Limbo
Jesperi Kotkaniemi is a restricted free agent, meaning that Montreal is in full control of the contract situation. Unless someone decides to offer sheet him, Marc Beregevin and the Canadiens should have no trouble locking him up.
Eric Staal was not an offensive contributor during the regular season and regularly seemed to be a step or two behind the play. He was more effective in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, centering a line with Corey Perry and Joel Armia, where they dominated puck possession often when on the ice.
There hasn’t been any news as to whether or not the Triple Gold Club member will opt to return to the Montreal Canadiens. He is currently an unrestricted free agent.
What’s The Plan Moving Forward?
The Canadiens will likely head into training camp with those who they’ve added, and those returning on the roster. The biggest question mark to date remains at the center position. Will Bergevin acquire a centreman to assist his inexperienced unit down the middle, or will Jake Evans and Jesperi Kotkaniemi move up the depth chart with significantly increased responsibilities?
The defence will likely to be the same as last season, minus the addition of David Savard. The loss of Shea Weber will be replaced by the unit of six as opposed to having one specific player utilized to fill in. Look to see Alexander Romanov get an increase in ice time and bigger minutes as the season progresses. He was decent at worst in his rookie season, as he displayed strong signs with an increase of confidence.
Nothing is changing in between the pipes.
Montreal’s current offseason moves have not moved them higher up in the rankings, nor change the current narrative that their success is related to pandemic adjustments. The Canadiens are bringing back many players who produced or showed promise, but at the same time, lost key contributors to the on-ice product, as well as the product off the ice. The positive sign is that there is time for this team to find chemistry, as we approach the return of a normal NHL schedule. The younger players are set to take on a bigger slice of the pie, and the label of “core” is slowly, but surely switching with each and every passing day.