One of the biggest holes last season for the Montreal Canadiens was that they had no secondary defense pairing. Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz both looked good for stretches in that role, and Markov was getting back to form towards the last week of the season, but for most of the year P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges were on an island and had to take all the tough competition.
Andrei Markov worked fairly well with Emelin and they could develop some chemistry, but it would benefit the Canadiens greatly to have Emelin play a year on the 3rd pairing, as well as have some assurance in case Markov goes down again.
The Canadiens have a wealth of options for their third pairing, with Emelin on the left side and one of Yannick Weber or Raphael Diaz on the right. If they end up keeping Tomas Kaberle, that will have them set with 7 NHL quality defensemen with a hole on the second pairing, specifically on the right side
However if they are able to find a defenseman good enough to put beside P.K. Subban, Josh Gorges can move down and play the right side on the second pairing, so both left side and right side defensemen should be considered, the most important factor is that they fill the needs of the Canadiens.
What are those needs? Well between Subban, Markov, Weber and Diaz (and maybe Kaberle), the offense from the back end should be taken care of, so the #1 priority should be a defensive stalwart, although offensive prowess is still an obvious plus.
To figure out which UFAs should be targeted, I used the same stats from last week's look at the UFA market for forwards, but weighted them to suit the Habs' needs on defense.
Jason Garrison was someone EOTP has had their eyes on all season, and it just so happened that he scored higher than any other UFA defenseman available. Yes, even higher than Suter. What's surprising about this is that I didn't weigh goals heavily at all, Garrison is just a stud defensive defenseman. He will have a lot of suitors this offseason, but the Canadiens have the cap space to make a good bid for him.
Habs Score: 890.5
Last contract cap hit: $675,000
Prospective cap hit: $4,500,000-6,000,000
Is he an attractive option: Yes. Garrison is a stereotypical shutdown defenseman, except he has a bullet shot and knows where to place it. He can play in all situations and could slot in beside P.K. Subban in a tough minutes role and also provide a bunch of offense. He may not produce as much as he did last year, but it won't matter.
Ryan Suter is the most sought after UFA defenseman this summer, and he will undoubtedly be very expensive. Suter has almost all the tools you want in a top pairing defenseman, and if he were signed by the Habs, he could even be put in a similar role to the one he had in Nashville since P.K. Subban is very similar to Shea Weber. Suter played the toughest minutes of any UFA defenseman, but he also had Weber to back him up.
Habs Score: 869.5
Last contract cap hit: $3,500,000
Prospective cap hit: $6,000,000-7,500,000
Is he an attractive option: Depends. Suter could give Montreal an elite top pairing that could be the best in the league, and he could also make it very difficult to sign Subban in the future. Depending on term and cash, and I think Suter wants to max out both, he could end up being a poor decision.
Matt Carle would probably be very underrated if there were more big names on the UFA market, but when Dennis WIdeman gets $5.25M you can bet that someone who's actually a top pairing defenseman won't get under 5. Carle isn't a great shooter, but he does everything else well. The Flyers may be hooped long term on defense if they lose him. That makes him double worth it.
Habs Score: 867
Last contract cap hit: $3,437,500
Prospective cap hit: $5,000,000-6,500,000
Is he an attractive option: Yes. Although NHL GMs are known to do things they regret later on July 1st, it's been increasingly rare lately for players without a lot of name recognition to get huge contracts. Carle is really good, but he doesn't have the name recognition of Ryan Suter. I think Carle can be had for under $6M/year, and that would be a good deal for most teams.
Carlo Colaiacovo has never quite shaken the injury bug. That said, he's no longer missing half seasons, and he's developed into a top four defenseman for the Blues. He never developed the offense that he hinted at in junior, but he's grown by leaps and bounds defensively.
Habs Score: 747.5
Last contract cap hit: $2,125,000
Prospective cap hit: $2,500,000-4,000,000
Is he an attractive option: Depends. If Bergevin is completely, 100% sure that Markov's knee is fine and will hold up, I think rolling the dice with Colaiacovo could be a solid, cost efficient move. However if a player is being signed for insurance in case Markov goes down, you don't sign an injury prone player.
Sheldon Souray came back to the NHL from a year of exile and impressed people in a way no one ever expected, he played well defensively. Yes, Souray was still a solid offensive force, leading all UFA defensemen in shots/60 minutes of play with 8.2, but he lost a bit of his prowess there it seemed. Regardless, he looked very good in Dallas, and may want to come back and play with his buddy Markov. Souray's +/- is likely to regress a bit as his on-ice save% was really high, but believe it or not, he played the second toughest minutes of all UFA defensemen.
Habs Score: 743.75
Last contract cap hit: $1,650,000
Prospective cap hit: $2,000,000-3,000,000
Is he an attractive option: Yes. I think Souray is the right blend of offense, veteran savvy and toughness to fill the open spot on the Habs back end. He wouldn't have the same responsibilities as he had in his last stint as a Hab, and the young Habs defensive core could use hit experience. He would also likely come relatively cheap, the reason he rejected the last offer from Dallas was because he wanted 2 years, not one. A bit of a risk for a 35+ player, but not bat for under $3M.
Adrian Aucoin is basically Souray, 3 years older, and without the offense. He could work if the Habs really don't want to spend money on the back end, but asking him to be a top 4 defenseman for the full season may be a bit much at 38.
Habs Score: 696.5
Last contract cap hit: $2,000,000
Prospective cap hit: $1,500,000-2,000,000
Is he an attractive option: Depends. If Bergevin believes Emelin can be a full time top 4 defenseman by the end of the season, and Aucoin be a buffer at the beginning of the year to allow him to grow, then be a solid presence on the 3rd pairing by the end, that's a pretty good deal. If Bergevin thinks the team needs a full time top 4, I'd say he should look elsewhere.
Michal Rozsival is, believe it or not, the highest paid defenseman about to become a UFA. He's unlikely to get the same kind of money on his next contract, but with that Wideman signing, maybe I'm wrong. Rozsival fits the profile so loved by the last management group, just like Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek and Tomas Kaberle, he's an aging Czech defenseman who's serviceable, but his best years are behind him.
Habs Score: 690
Last contract cap hit: $5,000,000
Prospective cap hit: $3,500,000-5,500,000
Is he an attractive option: Yes. He's younger than some of the other guys on this list, but still old enough that he might be a bargain as a UFA. Rozsival is one of the better even strength point producers on the market, and played tough minutes. Injuries are a concern with Rozsival though, as he missed 28 games last year.
Bryan Allen is a name bandied about a lot by Habs fans this summer, so I took an extra close look at him. Allen played some tough minutes last year but his possession metrics leave a bit to be desired. Of the guys listed here, he's quite clearly the lowest end option.
Habs score: 670.25
Last contract cap hit: $2,900,000
Prospective cap hit: $3,000,000-4,500,000
Is he an attractive option: No. I know that fans want a rough and tumble 6'5" journeyman on the team, but with how much he's been talked about, I think Allen is being ridiculously overvalued. He's probably on the lower end of top 4 defensemen, and certainly not worth the top end of what he can get. He also adds very little offense to the equation.