The Montreal Canadiens have $57,973,333 worth of cap space committed to 20 skaters next season. With $9,024,167 left to spend, GM Marc Bergevin is likely looking to add, but where does the lineup need beefing up?
The answer comes in an outgoing free agent and an injury. Michael Ryder moving on creates a hole in the top-9 for a winger, either on the left or right, as Rene Bourque can play both sides.
Assuming for a moment that Therrien maximizes his assets and puts Max Pacioretty with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, along with a second line of Alex Galchenyuk, Lars Eller, and Brendan Gallagher. That leaves an offense-only third line in an exploitation role headed up by David Desharnais and Rene Bourque.
This means that the Canadiens don't need a top line winger, but perhaps someone with a bit of two-way ability to support Desharnais is the best case scenario. Eller and Plekanec will carry most of the defensive load, with the 4th line likely also taking a lot of defensive zone starts, but no one can truly be completely sheltered.
There's a possibility that the Habs decide to slot Brandon Prust in that role, as he's demonstrated that he has the ability to carry the defensive load in that capacity and has the hands to keep a cycle going and beat defenders along the boards, which works well into the style of game Desharnais plays.
If that's how the team plays it, a 4th-line upgrade is likely the main target at forward. The team would lose out on offense in this scenario though. Ryder is still capable of 25 goals, and any upgrade to the 4th line isn't going to have a 25 goal shift defensively.
The bigger question mark though, is what the Habs plan on doing to fill the hole created by Alexei Emelin being injured, likely until mid to late November. The Canadiens responded last season by calling up Jarred Tinordi to play on the penalty kill and third pairing. Tinordi was excellent on the PK, far better than could have been expected, but at even strength he needed a ton of sheltering in order to create a competent pairing with Francis Bouillon.
Nathan Beaulieu is also an option, and given that he was allowed to take the number 6 as his new jersey number, I think the Habs are looking at him as the front runner coming into training camp. Beaulieu was given much tougher assignments than Tinordi during his call up, and has a much higher end skill set. It's entirely possible that Beaulieu could be a top-4 defenseman as early as next season.
With that said, the organization may be more comfortable giving both Beaulieu and Tinordi an extra development year in Hamilton, and use that extra money for a proven top-4 defenseman that they know can hold the fort.
It's an interesting dynamic, and one we're going to explore as much as possible over the next few days.