Free agency is on the horizon, and it's time to take a closer look at some of the most interesting forwards available. We'll start off with a trio of wingers.
Keep in mind that If the Habs are interested in any of these players they'll have to shed some salary, since they'll only have a touch over $1M in cap space once they re-sign Alex Galchenyuk and Brian Flynn.
Williams is coming off another solid season, earning 18 goals and 23 assists for the LA Kings. He spent 25.39% of his shifts with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, as well as 25.33% with Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll. He's coming off a four-year contract that paid him $3.65M per season.
Williams is consistently a top line player, and despite enjoying a 54.95 ZSO% this season(fraction of offensive vs defensive zone starts,) he clearly rose to the challenge, continuing his long career of dependable production.
He might be the best forward available on July 1st, which means he'll be commanding a hefty salary, seeing as how it's the probably last time he'll be able to cash in on free agency before his production dries up. He'll be 34 by the start of the 2015-16 season, which means that his best years are behind him. As enticing as he is, unless the Habs are able to convince him to accept a short term contract, he's probably going to command too much term to make it a worthwhile signing.
He's a good player, but signing an aging forward to a multi-year deal in the $3M-$4M range is rarely a sound strategy.
As is the case with Williams, Ward is another aging right-winger that almost put together a 20-goal season in 2014-15. He spent the majority of the year playing alongside Eric Fehr, and one of either Brooks Laich or Jason Chimera in a primarily defensive role.
Ward has always been a bit of an underrated defensive player, as evidenced by the chart above. His offensive contributions are hit or miss.
As it stands, the Habs have a bevy of forwards that can be used in a defensive role, which means that Ward's excellent defensive coverage isn't a big selling point. His goal production, however, is exactly what the Habs need. Unfortunately, Ward relies on shooting percentage rather than shot quantity, which generally leads to a major decrease in scoring as forwards age.
Like Williams, Ward is likely to cash in on a relatively weak forward crop this year, which means he should fetch somewhere in the $3M range.
The Habs need goals, and Beleskey happens to be the free agent that scored the most last season. He finished third among all Anaheim Ducks players in goals, despite playing on 65 games. He spent the majority of his ice time with Ryan Kesler and Kyle Palmieri, however he did play 16.61% of his shifts with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
Simply put, last year was the outlier when observing Beleskey's impact on his teammates in recent years. It helps that he finished the season with an inflated shooting percentage of 15.2%, whereas his career average before this season was 8.1%.
The most interesting aspect when it comes to Beleskey is his age. He just turned 27, which means that he's likely to have more left in the tank than a player like Williams or Ward.
Of course, a player that has his breakout season at 26 due to a incredibly high shooting percentage should raise all sorts of red flags. Not to mention that Beleskey will likely command a pretty penny come July 1st, something in the $4M-$4-5M range.
(If you enjoyed the charts presented above, consider following the creator Domenic Galamini, on Twitter.)