The opening days of free agency have come and gone, with a large amount of money being paid out all over the league. In Montreal, Marc Bergevin landed his big fish in the form of Karl Alzner to bolster his blue line. Though Andrei Markov remains unsigned, Bergevin noted his preference is to sign his long-time point-producer, and, quite honestly, Bergevin might not have a choice but to sign the Russian.
The other major UFA from Montreal is a bit more complicated, however. Alexander Radulov is seeking big money, and for an extended term with the Habs. According to one report, Radulov and his agent started off seeking an eight-year deal, which has slowly dwindled down to a six-year demand as of this past week. That’s quite an ask, especially with Carey Price a season away from making $10.5 million a year for most of the next decade. However, unlike Markov, Radulov doesn’t hold the leverage of being a crucial piece of the offence, as there are options to fill in on the wing.
Firstly, the acquisition of Jonathan Drouin brought an extremely skilled, playmaking winger into the Canadiens organization. Not only is Drouin younger, but his contract worked out to over a million dollars cheaper than Radulov’s asking price. While having Radulov back would be a huge advantage to a deep forward group in Montreal, he’s not critical to their offensive success.
The UFA pool still has several options available to bolster the Habs roster, and the big target should be the future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr. Even at 45 years old, the Czech legend remains an extremely productive player in the NHL, and in a depth role could be a major asset to the Habs on a short-term deal.
At his age he still produces like a first-line player, and in Montreal he wouldn’t be required to play such heavy minutes. The loss of Radulov on the right side leaves just Brendan Gallagher and Andrew Shaw right now, so sliding Jagr into that open spot is easy enough.
As an added bonus you could pair him alongside his fellow countrymen in Tomas Plekanec to help the long-time Hab rebound after a miserable 2016-17 season. Either way he’s a versatile asset that the Habs could use to overcome the potential loss of Radulov, and he’ll come a lot cheaper than most other options.
In addition to Jagr we head to the opposite end of the age spectrum, to a talented prospect looking to carve out his NHL spot. That player, of course, is Charles Hudon, who could nudge Paul Byron to the opposite wing and claim a bottom-six left wing spot for himself if the Habs decide to stand pat on the UFA market.
At $650,000, Hudon is costing the team next to nothing and is hungry to prove himself after two short NHL stints where he collected four points. If his AHL play is an indication, Hudon could be a good player for Montreal this year, and both his coach and GM seem to agree.
Even if they do add Jagr (or a similar winger) playing Hudon on the fourth line to start the year isn’t going to hurt the team. In fact, a skilled fourth line is something the Habs needed badly last year and in the playoffs.
It’s not the end of the world to lose Alexander Radulov. He was one of the most exciting players to don the Habs sweater, but in the end hockey is a business. It’s hard to keep everyone satisfied and if Marc Bergevin sees he has cheaper option to do the same job, he’ll turn to that player.
The options are there, and there are bigger pressing needs elsewhere in the lineup. It’s not easy to lose a fan favourite, but sometimes it has to happen for the betterment of the franchise.