The Montreal Canadiens still have work to do if they want to put together a competing roster for next season. It’s yet to be seen if the Habs will truly consider the 2018-19 season a wash, so there’s still reason to believe that the Canadiens could be aggressive for potential new talent whether via trade or free agency.
While the Canadiens have a ton of targets at forward and centre they can go for, including the Sabres’ own Ryan O’Reilly, the Habs are in need of more reinforcements at the back end. Arguably their biggest weakness came from defence, and their biggest free agent splash last summer, Karl Alzner, did not fit the bill in his first season as a Hab.
Specifically, the Canadiens could use an upgrade on their top pairing alongside Shea Weber. As it stands, per our own depth chart, young Victor Mete (seven assists in 49 games) stands as the team’s top left-handed defenceman, followed by Alzner, Mike Reilly, and David Schlemko.
There are a number of defencemen who will be available come July 1. While there aren’t many top-pairing quality defencemen in this pile, there are still a list of players that Bergevin should consider — or avoid — during the free agent frenzy.
Calvin de Haan
2017-18 stats: 33GP, 1G, 12PTS
2017-18 AAV: $3,300,000
With the re-signing of John Carlson by the Washington Capitals, it appears de Haan might be the most attractive puck-moving commodity left on the market.
Calvin de Haan has received significant interest from upwards of 10 teams so far. He’ll be a very popular guy leading up to July 1.— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) June 24, 2018
De Haan is seen as a reliable puck-moving defenceman, something the Canadiens have been lacking for some time. His ice time in 2017-18 was limited due to a shoulder injury, which stopped him from building on a 2016-17 campaign where he racked up five goals and 25 points.
We have an analysis of what de Haan could bring the team right here.
2017-18 stats: 81 GP, 7G, 18PTS
2017-18 AAV: $1,666,667
Moore will not get a lot of love from those who like advanced stats, as he’s ranked quite low in primary assists, Corsi for, and even defensive zone starts. But he is a shot generator, as he led all Devils defencemen in shots last season with 141 (unfortunately, he only had a conversion rate of five per cent).
The 27-year old spent most of his time on the Devils’ second-pairing this past season, but he’d fare better as a bottom-pairing defenceman if the Canadiens signed him, which likely doesn’t make him a fit. He might only be a slight upgrade on Reilly, a trade acquisition from last season.
2017-18 stats: 73GP, 11G, 21PTS
2017-18 AAV: $1,000,000
Connauton might be an intriguing free agent to consider if you’re Marc Bergevin.
There are cons for signing Connauton, including the fact that he’s been used mainly as a third-pairing defenceman throughout his career and he hasn’t racked up a ton of primary assists (despite a promising looking rate of primary assists per hour on Hockeyviz). Signing him and expecting him to play above and beyond the role he’s played for most of his career would be a classic Bergevin move.
However, it cannot be ignored that he’s coming off a career season as he enters his prime. Similarly to Moore, he generates shots as well. But, for anyone who might be thinking that Connauton’s teammates weren’t all that impressive in Arizona despite his stats being as they are, they wouldn’t necessarily be that much better in Montreal.
If Connauton were to sign with Montreal, he’d reunite with Max Domi, who had the primary assist on four of his 11 goals last season. Connauton could rekindle some chemistry with his now-departed Coyotes’ teammate.
2017-18 stats: 69GP, 5G, 25PTS
2017-18 AAV: $2,200,000
If the Canadiens miss out on the de Haan sweepstakes, they should consider taking a flier on Hickey. He can move the puck, generates more shots than his Islander teammate, and has positive high danger chance and goal rates (over 50 per cent).
Despite having a lower CF%, being the inferior offensive player between himself and de Haan, the Canadiens should at least consider what he can bring to the table if de Haan doesn’t work out.
2017-18 stats (split with PIT & CBJ): 67GP, 5G, 20PTS
2017-18 AAV: $2,100,000
Cole is much more rugged and physical than some of the other defencemen on this list. But he’s also got the most playoff experience of all the entries on this list, and has picked up points as a secondary contributor on those Stanley Cup winning teams in Pittsburgh.
The 29-year old might work best as a bottom-pairing defenceman and perhaps not alongside Weber on a consistent basis. But, if the Canadiens were looking for more depth and Cole’s asking price was something the team could afford, why not take a look at him?
Five defenceman for Bergevin to consider heading into free agency, each with pros and cons. All we can do it wait and see.