As summer plods through its dog days, there are many signs that the hockey season isn’t far away. Players are beginning to leave their summer homes to head back to their hockey-starved cities, and just a handful of free agents remain who could help solidify rosters across the league.
One of those players is centre Nick Shore, who last year bounced from Los Angeles, to Ottawa, and finally to Calgary at the end of his one-year deal. While not an offensive juggernaut, Shore has quietly become a very good option for defensive minutes down the middle. He pushes the play the right way, and keeps shots off his goalie while playing primarily in a bottom-six role for his teams.
The Montreal Canadiens already have a ton of centres, but only two who could arguably be considered everyday top-six options. So if we factor in that both Jonathan Drouin and Phillip Danault are locked into their roles at the top of the lineup, that leaves two spots open lower down. There is an overabundance of players on NHL contracts who will be vying for those positions down the middle in the bottom six: Tomas Plekanec, Jacob de la Rose, Matthew Peca, Byron Froese, and, potentially, a re-signed Michael McCarron.
That’s a lot of bodies for a limited amount of spots, which likely makes any sort of move for Shore a long shot in Montreal. However, if the Canadiens were to hypothetically pursue the former Flame, they would be making a good move given his talents.
Compared to the players he’d be battling for a roster spot, he not only stacks up well, but in a few cases is outright better than the options in place already.
If Shore were to join the organization, his closest competition would likely come from recent free-agent signee Peca. Comparatively speaking, Peca does better in terms of point-production over the course of his NHL playing time, but some context is needed.
He played on one of league’s deepest teams in terms of offensive talent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and despite being a capable producer in a small sample, his other metrics were lagging. While Shore bounced between a mediocre Kings side, a disastrous Senators club, and a faltering Flames team, he maintained an excellent underlying possession game.
Peca could very well be a breath of fresh air in Montreal’s bottom six. He’s a tenacious player at the AHL level, and that never-quit style of play could serve him well for his new club. However, having a solid option in case he should struggle isn’t a bad idea, and it’s not like Shore will make a major dent in the cap space the Canadiens are currently carrying.
Marc Bergevin’s options beyond Peca are the definition of underwhelming. In the above gallery, we see how Shore can stack up against last year’s incumbents, de la Rose and McCarron. In short, there isn’t much competition in terms of their possession numbers; Shore blows both of them away in almost every category.
It’s more than likely he’d be a better option in a fourth-line role than either of the returning players, which would force Montreal to move some bodies to Laval. McCarron would be the likely candidate given his struggles at the NHL level and a dismal showing in the AHL last year, but it still leaves a fairly crowded group in the bottom six for the Habs.
Bergevin seems to be fairly content with the roster he’s constructed heading into the rookie and training camps this year, but with the way injuries occur in the pre-season, Shore could immediately become valuable. Montreal had horrific luck with the injury bug last year, and while it’s unlikely that they’ll suffer the same fate, having safeguards in place all over the lineup could help prevent similarly disastrous results.
We’ve seen late off-season additions pay big dividends for Montreal in the past. It’s no guarantee that Shore could do the same, but when you’re in the position the Canadiens are, there isn’t really any reason to not try in one way or another.