Life After Alexei Emelin: Marc Bergevin’s shopping list
The Habs need to make the most of the newly acquired salary cap space.
The expansion draft has come and gone, and with it long time Habs defender Alexei Emelin has become a member of the Vegas Golden Knights. With his departure the defence could definitely use some reinforcements.
As it stands, the Canadiens have Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn, Jakub Jerabek, Brandon Davidson and Zach Redmond under contract. Andrei Markov is likely to return once more with a new contract in hand, and if the playoffs are an indicator, he’ll resume his role as the driving force on a pairing with Shea Weber. While it’s not a star studded group, they’re a capable unit, but they lack truly established options beyond the second pairing.
The team can stand pat for the time being, and use the $4.1 million dollars in new cap space go to make a big splash on the first day of free agency. Given the nature of the this year’s free agent class, the splash is the equivalent of jumping into the kiddie pool. Kevin Shattenkirk is the biggest name, but due to Weber’s status as the top pairing right handed defenceman, Shattenkirk quickly falls out of the picture.
If Bergevin is looking to add to the top four, and possibly shift Benn back down the line up then Karl Alzner is also available, and fits the bill as a Bergevin-type player. He’s got plenty of experience, and plays a defence-first style. However, Alzner might not be what the team needs now that they’ve traded two of their puck-moving defenders this past week. There’s also no doubt that Alzner will be overpaid by a general manager this summer, due to the lack of quality defencemen available in free agency.
Another option could be Cody Franson, who is coming off a less than impressive stint in the Buffalo Sabres organization. While it’s not his fault that he played on some of the worst squads in NHL history, his previous standing in the NHL is long gone. The primary issue with Franson is that he is a right-handed defenceman, which means he’s competing with Weber and Petry for spots. Unless he’s willing to take on lesser minutes, with lesser pay, it might be a stretch to see him don the CH this off season.
Brendan Smith is a possibility as a free agent as he departs the New York Rangers in the offseason. Smith’s biggest drawback is that he doesn’t create a ton of offence in terms of points, but on a pairing with Petry he won’t be relied on for that. He’s excellent at limiting chances against, and everyone who played with Petry the year before was markedly better.
The final major UFA choice could be Brian Campbell, who even at 38 years old continues to be a solid shot suppressing defender. If he slots in on the second pair alongside Jeff Petry the duo could eat a lot of major minutes, and ease the load off of Weber and Markov. Of course, the Habs would then make one of the oldest defensive groups in the NHL even older.
If Benn holds a place in the lineup alongside of Petry, then a right handed spot is vacant on the bottom pairing, next to newcomer Jakub Jerabek. This opens up any number of opportunities, as Vegas apparently open to trading some of their acquired players from the draft. The first name that immediately jumps out is the former Boston Bruin, Colin Miller. Miller is someone who is coming into his own currently in the NHL. Based on his stats and offensive prowess, he’d be a great trade target for the Habs.
Based against his peers, Miller shines in both driving offence, and preventing shots against.
With Claude Julien at the helm, having Miller as a third pairing option would be a boon. He has one more year left on his deal that pays him one million dollars per season. The question is, how much would it cost to acquire Miller? Based on some of George McPhee’s picks, he seems to value the old school style of player. He mainly picked physical defenders, avoiding puck movers or “risk takers” in the process, which indicates that Miller could be acquired for a reasonable cost. He’d be a great addition and can shore up an area where production was non-existent for long stretches in 2016-17.
Of course, we can’t ignore the Sword of Damocles situation involving Alex Galchenyuk in Montreal. Despite the news he’s begun negotiating a new deal, it’s entirely possible that the American forward is moved out for multiple pieces, including a potential top pairing defender. The Minnesota Wild have been mentioned several times as a likely trade target. Both Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella were brought up as pieces Marc Bergevin had inquired about. The pair are both decent defencemen, however based on age alone, and the fact his stats are impacted by playing on his offside, Jonas Brodin is the player who fits best. If Galchenyuk is heading to Minnesota, and Brodin is coming back, it’s likely there’s another player returning, and the best add-on could end up being Joel Eriksson-Ek. Eriksson Ek is NHL-ready, can play centre, and while not an established #1 centre, he could develop into a standout top-six player very quickly alongside Phillip Danault.
There’s a multitude of options available to the Canadiens right now, none of them are easy choices. If they keep Galchenyuk, they can possibly have a weakness on defence, if they trade him they have a weakness down the middle.
Bergevin holds all the cards, and has the chance to make the call that can send this team over the hump. Vegas did him a favour by selecting Emelin, now it’s up to him to make the most of this newfound cap space.
Who should Bergevin pursue?
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