How about Andrej Sekera and Kyle Chipchura, then?
"I've never heard of this player before."
"Didn't we draft Chipchura and he turned out to be a bust?"
Valid concerns. Please bear with me here.
While P.K. Subban has established himself as a generational talent at the 1D position and Andrei Markov remains one of the very good 2Ds in the NHL, for the time being, the team is not currently equipped to ice a top-tier (or even above-average) second blueline unit.
Sergei Gonchar have been thrust into the role of backing up 79 and 76, but, at 40 years of age, the Russian is way too old to play true shut-down minutes against strong competition, and it would be unfair to expect his defense partner, the 22-year-old Nathan Beaulieu, to win a secondary matchup against the likes of Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin, David Krejci/Patrice Bergeron, or Tyler Johnson/Steven Stamkos over the course of a seven-game series.
Things do not get much better once you get past these two. Tom Gilbert has a very good track record of success playing a top-four role, but has been saddled with the likes of Alexei Emelin and Mike Weaver for much of the season. When 77 is on the ice with 74 or 43, he plays no better than an average third-pairing defenseman.
Therefore, we are looking for an affordable left-hander (to displace Emelin and allow Gilbert to keep playing on his strong side) who has shown an ability to maintain strong possession numbers while playing top-four minutes against tough competition. Offensive point production would be a bonus.
Enter Andrej Sekera. (chart courtesy of WAR-on-Ice.com)
For the past two seasons, Carolina’s number-two defenseman has played on the left side of the team’s top pairing alongside Justin Faulk, whose all-around skill set reminds one of a younger Gilbert. The Hurricanes' mediocre results and Faulk’s higher profile means that the 29-year-old Sekera is flying under the radar a bit heading into unrestricted free agency this summer.
Still, if you compare his advanced stats to those of Jay Bouwmeester (who plays behind Olympians Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo on a world-class St. Louis Blues defense), you can readily see that the Slovakian has the chops to be one of the best 3Ds in the National Hockey League.
Sekera's four-year, $11 million contract runs out this July. If the Habs can get him for a second-round pick or a lower pick and a prospect, it would be a fair price to pay.
If Andrej Sekera happens to be undervalued because he is European and plays with an All-Star on a bad team, then Kyle Chipchura is being unfairly pooh-poohed for a different reason.
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens 18th overall in 2004 (the same year as Sekera, who went 71st), the six-foot-two centerman projected to be a big-body, gritty, two-way pivot who can score and provide leadership in the dressing room. After playing at a 0.6 points per game pace in Hamilton and putting up just 14 points over three seasons with the Habs, the team effectively gave up on him and flipped him to the Anaheim Ducks for a low pick in a prelude of what would come later in the Louis Leblanc saga.
In his second organization, Chipchura was so disappointing that the Ducks elected to have him walk as a restricted free agent rather than keep him on. Fortunately for the Albertan, he caught on with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes four years ago as a solid bottom-six forward and eventually earned a multi-year contract which carries an average cap hit of $875,000 per season. Once burdened by unfair expectations, Chipchura has managed to turn himself into a very serviceable NHL player in his age 25-29 seasons.
But besides the obvious redemption story, there are very compelling reasons why the Habs front office should bring Chipchura back to Montreal.
For a guy earning less than $1 million playing forth-line minutes and who never sees the ice on the powerplay, Chipchura is essentially producing at the level of a strong third-line center.
As a figure of comparison, here are the charts for Manny Malhotra (a former first-round disappointment who reinvented himself as a depth player much in the same way as Chipchura did) and Marcus Kruger (the linchpin of the Chicago Blackhawks’ fourth line, one of the best bottom-three units in the NHL).
As you can plainly see, Chipchura is more similar to one than to the other.
What would it take to get him back? Anaheim acquired him for a fourth-rounder while the Coyotes didn't shell out any assets to pluck Chipchura out on the free agent market. If the Habs can get Arizona to let him go for a fifth or sixth-round pick, then that could be a huge win.