After a season well out of the playoffs, here are five free agents that can bring the Montreal Canadiens back to prominence.
When it was all said and done this season, the Montreal Canadiens finished 26 points out of a playoff spot, and only the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres finished below them in the Eastern Conference.
Having 2015 Vezina and Hart Trophy winner Carey Price available for just 49 games due to chronic fatigue syndrome and a concussion did not help, as he’s been a great deodorant for Montreal’s issues. But Shea Weber played with a broken foot for the 26 games he did play this season, as the deal that sent P.K. Subban to Nashville looks more and more one-sided. Max Pacioretty had just 37 points over 64 games (-16 plus/minus) over 64 games, before a knee injury ended his season, and Tomas Plekanec (24 points in 60 games) did little before he was dealt to the Maple Leafs.
The Canadiens currently have just over $7.1 million in salary cap space (via Cap Friendly), with more that could be added by trading Pacioretty ($4.5 million cap hit for 2018-19), Alex Galchenyuk ($4.9 million cap hit for 2018-19) and/or other pieces.
Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin has been given a vote of confidence by owner Geoff Molson. But Bergevin is firmly on the hot seat, so some big moves could be coming this offseason in an effort to change the player mix and turn things around.
With that in mind, here are five free agents who can help push the Canadiens back to the playoffs next season.
5. G Anti Niemi
After being waived by the Penguins and the Panthers early in the season, the Canadiens claimed Niemi in mid-November. He was solid as a fill-in for Price, with a 7-5-4 record, a .929 save percentage and a 2.46 goals against-average over 19 games (17 starts-12 “quality” starts).
Reuniting with Stephane Waite, his former goalie coach with the Blackhawks, seemed to help Niemi a lot and will foster interest in a return to Montreal from his end. The Canadiens may want someone younger behind Price, like Charlie Lindgren, but Niemi has put himself into the conversation and there won’t a bidding war to get him as an unrestricted free agent. With more notable, costlier moves on the radar in free agency, having a cheaper backup goaltender will be a virtual prerequisite for the Canadiens