The Montreal Canadiens lengthy playoff run is over and the team must now look to the future as the Stanley Cup Final is set to begin between the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings.
The 2013-14 season was a very successful one for the storied franchise, as they finished the regular season with 100 points, and then knocked off the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins before falling to the Rangers in a six game Eastern Conference Final.
Just two years ago the team finished dead last in the Eastern Conference, so to be the runners up in two short seasons is a big accomplishment. To continue their upward trend, general manager Marc Bergevin is going to have to be very busy this offseason.
The first task is to get superstar defenseman P.K. Subban signed to a long term deal. The 25 year old defending Norris Trophy winner is a restricted free agent, and will demand a significant raise from his last contract which saw him earn $2,875,000 for two seasons. I would expect his next deal to be about triple that in terms of both length and per season cap hit.
The Canadiens also need to get RFA Lars Eller signed to a new deal. The big center had a disappointing regular season but was the most consistent forward for the Habs during their run to the third round of the postseason. He is coming off a deal where he earned $1,325,000 over two seasons and will see a modest raise on his next contract into the 2-2.5 million per year range.
Another tall task on Bergevin’s to do list is to figure out what to do with unrestricted free agent Thomas Vanek. The big winger’s inconsistent play in the postseason, and near disappearing act in the Rangers series may make it easy to walk away from Vanek. However, he remains one of the best offensive players on the market and the Habs have been starved for offense for years. To simply brush aside the idea of re-signing the talented forward who will hit 300 career goals and 300 career assists next season.
I don’t think a deal with Vanek gets done, but I do think Bergevin will try to get an extension signed. He will simply price himself out of town with high demands and larger contract offers.
More difficult decisions for the future of the team involves their current leadership core. Captain Brian Gionta’s 5 year 25 million dollar deal just expired, as did assistant Andrei Markov’s 3 year deal at 5.75 million per season. Both are 35 years old and force Bergevin to decide, do the Habs stick with the team that made it within two wins of the Stanley Cup Final, or replace aging veterans and look to the future?
Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to the pair of veterans. I can’t see Bergevin risking giving them a three year contract, but Markov has certainly earned that type of extension. If they remain unsigned on July 1st, you can bet someone would be willing to give Gionta similar length. Contracts for players aged 35 and up are risky as there is no relief from them, even if the player retires. Bergevin has made some great moves, but is not a huge risk taker either, so I expect these negotiations to go right down to the July 1st wire.
Bergevin will also have to get depth forwards Ryan White and Dale Weise’s names on new deals before the pair of RFA’s hit the market. These talks should be a lot easier than the one’s with Markov and Gionta, and I expect both players to sign for less than 1.5 million in the coming weeks.
The easiest decision is probably what to do with his veteran defenseman. It should not be difficult for the Habs to decide Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray can easily be replaced by Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi and therefore don’t deserve an extension.
Mike Weaver is a curious case, as the veteran defenseman endeared himself to fans with his ability to block shots and kill penalties. The thing is, he can’t do much else, including getting the puck out of his own zone once he has blocked a shot or pass. Also, the Canadiens were an exceptional shot blocking and great penalty killing team before he was acquired at the deadline. Does Bergevin decide he is not a key and let him walk so Tinordi can get more minutes next season? I’m not sure, but I sure hope so.
George Parros has played his last game as a Montreal Canadien. You feel bad for the scrapping UFA winger because he battled extremely difficult injuries from his first game as a Hab, and continued to come back and try to do his job. Unfortunately, his job is in increasing less demand in today’s NHL and he may be facing retirement.
There are a few other needs the Bergevin will try to address this offseason, as he prepares for the NHL Draft and Free Agency. He will attempt to sign a rugged winger that can play on the second line and bring the offense that Gionta can not shoulder anymore. Even is the captain is brought back it will be at a reduced price, and the Habs need to find a way to score more goals at even strength.
The only four defensemen currently signed are defensive defenders Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin, as well as rookies Tinordi and Beaulieu. Surely Subban will be brought back but it will be interesting to see how the Canadiens blue line group is arranged for next season.
There is four months until the Canadiens take to the ice again, but there is plenty to be done between now and then. Trades, drafted players, free agent signings, retirements and training camp could change the makeup of this team fairly drastically before we see them again. It promises to be an exciting offseason for the Montreal Canadiens, as they attempt to improve on a very successful campaign.