If you look at the Montreal Canadiens salary cap chart for next season, the only two regular defensemen from this season who are signed, are defensive specialists Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin. Gorges is locked up for four more seasons at a 3.9 million dollar cap hit, and Emelin will make 4.1 million for four years as well.
Rookie blue liners Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are also signed for one more season, but both played twice as many games in the American Hockey League as they did with the Habs. Both are due for a much more significant role with the big club, giving the Habs four options under contract.
You can also pencil P.K. Subban into next season’s lineup. The defending Norris Trophy winner is a restricted free agent at the moment, but the Canadiens management will do anything to get his name on a new long term contract.
That leaves general manager Marc Bergevin with four veteran unrestricted free agents, and a need for only two at the most to return. The easy option is to let Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray walk, as their play was usually somewhere between awful and atrocious this season.
Signing Andrei Markov will be the most difficult decision. The 35 year old has put his injury history in the rearview mirror, and was an excellent number two defenseman for the Canadiens this season. “The General” posted 43 points in 81 games and chipped in 10 more in 17 postseason games.
More impressive was Markov’s unheralded defensive game, as he was a key member of a penalty killing unit that was successful 85 percent of the time. He is not afraid to block shots, can win battles in the corner, and is a great partner for the younger Emelin. The only downfall is his contract demands, but we will get into the at a later time.
Letting him go would sting, so let’s assume he is brought back. That gives the Habs a blue line of:
Tinordi – Subban
Markov – Emelin
Gorges – Beaulieu
Or some iteration of the six. This group isn’t perfect, but I think getting the young defensemen in the lineup regularly will help in the long run. However, it is a bit risky as you are not sure what you will get out of a pair of rookies. Also, the seventh defenseman in this scenario is rookie Greg Pateryn which is not ideal.
If a rookie is not going to be played regularly, he may as well be in the minors. This is why Mike Weaver is a perfect fit for the Montreal Canadiens next season. He is a shot blocking machine who has played in the NHL for ten seasons.
He is still a capable third pairing defenseman and has proven to be an excellent penalty killer during the Canadiens run to the Eastern Conference Finals. He is the perfect partner for a young defenseman like Beaulieu or Tinordi, as his work ethic and commitment are second to none. Having an extra veteran presence around, whether Markov stays or not, will be a boost for the blue line youth movement.
Weaver led the Habs in shot blocks in the postseason and was first in shorthanded ice time as well. Being on the ice with a veteran player like Weaver would really open a rookie defenders eyes as to what it takes to be successful in the NHL.
He doesn’t have to be a regular in the lineup, but can move in when necessary and play a very steady, safe game like he has his entire 600 game NHL career.
Even if Markov returns, having Weaver as an insurance policy in case of injury would be an asset. Whether Andrei Markov comes back or not is yet to be determined, but I think Mike Weaver should be a Montreal Canadiens again next season.