Apr 20, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens left wing Thomas Vanek (20) misses a chance to score a goal against Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Anders Lindback (39) during the third period in game three of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Montreal Canadiens Must Be Cautious In Free Agency, Save Cap Space For Next Offseason

Free agent frenzy is less than four weeks away, and is always a time for National Hockey League teams to throw money at players that fill needs on their roster. It is difficult to sit back and watch rivals stock up on solid NHL level talent, but the Montreal Canadiens will have to be cautious with every penny they spend this offseason.

Sure, the Habs have most of their roster already signed for next season, and also boast about 25 million in cap space. However, they won’t be able to spend as freely as one might think at first glance.

May 27, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk (27) scores a goal against New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) during the first period in game five of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, P.K. Subban needs to get his name on a new contract, and that will cost the Canadiens somewhere in the 8.5 million per year range. Add to that a new Lars Eller contract and about a million dollars to each of Dale Weise, Mike Weaver and Ryan White as well as some tough decision on Brian Gionta and Andrei Markov.

This still leaves the Habs with room to add a big time player, but the Canadiens have to keep an eye on the future when committing big dollars to any free agent this summer. One year from now, the only big contract coming off the books will be that of Daniel Briere who earns 4 million, but some big players will be coming off their cheap entry level deals.

Young forwards Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Michael Bournival, and rookie defensemen Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi will be looking for new contracts this time next year. None of them will make more than $925,000 this upcoming season, but they will all be in for huge pay raises in 2015-16.

May 22, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) leaps to try to deflect the puck past New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) during the second period in game three of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Galchenyuk and Gallagher in particular will be making significantly more money a season from now. Both have established themselves as valuable top six forwards and will laugh at any offer less than Rene Bourque’s 3.33 million dollar cap hit.

Gallagher has proven to be an invaluable member of the Habs top line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, and Galchenyuk has deserved every second of ice time he has received and many more. Both players burst onto the scene as rookies in the lockout shortened 2013 season with Gallagher scoring 28 points in 44 games and Galchenyuk notching 27 points in 48 games.

May 19, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu (40) makes a pass against New York Rangers during the first period in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Galchenyuk took a bit of a step back in the points department during his sophomore season, scoring 31 in 65 games, but battled injuries and uneven ice time throughout the year. The 20 year old has shown he has as much offensive talent as anyone on the team, but continues to sit for extended periods as head coach Michel Therrien plays his aging veterans. He is on the cusp of breaking out, and could do it in a big way next season.

Gallagher seems to be the only young skater on the Canadiens roster that avoids Therrien’s dog house and that is simply because he has never played like a newcomer to the NHL. Gallagher is only 5’8” tall, but battles like he is the size of Zdeno Chara, and drives to the front of the opponent’s net as furiously as anyone in the league. The feisty winger is not just a thorn in other teams side, he also scored 41 points in his second NHL season, and chipped in 11 in 17 playoff games as a 22 year old.

It remains to be seen how much of a raise Beaulieu,Tinordi and Bournival will demand, but all three have a big opportunity next season. With aging defensemen Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray on the way out of town, the door is open for Beaulieu and Tinordi to make an impact as regular NHLers for the first time. Both have performed admirably in limited action with the Canadiens thus far in their careers, and will look for big raises on their current cap hit in the likely event they both become regular members of the Habs blue line group.

Bournival has shown an ability to thrive in almost any role already at the NHL level. Nothing was expected of the 20 year old forward when he showed up for training camp last fall, but he battled veterans all year and kept stealing ice time away from his older teammates.

Apr 12, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens left wing Michael Bournival (49) misses a chance to score a goal against New York Rangers goalie Cam Talbot (33) during the third period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, his offense is limited, for now, but he showed a few flashes early in the year when he scored 11 points in a span of 17 regular season games. His speed, smarts, tenacity and penalty killing skills made him a very valuable member of the Canadiens bottom six in his rookie season. His great play in the postseason kept savvy playoff veteran Travis Moen in the press box, a huge testament to the trust he has already earned from his stubborn coach.

Bournival is not going to demand several million dollars per year on his next contract, but he will ask for a lot more than the $660,000 he is going to make next season.

It sure looks like the Canadiens have a lot of cap space to play with this offseason, and signing big name free agents may be very enticing. However, the Montreal Canadiens have to keep one eye on next offseason and save a few bucks to make sure they can sign their own free agents this time next year.

This does not mean the Habs can’t be in on free agents such as Matt Moulson or Jarome Iginla. However it does mean Thomas Vanek is gone and Marc Bergevin must understand he has to choose between Andrei Markov and another big free agent signing.

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Tags: Alex Galchenyuk Montreal Canadiens P.K. Subban

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