The Montreal Canadiens head into the offseason enter the offseason with a huge need to fill on right wing. With Thomas Vanek and Brian Gionta both unrestricted free agents, the Habs have some major decisions to make to fill out the depth chart between Brendan Gallagher and Dale Weise on the starboard side.
Internally, Sven Andrighetto may be an option but after that there are not many Hamilton Bulldogs or other Habs prospects that look prepared to make the jump to the NHL.
There are several potential free agents that could help the Canadiens next season, including Jarome Iginla and Ryan Callahan, but there will be at least a dozen teams offering these players contracts when they hit the open market on July 1st. This will drive up their price, and either leaves the Habs grossly overpaying, or missing out on the player altogether.
So if there are no obvious options to promote from the minors, and the free agent market doesn’t work out, the only route left to upgrade the roster is through a trade. One player that was rumored to be in a potential trade to the Habs earlier in the year, and would fill an enormous hole, is P.A. Parenteau of the Colorado Avalanche.
Parenteau is an extremely skilled and talented winger who has put up an impressive number of points over the past four seasons with the New York Islanders and Colorado Avalanche.
After starring in the American Hockey League for several season, Parenteau was finally given an opportunity by the Islanders in the 2010-11 season. He immediately brought his scoring touch to the NHL, scoring 20 goals and 53 points in 81 games, and followed that up with a 67 point sophomore season.
Parenteau then became a free agent, and still had many detractors saying he only scored points because he played on a line with John Tavares. The Colorado Avalanche weren’t worried about this and signed the offensive winger to a four year deal that pays him 4 million per season.
The native of Hull, Quebec proved his doubters wrong and rewarded the Avalanche for their faith by scoring 43 points in 48 games during the lockout shortened campaign. With Ryan O’reilly back in the lineup full time this year after holding out for much of the 2013 season, and first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon joining the roster, Parenteau’s role was cut back a bit this year. He still posted 33 points in 55 games, and the most impressive stat of his season was that 30 of his 33 points came at even strength.
When Vanek joined the Canadiens this season, he helped spread out their offense and made them a much better team at 5 on 5. They always had a great power play, and with Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Brendan Gallagher returning, that should not change in the near future. What they need is someone who can score when the other team has five skaters on the ice.
Vanek scored 2.63 points per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 ice time this season, which ranked 7th in the league. Parenteau ranked 54th in the entire league at 2.07 points per 60 minutes of even strength ice time. The highest ranked player that played the whole season in Montreal was Pacioretty who averaged exactly 2.0 points per 60.
What I am trying to say is that Parenteau would make the Canadiens a much better team at even strength. Teams that are great at even strength, tend to be the best teams in the league. Last season the best teams at 5 on 5 were the Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. The Kings and Blackhawks made it to the Western Conference Final, and the Ducks and Blues only didn’t because the lost to the Kings and Ducks in extremely close series along the way.
The top 5 on 5 teams in the Eastern Conference were the President’s Trophy winning Boston Bruins, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers. Interestingly, they were the three teams Montreal faced in the playoffs, but they were able to knock off the Lightning and Bruins because Vanek helped balance out their even strength attack. No, Vanek was not a scoring machine throughout the series, but the Bruins keyed in on Vanek because he is such a dangerous 5 on 5 scorer, and this made the Habs other lines better.
Parenteau’s 2.07 points per 60 is no fluke either, as he averages 1.98 points per 60 over the past three seasons. He would be a great addition to a line with Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk, or even on the top line with David Desharnais and Pacioretty which would allow for an “EGG” line reunion. He could even slot in on a line with Tomas Plekanec if head coach Michel Therrien wanted to try it out. That’s what happens when you have a great even strength player, he can play on any line and still be successful.
With a top six that features Matt Duchene, O’Reilly, MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Alex Tanguay and Paul Stastny if he is re-signed, the Avalanche can afford to move a skilled winger and would need some blue line help in return. Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda were a solid pairing all year, but had little support from the bottom four defenders. Tyson Barrie made a great number three by the end of the season, but the Avalanche could still use a veteran shutdown partner for Barrie.
Whether they think Josh Gorges would be a fit on their second pairing is no guarantee, but you would have to think the Habs defenseman would fill a huge void on the Avalanche blue line. His 3.9 million dollar cap hit is just under the 4 million owed to Parenteau, so the salary cap, which can be a detriment to many trades, would hardly be a factor in a deal centered around the pair.
Moving Gorges would create another hole on the Canadiens that would need to be filled, but with Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu ready for full time duty next season, the Habs could fill out their defense through free agency much more easily than trying to find a top six winger. Scoring wingers cost an arm and a leg on the open market, even Ales Hemsky is said to be asking for 5.5 million on a long term contract. Trading for Parenteau would cost a solid defender in Gorges, and likely an added prospect or pick, but Parenteau’s 4 million dollar cap hit for two more years is extremely reasonable for the role he would play in Montreal. If he were a free agent he would be asking for 5 million dollars over 5 years.
The Avalanche are far from guaranteed to bring back Stastny, but if they do it likely moves MacKinnon back to the wing next season, which would make Parenteau expendable. If this happens, the Canadiens would be wise to take advantage and try to acquire the high scoring right winger.