Nov 19, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Florida Panthers defenseman Tom Gilbert (77) during the second period against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. The Florida Panthers won 3-2 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Montreal Canadiens Fill Holes, Avoid Overspending On NHL Free Agent Frenzy

With the dust finally settling on free agent frenzy, a day where NHL players signed contracts that totaled more than half a billion dollars, the Montreal Canadiens lineup for next season is starting to come into focus.

Gone are veteran leaders Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges, as well as hired gun Thomas Vanek, Daniel Briere, Ryan White and Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon depart the blue line. In their place on July 1st, the Habs brought in Manny Malhotra, Tom Gilbert, picked up European free agent Jiri Sekac, dealt for P.A. Parenteau from the Colorado Avalanche and retained Mike Weaver.

Feb 25, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Carolina Hurricanes center Manny Malhotra (22) waits for the face-off against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Malhotra and Gilbert fill necessary holes on the Habs depth chart, while Sekac could find himself anywhere from second line right winger, to looking for ice time with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Parenteau’s playmaking skills will be a welcome addition to one of the Canadiens top two lines, and he will show up much more frequently than the enigmatic Vanek.

What was most impressive about general manager Marc Bergevin’s roster shuffling, was that he did not overspend for any of his acquisitions. At a time of year when everyone gets paid too much money, Bergevin filled several gaps with players who came with the right price tag.

First off, he dealt for Parenteau, who could very well find himself on the top line with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. To pick up the former Islander and Avalanche winger, and his 4 million dollar cap hit for the next two seasons, Bergevin sent Briere and his identical cap hit to the Avs. Parenteau had more points (33 to 25), in less games (55 to 69), but Bergevin was also able to add a 5th round draft pick in the deal as well.

Sure, Parenteau has one more year remaining on his deal than Briere does, but to get a 31 year old top six winger in exchange for a 36 year old fourth line center, without even adding to their payroll is a huge win for the Canadiens.

Apr 11, 2014; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Stalock (32) blocks the shot by Colorado Avalanche right wing P.A. Parenteau (15) during the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Then on July 1st, the biggest day of overspending on the NHL calendar year after year, the Habs identified the need for a fourth line center and a second pairing right handed defenseman. They immediately jumped on signing Manny Malhotra, the first announced signing of the day, and got their fourth line center for a mere $850,000 on a one year contract.

Malhotra is the best faceoff man in the entire NHL without question. He will fill in admirably in his role as a fourth line center who wins draws, kill penalties, and handle tough defensive minutes, giving Tomas Plekanec a bit of a break in that department.

Other fourth line centers to sign shortly after Malhotra included Jesse Winchester, who got a two year deal at 900,000 dollars, Joe Vitale will be paid 1.1 million each season for the next three years, Dominic Moore will get 1.5 million for the next two years, even Cody McCormick got a three year term, and at 1.5 million per season.

What I am trying to say here, is that Malhotra was the best bargain of the day, followed by Jay McClement who left the Toronto Maple Leafs for 1 million on a one year deal from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Jan 6, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens center David Desharnais (51) and Florida Panthers defenseman Tom Gilbert (77) battle for the puck during the second period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

As for the second pairing right handed defender, the Habs ultimately landed Tom Gilbert, for the very reasonable price of 2.8 million for each of the next two years. Other defenders who fit the same job description include Anton Stralman who will earn 4.5 million for the next five years in Tampa Bay, Dan Boyle who is ancient and will also get 4.5 million for two seasons from the New York Rangers, Stephane Robidas who is 37 got a three year deal worth 3 million per season, and Mark Fayne, the most anonymous defenseman on the market got a four year deal at 3.5 million per season.

To put into perspective how big of a steal the Gilbert contract is for the Habs, the 31 year old will earn 2.8 million, while Derek Engelland, the defenseman so good he was turned into a right winger, will make 2.9 million dollars on a three year deal with the Calgary Flames. That is an extra year, and an extra hundred grand per season for an enforcer, while the Canadiens signed an actual puck moving and decent skating defender.

So on the biggest spending day of the NHL season, Bregevin was able to fill two weaknesses on the Canadiens roster. Instead of going mad over the biggest trend to hit the market, Bergevin cut his coupons and made a few savvy deals in order to fill out the Canadiens roster for next season.

The salary cap is king in the NHL these days, as the countless number of buyouts will tell you, and Bergevin appears to be well versed in the business side of the game. While most other GMs ignored their cap and spent boatloads of money this week, Bergevin sat back and methodically chose free agents that are the right fit, and the right price for the Canadiens going forward.

Tags: Manny Malhotra Montreal Canadiens Tom Gilbert

  • Dar Krum

    Kenny, your article is spot on. I too, am very happy with the job Bergy did this traditional day of overspending. Holes are filled and strengthened and a solid core is ready to go.

    It is my “humble” opinion that the Montreal Canadiens are a high scoring LW away from serious contention for the Eastern title and a shot at the Cup. Allow me to elaborate.

    The Habs forward lines going into 2014-15 look something like this:

    • Steve Zax

      I like the idea of Kane, or Sharp, but no way Chicago takes Moen and a 2nd for him. If Chicago were backed into a corner, they would most likely deal Bickell before giving Sharp away. I’m afraid that Sharp would come at a price of Beaulieu, Gallagher and that 2nd. I’m sure they don’t want to take much salary back. Kane would cost a similar package. If I were going to pay that, I’d rather make a play for O’Reilly. He can play the wing and is an excellent two-way center, so he could replace Pleks down the road.
      I think this another look-see season to evaluate Tinordi, Pateryn, Bournival, Andrighetto, Sekac, Beaulieu and Tokarski and see where they’re at next season, where they’ll have another slew of RFAs to deal with as well. I’d like to see them deal off Prust, or Moen (or both) and Budaj. Desharnais and Bourque are also candidates to move, but not if it means giving them away and I really don’t know what their respective trade values are.
      The way this roster is shaping up, I don’t see how they have room for Prust, or Moen. If Malholtra is your C and Bournival and Weise are your wingers (one of the best 4th lines in the league IMO) then where do these guys play? They’re just not 3rd line material and 4.3M is too much to not play regularly.
      I would like to see MB bring in one veteran-type guy looking to revive his career on a cheap, one-year deal, someone like Heatley. It’s unfortunate that MB choose Briere over Jagr last season. He’s the exact RW that they’re looking for. It was a very good offseason though, even if a lot of pundits didn’t pick them as winners because they didn’t spend a boatload of money.

  • McWhoopin

    The problem is that he actually made the defensive
    situation worse and we’re still short two top 6 wingers. Yeah Parenteau
    was a good trade but that was an severely underperforming top 6 winger
    for top 6 winger who couldn’t step up his game when his roster spot was
    being challenged and is not as clutch in the playoffs. If you recreate
    the EGG line, then you have Patches, Davey, and PA as your first, the
    EGG line as your third, and what do you have left for your second
    like… Bourque, Pleks, and Prusty? Not exactly brimming with confidence
    in that line.

    As I said earlier, the situation in defense is even worse
    than before as we were lacking in ability to shut down defensively
    during the playoffs as Boston repeatedly came back into games and
    couldn’t stop New York worth a damn, so what does MB do, trades his best
    defensive defensemen (and arguably one of the best in the league) for a
    bottom second round pick? Then you sign a mediocre offensive defensemen
    that could have easily been filled by Beaulieu. So now the habs D-lines
    are Subban-Weaver, Markov-Emelin, and Gilbert-Tinordi. I love Weaver
    and all, but he is not a top 2 defensemen, more like a 5-6 guy and
    Beaulieu/Tinordi are still a couple years away from top 4 minutes.

    The habs will still most likely make the playoffs next year
    on the back if Carey Price, but will be taken out first round thanks to

    • Steve Zax

      I realize I’m in the minority, but I just didn’t like Gorges’ game last year. He’s still a good defenseman and I realize he blocks a lot of shots, but I also felt he blocked so many shots because the opposing team had possession more often. He’s physical, but far from dominating. He really didn’t do much for the transition game, and that was one of Montreal’s strengths. I think he hurt the offense quite a bit and the physically demanding game he played might be starting to take a toll. I’m sure MB saw the same player in Weaver at less than half the cost, which was his motivating factor to deal him. If Gorges really is on the decline then the next three years (after next season) at 4M is going to be a tough pill to swallow. MB got out while there was still value to had, especially in an offseason where teams are trading assets to get out of contracts. That pick is very close to a 1st, and teams just aren’t parting with those like they use to, even Spezza couldn’t garner a 1st. I think it was a necessary trade, but sad at the same time. Gorges was a true Hab, but I don’t think his loss will be felt as much as it’s made out to be. Time will tell…

  • MikebVT

    I would have been glad to see Vrbata as that would have helped the top 6. He needs to move Budaj next and should see what Bourque might yield now that all the big free agents have signed …maybe in a package you get a top 6 forward. Also if possible move Moen.

  • Moby Dick

    Exactly. MB is a shrewd, penny-pinching, wise GM and he is going to take this team to the promise land if he keeps ‘stealing’ players like this. I am still shocked at how he got Mike Weaver and Dale Weiss under the radar and how well they performed. I expect Montreal to be even better this coming year b/c of these moves. Tinordi/Pateryn, one of these guys is going to have to step up big though.