The month of September begins tomorrow and that means National Hockey League training camps are just around the corner. The Montreal Canadiens roster looks to be set, but they still have nearly three million in cap space to play with, and a pair of roster spots I can see them attempting to upgrade.
The first is finding a better option for the wing on the third line. Rene Bourque is penciled in to start on one wing, and Lars Eller will surely begin the year as the third line center. The other wing on the line is a wide open competition between rookies Jiri Sekac, Sven Andrighetto and second year forward Michael Bournival.
The Habs may be comfortable with whoever wins that battle taking a spot in their top nine, but they might look to upgrade as well.
The other roster spot I can see the team addressing is adding some depth to the defense. The Canadiens will be giving much bigger roles to young blue liners Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi and deservedly so, but they could afford to add a veteran number seven guy. It is not a gaping hole in the roster, but I am surprised the team has not added a veteran defender after allowing Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray to leave via free agency, and trading Josh Gorges.
To create more competition, and try to add a veteran NHL free agent with little risk, the Montreal Canadiens could bring a few players to camp on a tryout basis. Teams often do this with veteran NHLers who fail to sign a contract in the summer, and though it usually doesn’t lead to much, the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to get 19 goals out of Mason Raymond last season after bringing him in on a training camp tryout.
If the Habs are willing to go down this road, and why not when you can just let the player walk away at the end of camp if you do not want to sign him, I think it would be worthwhile to give a winger and a defender a chance to earn a roster spot.
The winger I think the Canadiens should bring in is Dustin Penner. He may be one of the most unique players in the league, having once injured himself over a plate of pancakes, but also scoring 20 goals in a season four times in his career.
Last season, Penner was on a one year deal with the Anaheim Ducks, and scored 13 goals and 32 points in 49 games before being dealt to the Washington Capitals. Penner did not fit in with the Capitals, scoring just one goal and three points in 18 games.
It was a strange season, as Penner was on pace to reach the 20 goal plateau once again in Anaheim, but after they traded him he lost his goal scoring touch altogether. What was also very strange was Penner was playing on the Ducks top line when the trade occurred, and the Ducks were in first place in the Pacific Division.
Teams in first place don’t often trade away a top six player, especially when all they get in return is a 4th round draft pick. The trade is a bit of a red flag, but why not bring Penner in and see if he clicks on a line with Eller and Bourque? It may not be the highest scoring line that ever player for the Habs, but it would be the biggest one in a long time, as Penner is 6’4″ and 240 pounds.
On defence, I could see the Habs extending a training camp invite to former teammate Raphael Diaz. The right shooting blue liner started last season in the Canadiens top four on a pairing with Andrei Markov.
They proved to be a pretty solid pairing, as the site stats.hockeyanalysis.com shows they played a total of 62:33 together at 5 on 5 last season, and had a Corsi For percentage of 55.9 when on the ice together.
I am not saying Diaz should be in the Habs top four, but he would be a great insurance policy to have in the press box when a Habs defenseman gets injured.
Diaz played on three different teams last season, being traded by the Habs to the Vancouver Canucks for Dale Weise and then being shipped to the New York Rangers at the deadline.
Though he did not play a prominent role, he always ended up with impressive advanced stats, and with nothing to lose, the Canadiens should bring back a familiar face to see if he can make the team out of training camp.
Again, I am not saying the Canadiens should offer Penner or Diaz a contract today, but they should invite them to camp and see how they fit. Penner may prove to have a decent chemistry with Eller, or maybe he comes cheap and replaces the much more expensive Bourque to save cap space.
Diaz would only start the season as the number eight defenseman, and with much lower expectations compared to a year ago, he may prove to be a valuable depth defender who can step in from time to time and play well.
You can guarantee the pair would be a huge improvement on George Parros and Douglas Murray, so why not give them a chance to prove themselves at training camp?