Montreal Canadiens: Which Soon-To-Be Free Agent Should Marc Bergevin Target Next?

VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 17: Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 17: Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry avoided free agency by re-signing with the Habs. Who should Marc Bergevin target next?

The Montreal Canadiens are entering a pivotal season in 2020-21. They have been nicely building through the draft for the past few years, but don’t quite seem ready to reap the rewards of their recent draft classes.

On the other hand, they have a number of key players who are slated to be unrestricted free agents following next season.

It leaves the Canadiens between a bit of a rock and a hard place. Do they trade some futures and go for it, since there are so many players who could walk away in a year? Or, do they trade some pending free agents to ensure they don’t lose good players for nothing and continue to stockpile draft picks?

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If general manager Marc Bergevin’s moves thus far in the offseason are any indication, the Habs will be going for it in 2020-21. He traded draft picks for goaltender Jake Allen and defenceman Joel Edmundson. Then, he re-signed Jeff Petry to a four-year contract extension that keeps him in Montreal until he is 37 years old.

At this point, it wouldn’t make sense to then trade away a pending free agent or two for picks at the NHL Draft on October 5th and 6th. But, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to go into next season with the team’s entire top line playing in the final year of their contract.

But, that is exactly what could happen. Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher could all be unrestricted free agents in the 2021 offseason. It’s not impossible, but it seems unlikely all will be re-signed to long-term contracts one their current deals expire.

So, who should Bergevin target next to re-sign?

Brendan Gallagher has become the team’s best goal scorer and was scoring at a 30 goal pace for the third straight season this year. He bring a tenacity to the lineup that is infectious and has been among the leadership group of the team for years. He will be looking for a huge raise on his current $3.75 million cap hit. Will he get it from the Canadiens soon?

Phillip Danault was acquired at the trade deadline in 2016. He was a first round pick in 2011 by the Chicago Blackhawks and has developed into a terrific defensive centre. His offence still has a ways to go before can be called a legit top pairing centre, but he has improved offensively over the years and the 27 year old is the youngest of this trio.

Tomas Tatar was a throw-in to the Max Pacioretty trade to make the money work. He has been fantastic since arriving in Montreal. He scored 25 goals and set a career high with 58 points in the 2018-19 season and was even better this season with 22 goals and 61 points in 68 games. He will be 30 in December which is around the time next season is supposed to begin.

Trying to decide which of these three players bring the most value to the Habs is difficult. Gallagher is the best goal scorer, but Tatar is a more creative player and can put up more points. Danault is the best defensive player of the three and could win a Selke Trophy in the near future.

If I were Bergevin, I would rank Danault third out of these three simply because the team has other options at centre. Even if Danault leaves as a free agent in 2021, the Canadiens have Nick Suzuki, Max Domi, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jake Evans and Ryan Poehling on the roster.

Their wingers? Not so deep, especially in 60 points players like Tatar and 30 goal scorers like Gallagher.

If it were up to me, I would be trying to Gallagher signed but to a term similar to Petry’s. A four year deal would be perfect for a player who will be 29 when it starts and has played some heavy, tough, physical minutes and battles on every single shift. Will he have any gas left in the tank when he is 36? Let someone else figure that out. Try to sign him until he is 33 or 34 at the oldest and don’t give him a seven year contract.

If Gallagher isn’t interested in a four year contract, I’d turn my attention to Tatar. He is just one year older and has been a consistent 20-25 goal scorer his whole career. He doesn’t bring as much energy or heart as Gallagher, but he scores more points.

Next. Petry contract a bargain compared to others. dark

Giving players deals that last more than half a decade crush teams down the road. I would focus on getting Gallagher re-signed first, but if he wants six or seven years, it’s time to turn the attention to Tatar and try to get him signed to a three or four year extension.