Montreal's Offseason Goals

The Montreal Canadiens maintained their status as a playoff team this year; despite a rollercoaster ride that saw head coach Claude Julien fired, former MVP Jose Theodore traded and former top liner Richard Zednik as a healthy scratch. Luckily for the Habs; replacements for these players were found. Chris Higgins shone alongside Saku Koivu; Cristobal Huet became a star after being fleeced from Los Angeles, and Gainey himself stepped behind the bench.

But what moves does the club need to make to continue their eventual road to the elusive 25th Stanley Cup?The Habs’ first goal this offseason may very well have been to retain Huet, the talented Frenchman who quickly made Habs fans forget about Mathieu Garon. Gainey bore heat for the trade after the lackluster play of Radek Bonk, but with Huet’s emergence and Garon’s struggles, the trade became a clear steal for Montreal.

It’s become clear what the Habs need:

Second Line Centre

Mike Ribiero’s struggles notwithstanding, the Habs still saw some inhouse potential from Czech rookie Tomas Plekanec. However, Plekanec is more suited to a third line role at this point in his career (could a sophomore slump be in the cards?), and obviously, Mike Ribiero’s inconsistency rules him out.

The name being heard time and time again in Montreal is that of former Dallas Star Jason Arnott, who’s coming off a season where he set career highs in all offensive categories. It’s likely Gainey will pursue Arnott, but he may decide to back off if the price is too high, (I’d say above 4.5M). With a limited number of centres available through UFA, he figures to be the target of several teams.

Another UFA option could be Canes centre Matt Cullen, who likely would figure in the 1.5-2M range. UFA Marc Savard of Atlanta isn’t the complete player the Habs are looking for. It appears likely that Montreal may go the trade route. Robert Lang of Detroit was mentioned in rumours for Richard Zednik; a more appropriate rumour could be him for David Aebischer, seeing as how Detroit gave up on Manny Legace.

Top Four Defenseman

Like many teams, the Habs will be interested in acquiring a blueliner to round out their top four, presumably as an upgrade; but as a necessity if Francis Bouillon departs via free agency. The team’s defense seems set at the moment; but they clearly lack a true top pair blueliner aside from Andrei Markov. The others are defensively lacking (see Souray, Streit) or offensively lacking *(Dandenault, Rivet, Komisarek, Bouillon). While this may not be a bad thing (see Carolina), it could be compounded if Francis Bouillon leaves.

Francis Bouillon, the irrepresible sparkplug who gave a 110% effort every game he played, may not be back. His agent and Bob Gainey are reportedly at loggerheards over contract length; they want a 3yr deal, Gainey wants more flexlibility. It’s a very real possibility that Bouillon could head to the UFA market.

The number of UFA defensemen are staggering however. Pavel Kubina is going to garner a lot of attention, he would easily be one of Montreal’s top defensemen if signed. The price range would likely be a prohibitive 3-4M. Danny Markov could be looked at by Montreal, he maintains some puck-moving ability and uses his size and could be a relatively economical option. Filip Kuba, Jaroslav Spacek or Willie Mitchell could be options. It is highly unlikely Montreal pursues a Jovo-cop or Chara-esque defenseman, but Gainey is unpredictable.

The third but least pressing need is….a Gritty Winger.

The Habs displayed some grit and character, which is exactly what you would expect from a Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau led team, the past season, especially in the playoffs. Guys like Steve Begin, Bouillon and Garth Murray stepped up and threw big hits and played their guts out each shift. Montreal could definitely use a winger who displays some scoring touch in the clutch and throws his weight around. Such a player would be UFA Jamie Langenbrunner, formerly of—you guessed it, Dallas, albeit through Jersey. Langenbrunner’s been linked in media reports to Montreal through the Carbonneau/Gainey connection, and would be a real solid acquistion.

Thanks to everyone who helped with the Habs information.