The Habs’ game six elimination at the hands of the New York Rangers was no doubt a heart-breaker. The game ended their bid at a berth in the Stanley Cup final, but Montreal has a lot to be proud of. They swept Tampa Bay and took out heavily favoured Boston in seven games. The team has some key decisions to make over the summer, but make no mistake, this team’s future is bright.
A Canadiens Off-Season Plan
First off, the Habs must sign P.K. Subban to a long term contract as a bridge contract won’t cut it this time. In the past two years, Subban has become one of the top defencemen in the league and no doubt he will want to be paid like one. With a Norris Trophy and Olympic gold medal on his resume, Subban is undoubtedly the team’s number one defenceman and his talent, flash and celebrity make him a unique personality in the NHL.
In regards to the free agents, some decisions will have to be made. In my mind, Thomas Vanek can walk. His performance this post-season was unacceptable for a player of his calibre and he is not worth the $7 million dollars a year he will command on the open market. A cheaper alternative can be sought out. Captain Brian Gionta and defenceman Andrei Markov had their moments but were ultimately not good enough. Both players are leaders and have some good hockey left in them but if both want to stay, they will have to take pay cuts.
Dale Weise and Mike Weaver have been warriors for the Habs since their arrivals and they deserve contracts with their play. As for the others, Francis Bouillion, George Parros and Douglas Murray are goners and in the case of Ryan White, he could easily be signed as a depth move or could move on.
Last but not least, Lars Eller was an absolute revelation in these playoffs. He was dominant at both ends of the ice as he showcased his combination of size and skill. No doubt he has earned a new deal and looks to be slotted in nicely as the No.3 centre going into next season.
And what can you say about Rene Bourque? This guy went from buyout candidate to playoff performer. He has probably bought himself another year in Montreal or at the very least, trade-able.
Now for the goaltending. Dustin Tokarski was outstanding stepping in for Carey Price and he is ready for the NHL. But starting Tokarski ahead of backup Peter Budaj revealed a complicated situation. Tokarski is NHL ready and he deserves a chance to be the backup to Price. He has a 2-year contract where it is two-way the first year and one-way for the second. The problem is Tokarski has to go through waivers to go back down to the AHL and with his performance this spring, he will be snatched up immediately and the Habs would lose him for nothing.
With Budaj, he is an excellent teammate and Price loves having him as his backup. However, when Budaj was asked to step up in key situations, he didn’t do it. When Price was hurt after the Olympics, Budaj wasn’t great and it was Tokarski who actually played better in my mind. In the playoffs after Price was hurt in game one against the Rangers, the team was disarray by the time Budaj went in but he allowed 3 more goals which didn’t help inspire confidence. Enter Tokarski.
If Tokarski develops to expectations, the Habs will have a very valuable asset on their hands. These days, it is all about winning, and a goaltending tandem of Price and Tokarski gives the Habs the best chance to do so.
Another interesting scenario the Habs will have to deal with is the logjam at the centre ice position. It is time Alex Galchenyuk is moved to centre. He was drafted as a centre and the organization sees him as one, so what’s the hold up? No doubt his defensive game and face-offs need work but Galchenyuk has the talent and creativity to thrive at the position and it is time he is given the opportunity.
It is obvious David Desharnais is not going anywhere after GM Marc Bergevin gave that extension and his chemistry with Max Pacioretty is a plus for him. Eller showed he can be a shutdown centre with some offense. Daniel Briere currently centres the fourth line and did ok despite the minimal ice time. Given this scenario, the odd man out looks to be Tomas Plekanec. He went long stretches in the regular season with minimal scoring and he was lacking on both sides of the puck in the playoffs. I think it is time for him to move on.
Looking at needs, the Montreal Canadiens could use a defenceman to pair with PK Subban, and play big minutes. Looking ahead to the draft, the Habs look to be picking at either #26 or #27 and have no second-rounders. It is not a particularly deep draft but I think it’s time Montreal did something bold. Could a deal perhaps involving Plekanec, a prospect and the 26th or 27th pick for a young top-pairing defender with size, two-way play and high hockey IQ be something that they might be able to pull off? This might just be the type of package that could be attractive to another team, perhaps even the Florida Panthers who are said to be shopping the number one pick, and with it Aaron Ekblad. While Ekblad might be a bit of a stretch, you have to aim big. If not him its still a package that could be shopped for a young defender with first pairing potential.
It’s safe to say the future is promising in Montreal and this playoff run was no fluke. Their core will only continue to get better and there are some promising prospects on the horizon. The city of Montreal is hungry for a championship and this run only made the desperation stronger. No longer does the Eastern Conference belong only to Boston and Pittsburgh, it’s time to make room for the Montreal Canadiens.
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