Since general manager Marc Bergevin took the Montral Canadiens job, he’s had trouble figuring out what the clubs right wing in the top nine would look like. More specifically, he’s had trouble nailing down a #2 right winger.
Gionta, Cole, Ryder, Parenteau a history of the Position
In 2012-13, the Canadiens had Brian Gionta, Erik Cole, and Brendan Gallagher on the right wing. Unfortunately, Cole had only six points in 19 games. Bergevin solved this by trading Cole for Michael Ryder, who performed admirably with 21 points in 27 games in a shortened season. Not re-signing Ryder for 2013-14, the team went with Gionta and Gallagher as their top two right wingers again. With Gionta clearly slowing down and proving to be a lack of weight for the position (the Canadiens would also sometimes try Daniel Briere), the Canadiens acquired Thomas Vanek from the New York Islanders at the trade deadline. During the regular season, Vanek was fantastic with 15 points in 18 games, only to disappear in the playoffs. He would sign with the Minnesota Wild that summer, or so I’ve been told. I don’t think I’ve seen him in a Wild uniform.
With Vanek and Gionta both leaving via free agency, the Canadiens went from sometimes juggling three right wingers to having just one suitable for the top six in Brendan Gallagher. The Canadiens decided to trade Daniel Briere for P.A. Parenteau, who put up only 22 points in 56 games. Parenteau would be bought out. Unlike in previous seasons, the Canadiens did not acquire a temporary option for the right wing (aside from trading left winger Jiri Sekac for right winger Devante Smith-Pelly, who barely got an opportunity at the top six) and instead acquired defenceman Jeff Petry for the right defence in the top six. The third right wing position was often taken up by Dale Weise, who could nearly put up top six right wing scoring numbers but was ill suited for the role.
Coming into 2015-16, the Canadiens traded Brandon Prust for Zack Kassian and signed Alexander Semin. The cheap acquisition’s proved fruitless. Kassian never played a single regular season game while Semin was dismissed after one goal and three assists for four points in 15 games. Smith-Pelly barely got a chance in the top six, constantly being scratched or pushed back to the bottom six, only to be traded to the New Jersey Devils and catch fire temporarily for 13 points in 18 games. Weise was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks when the Habs playoff hopes were long gone. The Canadiens only second line right wing option ended up becoming Sven Andrighetto, producing 17 points in 44 games.
Andrighetto is a good hockey player, but if the Canadiens want to make it to the playoffs and possibly win a Stanley Cup, they need a legitimate top six option on the right wing. The years of trade deadline acquisitions and reclamation projects need to end. Luckily for the Canadiens, this is a good free agency to find a free right winger who wants to come to Montreal. Examples of right wing options who are scheduled to be available in free agency include Troy Brouwer, Radim Vrbata, Teddy Purcell, and David Perron (who often plays left wing but as a right handed shooter, could easily play the right). But one option, if he wants to come to Montreal, should be top on the list without question:
New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo.
Kyle Okposo Should be the Montreal Canadiens Main Target
Ask an Islanders fan why Okposo is good and they will usually roll their eyes because they’ve been singing his praises for years and arguing he wasn’t a product of John Tavares. And now the Habs want him? Of course they do. Okposo is coming off a $2.8 million contract and at just 28 years old, he’s the perfect age to lock up long term. The St. Paul, Minnesota native was drafted seventh overall by the Islanders in 2006 and has since scored 139 goals and 369 points in 529 games, with some injury trouble throughout his career but never missing more than 22 games since 2010-11. With 15 points in 24 playoff games he certainly can’t be accused of ghosting at the most crucial time of year. As for the Tavares claim, when Tavares went down in 2014 from an injury in the Olympics, Okposo never slowed down with 10 points in 12 games.
What’s more important is that he wouldn’t just be a strong right winger behind Brendan Gallagher (who is a vastly underrated right winger in the league due to his size making his production overlooked), he’d be ahead of him. Since the 2011-2012 season, Okposo is 8th among all right wingers in the league in scoring:
That’s some good company. He’s also 5th on that list for assists. For all of the “fed by Tavares” comments, it’s possible Tavares gets fed by Okposo just as much. He sits 10th in powerplay points among all right wingers, which would be great for the Canadiens often struggling powerplay.
If we go by the past three seasons, Okposo sits 6th behind Patrick Kane, Blake Wheeler, Corey Perry, Jakub Voracek, and Vladimir Tarasenko for points. That would mean the Canadiens would have the:
- 3rd Best Point producing Left Winger in the last three seasons (Max Pacioretty)
- 3rd Best Point producing Defenceman in the last three seasons (P.K. Subban)
- 6th Best Point producing Right Winger in the last three seasons (Kyle Okposo)
To be nearly top five in three scoring positions, along with the 12th best scoring defenceman in Andrei Markov, 21st best scoring right winger in Brendan Gallagher and 27th best scoring centreman in Tomas Plekanec (a place which I’m sure Alex Galchenyuk in a season with Okposo would push himself up the list), the Canadiens would be willing the puck into the twine against NHL teams with high quality players in so many positions. For maybe the first time since 2007-08, the Canadiens would have a threatening top nine and the best right wing the team has had since Ryder and Alex Kovalev played there 10 years ago.
Of course, Okposo would have to not re-sign in New York and want to come to Montreal. With a small projected rise in the salary cap, the Canadiens should have between $6 and $7 million in free cap space to work with, more if they trade dead weight like Alexei Emelin or overpaid third liners like David Desharnais and Lars Eller. It’s hard to say what Okposo would want on the free market, but even if it is a demand of around $7 million per season, the Canadiens have it and need to offer it to him. Anyone else would be a step down.