Montreal Canadiens Centre Targets for This Off-Season

Jonathan Drouin

It’s been a disappointing year for the Montreal Canadiens, to say the least. With the NHL regular season coming to an end, the Habs are currently sitting third to last in the league. They are about to miss the playoffs for the second time in three years. While there are some obvious holes in the lineup, the biggest need is at the centre position. The Habs have not had a true number one centre since the departure of longtime captain Saku Koivu in 2009. Whether it’s through free agency or via trade, acquiring a centre is number one on Marc Bergevin‘s things to do list this off-season.

Montreal Canadiens Centre Options

It’s impossible to mention the Montreal Canadiens without talking about John Tavares. Tavares is set to become a free agent on July 1st and is exactly what the Habs need. Problem is, they will need to get in line. Almost every other NHL team will be looking to get their hands on Tavares. With Paul Stastny being the only other name worth mention. Both will be available via free agency this summer. The Habs may have to look to acquire one via trade. Here are three centres the Montreal Canadiens should target in the off-season.

Ryan O’Reilly

With the emergence of Casey Mittelstadt, and Jack Eichel already locked up, the Buffalo Sabres could look at moving Ryan O’Reilly. Centre is a position of strength for the Sabres as 3 of their top 5 prospects are centremen. Two of which ( Rasmus Asplund and Marcus Davidsson ) play a similar style of game as O’Reilly. This could make O’Reilly expendable. Realistically, the Sabres are still a few years away from making a playoff push. They don’t have the depth to be able to compete every night. O’Reilly will be pushing 30 by this time, so moving him for picks and prospects may be the best option. Also, this would free them of the $7.5 million cap hit. This allows them the space to resign Sam Reinhart,  Middelstadt and Alexander Nylander when their entry level contracts are up.

What the Habs Could Offer

The Habs have a ton of defensive prospects and a ton of young NHL ready wingers at their disposal. They also have nine picks in the first four rounds of this years entry draft. Buffalo also does not have a goalie signed other than Linus Ullmark for the 2018-2019 season and goaltending prospects are a position of strength for the Habs.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Rumours have been swirling around Nugent-Hopkins this season, as the Edmonton Oilers look to get back on track. The Oilers lost in game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals last season and were listed as a cup favourite at the beginning of this season. Unfortunately for them, the Oilers are out of playoff contention and will be looking forward to the draft lottery later this month. With Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Strome occupying the top three centre positions, the Oilers could look to move Nugent-Hopkins for a legitimate scoring winger to play alongside McDavid.

What the Habs Could Offer

The Habs and Oilers are a match made in heaven when it comes to team needs. With the Oilers looking for a top scoring winger, who better to slot in next to McDavid than Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty is 10th in goal scoring over the past five seasons, while never playing with a true number one centre. A deal involving Pacioretty and Nugent-Hopkins just makes too much sense.

Jonathan Toews

With three Stanley Cup Championships since 2010, it finally looks like the Chicago Blackhawks time on top is over. It may be time for the Blackhawks to hit the reset button as they are at the tail end of their worst season since Toews entered the league in 2007-2008. It’s also the first time they have missed the playoffs in that span. While the Blackhawks may never look to trade Captain Serious, it won’t stop Marc Bergevin from calling. The Blackhawks are in serious cap trouble, limiting their ability to improve their club. With no elite level prospects on the horizon, the Blackhawks may look to sell while their stars value is at its highest.

What the Habs Could Offer

The Canadiens are the perfect suitor for a guy like Jonathan Toews. They are not looking to rebuild after a poor season, but rather looking to retool. Toews is still a very effective player at age 30, and instantly slots in as the Habs number one centre. Having a ton of picks and young wingers in their system, the Hawks could look to replenish their youth to kick-start their rebuild.

While Tavares is the clear target for the Habs this off-season, they have to have a backup plan. The Habs have to acquire a centre this offseason or they will be sitting in the same position next year. Fortunately for Bergevin, he has all the tools at his fingertips to make this happen. Realistically, the Habs could use two out of these four centres, including Tavares. That said, it would take some creativity to make it work. If Bergevin can make it happen, the Habs could be contending for the Stanley Cup as early as next season.

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