UFA Options is a continuing series that gives a brief run-down of the unrestricted free agent market this summer, team-by-team. Our next team for consideration is the Montreal Canadiens.
Now is really not the time to envy Bob Gainey.
This past season (much-hyped as the team’s centennial year) was a disaster in Montreal; Carey Price took a step back, off-ice issues haunted the team, and veterans underperformed. And this summer, no fewer than ten players will reach unrestricted free agency, including four high-profile forwards in Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, alex Tanguay and Robert Lang.
Compounding matters, eight different players in Hamilton will be unrestricted free agents, and nine players in the system are eligible for restricted free agency.
Tanguay had a middling year on the powerplay, and he saw a sharp decrease in the difficulty of his minutes at even strength. That said, he did well against softer opponents, scoring at a great pace for his ice-time (2.39 PTS/60) – but it should really be noted that his totals were inflated by a pair of very fortuitous numbers (.936 on-ice SV%, 14.5% on-ice SH%). He’s a very good offensive LW, but more of a setup man than a goal-scorer (he’s never hit 30) and while he’s quite decent positionally he’s not really at his best in physical situations and his effort isn’t consistent.
He’s a very legitimate option for some team’s first line.
Koivu’s a creative offensive player, and after a brittle stretch (between 1996 and 2000 he missed a total of 148 games with virtually every conceivable ailment, before missing all but three games of 2001-02 with cancer) he’s played a safer, more cautious game. He’s a good player with the man advantage, but his even-strength performance this season was disappointing given who he played against; he scored well enough but gave up plenty the other way too.
It was an ugly year for Kovalev, who was pilloried in the media and saw his point totals drop off precipitously. Matt at Battle of Alberta did a fantastic post on Kovalev back in February, and it tells a lot of the story. His numbers came along a little bit to close out the season, and the fact of the matter is that he remains a brilliant option on the powerplay and an effective scorer in a slightly sheltered role at even-strength.
Lang had a very nice year offensively before injuring his achilles tendon. He’s always been underrated as a skill player and although he isn’t overly physical he certainly has excellent size (6’3”, 220lbs). He was one of the few bright spots in a difficult season for the Canadiens and is an excellent fit on almost any team because of his versatility. He’s probably best cast as a second-line centre but in the right situation could play more.
Kostopoulos is cheap and defensively responsible, but he simply doesn’t have enough of a scoring touch to rise far above the third or fourth line . He’s probably best suited to the latter role. That said, he plays a physical game and is a willing hitter.
Schneider had a nice season, particularly after joining Montreal at the trade deadline. He’s forty years old but can still contribute at even-strength as a third-pairing defenseman, and on the first unit of the powerplay. He still blocks shots and while he’s not really a physical player he doesn’t shy away from contact.
I’ve always been a big fan of Francis Bouillon. There aren’t a lot of 5’8” defensemen out there who have extended NHL careers, and ones without a bigtime offensive game are rarer still. He’s a spark plug on the ice, always willing to throw a hit, and despite an ugly plus-minus he wasn’t outshot much at even-strength. With all of that said, he’s still not likely to ever be much more than a third-pairing defenseman; he gets everything he can out of his skillset and he’s already an overachiever to be where he’s at.
A utility player who alternates between playing forward and defense, Dandeneault was mostly used as a forward this year. He’s got a middling offensive game, plays smart positional defense and adds size, but doesn’t bring much to the table other than that.
Rumour has it that Komisarek’s contract demands are very high, and his agent has repeatedly stated that he won’t even negotiate with the Canadiens until July 1st. Komisarek is a great defensive defenseman who plays with a physical edge; this year he led the Canadiens in hits (191), blocked shots (207), and started a ton of draws in his own end (406 defnesive zone draws as opposed to 263 offensive zone draws) all while playing the toughest possible competition.
He’s a very good player, and would be a nice fit on any team looking to add some viciousness and size to their top pairing, but he’s also going to be very expensive.
At this point in his career “Breeze-by” isn’t much more than a powerplay specialist. He has good size but no edge to his game, and he’s never been particularly reliable in his own zone. Unfortunately, he also isn’t much more than a second-unit option on the powerplay either; I wonder if he’ll even get a contract this summer.