Habs To Be Active With UFA? Some Targets

As we’re entering the final stretch leading to trade deadline, the focus is (and should be) on potential trades in the works. But we’ve done that extensively on this very site and there’s one news, although far from “urgent” or “imminent” we would like to look at. A few days ago, on TSN’s Insider Trading, Pierre LeBrun hinted that Canadiens’ General Manager Kent Hughes in hoping to make a splash on the free agents’ market this summer.

“What we’re hearing is that yes, the Canadiens are still on the lookout for picks and prospects in their roster makeover, but further proof that this is not necessarily a traditional rebuild and more of a roster transformation is that I’m told the Habs intend to be pretty aggressive in free agency come July 13, they hope to be a player. And while they want to get younger in some parts of the team, they also want to lure a big star or two to Montreal as part of this roster transformation.” ~ Pierre LeBrun

No rebuild

While some people call for one, what the Canadiens are planning to do is far from a full rebuild. In fact, what Hughes and Jeff Gorton seem to be hinting to whomever will listen, and based on their intentions so far, it’s to continue the reset started by their predecessor Marc Bergevin since 2018. They do not intend on trading all veterans to rack up draft picks, like the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators have done. Why? Because since 2017, Bergevin and his team have drafted 45 prospects and they have another 12 for the upcoming NHL Draft.

Kent Hughes

So since the pipeline is stacked both in quantity and quality with prospects, they are now looking for young players closer to being ready to make an impact at the NHL level. This means players out of the junior ranks and American Colleges, focussing on young players either in the American Hockey League, in Europe or even at the NHL level who don’t yet occupy a key role on a contending team.

What they are doing differently than Bergevin is rather simple to explain, not as easy to do. They must unload some salary in order to free up some much needed cap space. This does mean that some high-priced veterans will inevitably be playing elsewhere past March 21st, or by next season at the latest. Also, they want to focus on skills and speed so expect slower, bruising players to not be part of the team by the 2022-23 season and beyond.

Pending UFAs of interest

Circling back to LeBrun’s comment on free agents, let’s have a look at some of the most prominent, and perhaps most likely players of interest for Hughes and the Canadiens. You will notice that for the most part, we have left the “older” UFAs out of the equation, focussing more on players in their prime.

Filip Forsberg – NAS


Johnny Gaudreau – CGY


Tomas Hertl – SJS


Andre Burakovsky – COL


Ryan Strome – NYR


Rickard Rakell – ANA


Andrew Copp – WIN


Andreas Athanasiou – LAK


Valeri Nichushkin – COL


Evan Rodrigues – PIT


John Klingberg – DAL


Rasmus Ristolainen – PHI


Colin Miller – BUF


Of course, this list is very likely to change by the time free agency hits. Some will be traded at trade deadline, some will sign contract extensions by then. Also, the Habs’ needs will greatly vary based on who is traded and who stays. That will also affect the available cap space to sign such free agents. But based on the Canadiens’ needs and their wish for playing fast with some skills, the players mentioned above would fit in nicely.

Before we close though, I want to give an honorable mention to two former clients of Kent Hughes. Either of them would be a decent addition to the Canadiens in a mentorship role and both still have some good hockey left in them. However, buyer beware as both would be signed as over-35 contracts, meaning that no matter what happens, their cap hit would count against the team’s cap…

  • Patrice Bergeron (faceoffs, mentor)
  • Kristopher Letang (veteran RD, PP)

More reading…

Potential Destinations – Goaltending & Defense by Bob Trask

Defense Depth Chart

The Case of Brendan Gallagher by Bob Trask