Mid-August Top Remaining UFAs

By JD Lagrange – For hockey fans, these are the dog days of summer. The NHL Draft has come and gone. The trades are at a stand still. The free agents’ frenzy is all but over. And the rookie camps are still a month away. As most fans are outside taking advantage of the summer months, some are still zoned in to social medias trying to get the latest news and rumours about their favourite players and teams.

For those, I’ve decided to provide whatever little meat there is left on the free agents board’s bones. That’s right, there are still guys who haven’t put their names at the bottom of a contract. For most, we’re talking about role players, or players who are on the fringe between the NHL, the AHL or who are, by now, entertaining the thoughts of extending their career by playing in Europe. But there are still some useful players available out there.

While most people will sort such lists by points or cap hit, I personally prefer using a statistic that is somewhat more telling and that includes the usefulness of a player: the time on the ice per game played. This way, it includes players who are not necessarily known for their offensive contribution but who will play key minutes in games, and players who have been injured and didn’t play as many games.

Anton StralmanRD3574815230.31-1621:20
Nazem KadriC31712859871.23+1319:14
Calvin De HaanLD31694480.12-2118:57
P.K. SubbanRD3377517220.29-818:17
Paul StastnyC36712124450.63+1417:46
Jack JohnsonLD35741890.12+516:45
Phil KesselRW3482844520.63-2416:40
Evan RodriguesRW28821924430.52+315:50
Sonny MilanoLW26661420340.52-915:16
Jimmy VeseyLW296887150.22-2414:25
Tyler MotteLW275878150.26+214:00
Keith YandleLD3577118190.25-4713:58
Jonathan DahlenLW24611210220.36-2513:47
Sam GagnerC32811318310.38-413:37
Cody EakinC316948120.17-1513:35
Alex GalchenyukLW2860615210.35-1113:09
Zach Aston-ReeseLW2769510150.22+913:01
Daniel SprongRW2563146200.32012:58
Loui ErikssonLW3673316190.26-1812:55
Derick BrassardC3446811190.41+412:54
Tyler EnnisLW3257816240.42-612:32
Sam SteelC2468614200.29-1712:18
Victor RaskC2947912210.45+412:11
Tyler BozakC365039120.24-1112:09
Antoine RousselLW32534480.15-1612:08
Alex ChiassonRW3167139220.33+511:36
Riley NashC33490440.08-511:25
Tyler PitlickRW30391450.13-1110:56

Three groups

There are still two players who can still play key roles on teams. Anton Stralman still is, at 35 years of age, a good top-4 defenseman in the NHL. And being right-handed is a rare commodity in today’s NHL so one would think that teams have been calling, and perhaps they are trying to free up the necessary cap space to sign him.

Anton Stralman

We all know about Nazem Kadri, who is milking his first opportunity to decide where he will be playing next. Kadri has reportedly received a 7-year contract offer from Lou Lamoriello and the New York Islanders, for a value of around $49-50 million. He’s obviously still deciding…

Then you have what I would refer to as the group B at this point. Guys like Calvin De Haan, P.K. Subban, Paul Stastny, Phil Kessel, Evan Rodrigues, Sonny Milano, Jonathan Dahlen and Sam Gagner, who can still help teams in a secondary role. At this point, these guys can be added to a roster at rebate but they still would likely prefer one last kick at the can for a Stanley Cup run.

The last group are guys who are desperately clinging to the hope of landing a job in the NHL, even at minimum wage, but are also starting to contemplate Europe, or even the ever tough decision of retirement as an option.

For the Montreal Canadiens? Only one option would make any sense and that’s Stralman. Signing him would give young players like 20 year-old Justin Barron and 19 year-old Logan Mailloux to properly develop, and would push David Savard and Chris Wideman down to second and third pairing, where they truly belong. But he will likely want a chance to win a Cup, so Habs’ fans better not hold their breath when it comes to UFAs. They better look at trade options, if anything at all.

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Right Defense Replacements

By Bob Trask – As talk surrounding the potential trade of Jeff Petry heats up, General Manager Kent Hughes will continue to scour the league for potential replacements. None will be perfect as they will have flaws in their game, but will likely be counted on for only a couple of years until the pipeline begins to bear fruit.

Free Agents

We can immediately forget about Kris Letang and John Klingberg. Not only will they be too expensive but both seem less than interested in Montreal. Look for Letang to remain with Pittsburgh and Klingberg to head to Seattle. Similarly, Josh Manson could be headed back to Anaheim.

At the other end of the spectrum, Josh Brown (Boston), Matthew Benning (Nashville) and Ilya Lyubushkin probably hold little interest for the Canadiens. Erik Gudbranson (Calgary) and Jan Ruuta (Tampa) might have some interest for the Habs but it is probably lukewarm.

That leaves Justin Braun (New York Rangers), PK Subban (New Jersey), Justin Schultz (Washington) and Anton Stralman (Arizona) as potential free agent targets. All four had similar points production. Stralman and Braun are both 35 years old, Subban is 33 and Schultz is 31. Schultz could be the most expensive to sign while Subban’s history in Montreal might work for him… or against him. Each brings different elements to the game but the Canadiens did have some success with another former Oiler defenseman so maybe Schultz could be in the running. However, Stralman might be the best fit on an affordable two-year contract.

Trade Possibilities

Two prominent names are Ethan Bear and Tyson Barrie. Contract talks for Bear seem to have stalled in Carolina while the Oilers, who also have Evan Bouchard and Cody Ceci on the right, seem to be looking to shed salary so they can sign Evander Kane.

The Hurricanes had so little confidence in Bear that he didn’t see the ice during Carolina’s 14 playoff games. There were questions about his commitment and conditioning so anyone trading for him will have to do their due diligence.

Barrie is a PP specialist more than a top 4 defenseman. Having said that, he has averaged over 50 points per 82 games played during his career. Those are impressive numbers but the fact that his 3rd NHL team is exploring trade options says something about his (lack of) commitment to defense. On the plus side his contract is both shorter and less expensive than Petry’s – and depending on how his year unfolds, he could be a trade deadline target for a playoff team.

A more expensive target could be 27 year old Matt Dumba. Minnesota is experiencing severe cap problems and that could make Dumba available. The cost of acquisition and the cap hit are both high so this seems like it would be a longshot.

Other Names

Timothy Liljegren (RFA Toronto) and Matt Roy (Los Angeles) are both interesting situations but Hughes does not seem like the kind of GM to offer sheet RFAs like Bear or Liljegren. Nor does the LA situation seem feasible.

Habs fans can also forget about veteran high-priced defensemen like Erik Karlsson or Brett Burns from San Jose. High priced salaries for veteran player is exactly what the Canadiens are trying to avoid.

Boiling it Down

Tyson Barrie

When you scan the list of potential replacements for Jeff Petry (assuming he is traded) the list becomes very short very quickly. It makes it easy to see why Chris Wideman was re-signed. It also makes you realize what a rare commodity Petry is and why Kent Hughes could realize good value in a trade.

I have excluded PK Subban because his personality doesn’t seem to fit what Kent Hughes seems to trying to achieve – however PK is several years removed from Montreal and a lot may have changed. Hughes will have better insights on that and I may be hasty in excluding him.

There are too many red flags surrounding Bear for my liking, Dumba is too expensive for Montreal’s current cap structure and as mentioned, I don’t believe Hughes will want to create any controversy or animosity by sending an offer sheet to Liljegren.

The more realistic list includes:

  • Anton Stralman
  • Justin Schultz
  • Justin Braun
  • Tyson Barrie

The final option is that the Canadiens could choose to play one of their left-handed defensemen on the right side. The name of Jordan Harris, with his elite skating ability, immediately comes to mind.

The caveat is that Kent Hughes seems to keep pulling rabbits out of the hat and Habs fans could be in for a surprise as the Montreal GM looks to re-structure his defense. The dominoes on right defense will start to fall if and when Petry is traded. These are some of the names to keep an eye on.

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