Monday, June 30, 2008

Across Canada on the Free Agency Wire - Montreal

Well, here we are in our final stop of the cross Canada tour on the Free Agency wire, Montreal. It's only fitting our last stop is here. The 2008-2009 season will be the 100th anniversary of the Canadiens and GM Bob Gainey is aiming to add the franchise's 25th Stanley Cup this year. With cap space available, Montreal is looking to sign an impact player or two for the centennial season.

Last year's surprise first place finish in the Eastern Conference put all teams on notice that the Penguins are not the only team of young guns in the East. Montreal's young players like Chris Higgins, Tomas Plekanec and the Kostitsyn brothers all excelled last year and rallied around veterans Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev. Markov and Komisarek were a dynamic duo and last year's signing, Roman Hamerlik played very well on the power play. Mark Streit will likely be let go and another D man brought in. The usual names appear here; Ron Hainsey, who was a Hab draft pick originally, Rozsival, Orpik and even Wade Redden can expect at least a courtesy call from Gainey.

The big moves will be made up front. The young players are emerging as true NHL players but are still on lower level contracts. This has left Gainey with cap space for this season and a strong desire to win right now as demonstrated at the Draft. Montreal's first round pick went to Calgary in exchange for 5 million dollar man Alex Tanguay. The Montreal management team weren't done yet, trading for the rights to Mats Sundin.

With Sundin making decisions on his own schedule, which he deserves as a veteran player, Montreal won't have him under contract by July first. Do they take the chance and wait for him or do they make their move somewhere else? Gainey thought he had Marian Hossa at the deadline but Pittsburgh slide in at the eleventh hour and got him from Atlanta. At the time, Hossa seemed excited about the prospect of playing in Montreal. Now that he can choose his destination, and Gainey is certainly willing to offer up a contract in the $8 million range, will he be moving to la Belle Province?

Last season, in 72 games, Hossa had 29 goals and 66 points. Unfortunately for the Habs, they are not the only suitors for Hossa's services. A bidding war is sure to develop so Gainey might need to up his offer. Montreal needs a big signing for the skill, but also for the optics. They've lost out on Shanahan, Ryan Smith and Daneil Briere in the last two off seasons and the media and the fans expect an organization like Montreal to be able to draw the best possible Free Agents.

If Hossa goes somewhere else, Brian Rolston is a good second choice. Tampa Bay had traded for his rights from Minnesota but as of this writing, he was still unsigned. The casual fan may not recognize the name but this 35 year old has scored 30 plus goals the last four years and he would be a great addition to any team. Rolston's former teammate, Pavel Demitra is also on the market. In 68 games he had 15 goals and 54 points. On a Montreal power play, those numbers would probably double.

There are two other names that I'll throw out there. Vancouver Captain Markus Naslund would certainly draw some interest in Montreal. If they are willing to go after the Leaf Captain, why not the Canuck Free agent. His 55 points were lower than normal for him but he played on a team that had trouble scoring from top to bottom. He's certainly an impact player. And speaking of impacts, Darcy Tucker's name won't go away in Montreal. This former Hab is rumoured to be on Gainey's list of players to phone. Avery is another name I've heard is on the GM's wish list. Montreal has been small up front for a few seasons and gritty players like Tucker and Avery would help. The kind of players you hate until they are on your team.

This is a very important season in Montreal and they will try to land the big stars this off season. One thing is for sure, the phones going in and out of the Bell Centre will be well used this week.

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