TSN Insider Pierre Lebrun announced early this week that the Montreal Canadiens are looking to be aggressive during the 2022 Free Agency period and they’ll likely have the Cap space to do so after the NHL Draft. There are a few names that the Montreal Canadiens could target, such as Kris Letang, Tomas Hertl, Patrice Bergeron, John Klingberg and Filip Forsberg, that could provide an immediate boost to the club and speed up their roster transformation.
Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes is looking to move out some contracts for vets that do not fit his desired identity for the club, and the process he began on Feb. 14 when he traded Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames. With names like Ben Chiarot, Jeff Petry, Arturri Lekhonen and Mike Hoffman being listed as potential trade candidates across the league, it looks like Hughes is trying to unload salary and open up contract slots to be a major player during this summer’s free agency period.
“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.” Said Lebrun on Insider Trading. “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.”
It seems rather evident that the Montreal Canadiens are going to be looking at replicating, in practice, what Jeff Gorton accomplished in New York when he was able to land an elite player like Artemi Panarin on the free-agent front. Despite being in the swing of a full roster overhaul, Artemi Panarin was given a very lucrative $11.6M contract on July 1, 2019, and the New York Rangers moved up their rebuild timeline quite quickly in consequence. There doesn’t appear to be a player of Panarin’s ilk available as we speak headed toward free agency on July 13, but there are certainly 2-3 star players that could help the Montreal Canadiens turn this around much faster than originally thought.
The soon-to-be 35-year-old is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and could provide the Canadiens with an immediate boost. The Montreal Canadiens have a glaring hole on the right side of their defence with the retirement of Shea Weber, but that hole is going to get even bigger once the Canadiens eventually trade Jeff Petry. With only David Savard as a right-shot defenseman signed through the 2022-2023 season, the Canadiens could take advantage of the Cap squeeze in Pittsburgh to lure Letang back home on a two or three-year deal.
The veteran blueliner would immediately be able to act as a mentor to the plethora of young defensive prospects that will be coming up through the ranks in the next couple of years, such as Kaiden Guhle, Alexander Romanov and more. He would fit exactly in what the Canadiens want to achieve in changing their style; as Letang is known for his high-tempo offensive game. Having him come in as a member of the leadership team with the Canadiens moving forward could also remove a lot of the pressure on youngsters Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, as they continue to develop during this roster transformation process.
A POWER-PLAY LASER, COURTESY OF KRIS LETANG!
With his primary assist on Letang's goal, Malkin extends his point streak against the Islanders to seven games (4G-7A). pic.twitter.com/M0EOWpkF7J
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 21, 2021
Beyond the massive holes on defence, the most glaring need for the Montreal Canadiens in the short and long-term has to be at the centre-ice position. Suzuki is averaging close to 20 minutes of ice-time a night and is the only Canadiens pivot currently able to hold down an offensively oriented line. Former Canadiens gm Marc Bergevin’s biggest mistake during the 2021 offseason was not properly addressing the hole left by the departure of both Phil Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, opting to acquire Christian Dvorak in a reactionary trade and banking on the continued growth of Jake Evans. With that plan seemingly failing almost from the start, it has become apparent that Nick Suzuki needs help: enter Tomas Hertl.
The 28-year-old centre has been flirting with a point-per-game production for over four seasons and could be looking for a move toward a team with a more offensive and dynamic style than the current iteration of the San Jose Sharks. Capable of playing in all situations, he would be able to shoulder a lot of the responsibilities that fall on Suzuki, while being able to run his own line within Montreal’s top-6. Being such a young free agent, it wouldn’t be outlandish to see a team like Montreal offer Hertl a max, seven-year contract. Hertl would solidify Montreal’s centre ice position, and provide many of the young prospects Montreal coming up the ranks with an ideal veteran with whom to learn and grow.
— NHL News (@PuckReportNHL) November 3, 2021
Forsberg’s time appears to up be in Nashville, and there will be no shortage of potential suitors for him. Forsberg brings a rare blend of physicality, skill and speed that is hard to come by, and, similarly to Panarin in New York, one could see Hughes and Gorton identify Forsberg as a potential star they’d like to bring in. His offensive game is very underrated, playing in a more defensive structure in Nashville, and he provides sound two-way hockey. Being able to play both sides of the puck, while providing top-notch leadership would normally have made him a slam dunk for previous Montreal Canadiens regimes, but there are other aspects of his game that make Forsberg more of a fit.
For one, the power and speed in Forsberg’s game would be a welcomed addition to the Canadiens’ top-6, as Forsberg is an excellent straight-line skater who’s very difficult to bump off the puck. He has the scoring and playmaking abilities to truly complement some of the Canadiens’ younger players, and could serve as a stabilizing presence should the Canadiens pick a centre like Shane Wright or Logan Cooley at the top of the 2022 NHL Draft. Forsberg’s blend of skill and speed is exactly what Hughes is looking for, and it could be a “right place, right time” kind of opportunity for Forsberg to join a team that’s going to look to compete in a not so distant future.
A self-pass and a backhand finish?
Filthy, filthy stuff here from Filip Forsberg. 😳 pic.twitter.com/29Pm4gOepL
— NHL (@NHL) January 5, 2022
Patrice Bergeron: The future Hall of Famer could follow Hughes, his former agent, to Montreal this summer once his contract comes to an end. It would be truly shocking for Bergeron to play all this time with Boston, only to spend the twilight years of his career with the team he grew up hating as a youth.
Nazem Kadri: The hard-nosed centre was a known Habs fan growing up in Ontario, and would be able to bring the combination of size and speed that is highly coveted by general managers. That being said, Kadri is likely going to get a general manager to pay him far more than he’s worth, due to the career year he’s currently having and the money simply might not make sense for Montreal.
Marc-André Fleury: If the Montreal Canadiens don’t get good news from the Carey Price situation, could they look to Fleury as a potential short-term replacement while they look for their goalie of the future? That would be one heck of a story-book ending to the hall of fame career Fleury has had.