Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, the Montreal Canadiens have a better idea of potential contracts they must consider.
In total. Kent Hughes has 10 players on his roster who are not signed beyond this season, an even split of unrestricted and restricted free agents.
Today we’ll take a look at the remaining unrestricted free agents.
Unrestricted Free Agents
The most commonly discussed UFA is centre Sean Monahan, who enjoyed a resurgence with the team before being placed on the injured reserve on Dec.5.
With 17 points in 25 games, it’s easy to see why Canadiens management would be interested in re-signing the 28-year-old.
He contributes in all three zones, has excellent faceoff efficiency, and most importantly, improves the underlying numbers for most players who play on his line.
It’s also worth noting Monahan brings yet another important element to the table: speed in transition.
When Monahan is on the ice, the Canadiens have a much easier time driving the play into the offensive zone.
With that in mind, there’s certainly merit to the concept of offering Monahan a one-year extension. Not only would the Canadiens have an opportunity to flip him at the 2024 trade deadline, but it would also allow Monahan to rack up points with a team that could offer him premium minutes at 5v5, as well as a permanent spot on the power play.
Monahan has very few opportunities left to sign a long-term contract, and as it stands, very few teams are likely to gamble on the oft-injured forward. If he manages to stay healthy and produce at an elevated rate with the Canadiens, he’d surely increase his value around the league, which would lead to a rather rich contract.
But Kent Hughes’ revelation on Friday was a significant red flag.
Not only did Monahan fail to return to action from the injury that has kept him out of the lineup since early December, but he also suffered another injury during the rehabilitation period.
“He re-injured himself during his rehab. It’s set him back a little bit, “ said Hughes. “It’s hard to tell when he’ll come back, but it’s possible that he could return before the end of the season. It wasn’t a foot injury; he injured something else. We spoke with the doctors and they initially told him to stay off it for two weeks. His foot is healed, the bone takes about two months to heal.”
As much as the idea of continuing the Monahan saga in Montreal seems like it could yield a healthy return, given his current health status and the laundry list of injured players in the Canadiens’ infirmary, it’s probably best for all to move on from the experiment.
Besides, the Canadiens already cashed in on Monahan by acquiring a first-round pick from the Calgary Flames. Despite the relatively disappointing end to the story, the trade itself has to be considered a significant win for the Canadiens.
Verdict: It’s time to move on.
Jonathan Drouin is perhaps the most interesting player with an expiring contract.
Yes, he’s had a tumultuous time in Montreal, but as the last couple of months have shown us, he’s also currently playing some of his best hockey since the trade to the Canadiens.
He leads all active players on the roster in production since Jan.1, with 2.55 points per 60.
Jonathan Drouin gets his first goal of the season, extremely happy for him. He’s been playing well lately. pic.twitter.com/nCuqoes4Kf
— Habs Fan TV (@habsfantv_) March 4, 2023
The playmaker could certainly bring value to the team, especially if he signs a reasonable, short-term deal in a bid to relaunch his career.
But given his rocky tenure with the team, which started on the wrong foot when he was sold as a saviour to fans upon his arrival, the best bet, particularly for Drouin, is to wish him well in his future endeavours and close that chapter of team’s history.
At the very least, he’ll leave Montreal on a high note, which is a well-deserved send-off for a player who received unreasonable criticism from fans and media alike.
Verdict: All the best, Jo.
Paul Byron is another player on the list whose career has unfortunately been derailed by injuries.
As much as he’s contributed to the team, given the seriousness of his injury, he’s simply not a viable target for a contract.
And it’s a damn shame.
We often hear players labelled as ‘good guys’ in the NHL, but when it comes to Byron, he’s not just a good guy, he’s one of the best people in the league.
A thoughtful teammate who has acted as a mentor for many young players while providing an elevated level of excitement for fans.
Few players worked harder to make it to the NHL, and almost no one put more effort into every game to stay in the NHL.
Canadiens faithful will long remember his ridiculous shorthanded, breakaway goal scored on one knee against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs. It epitomized what Byron brought to the team: hard work, speed, and a penchant for scoring big goals.
PAUL BYRON ARE YOU SERIOUS?! pic.twitter.com/bITRL6ErS9
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 21, 2021
Verdict: Thanks for everything, Paul.
With all due respect to Chris Tierney, he does not fit into the team’s long-term plans.
But there’s another fourth-line UFA that may very well still have something to offer the Canadiens.
Alex Belzile is 31, and there’s no chance he’ll develop into a star player, but his contributions since joining the Habs from the AHL should not be ignored.
Belzile trails only Drouin in points per 60 since Jan.1 and has outplayed the majority of the players who have been assigned to the fourth line this season.
ALEX BELZILE GOES BARDOWNSKI FOR HIS FIRST NHL GOAL!
Johnny Kovacevic makes sure to collect the puck for the 31-year-old who has been searching for this goal a long time. pic.twitter.com/GbhsOf0dcO
— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) February 12, 2023
He’s smart. He’s a hard worker. And when he’s not busy playing surprisingly effective hockey in the fourth line, he also happens to be the Laval Rocket’s captain.
The Canadiens do not have to sign Belzile. They may very well decide to keep a roster spot open for a younger player, which would align with the rebuild, but statistically speaking, he’s a perfect fit for the fourth line.
Verdict: You can never have enough hard-working players on your team.
All statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted. Via NaturalStatTrick
All salary cap information via CapFriendly.