This can’t be what Marc Bergevin was hoping for, but you have to think he was prepared for it.
Less than three days from the onset of unrestricted free agency, the Montreal Canadiens’ general manager has yet to strike new deals with winger Alexander Radulov and defenceman Andrei Markov, and his plans for July 1 hinge almost entirely on how both dossiers get settled.
With as many as 12 teams reportedly interested in Radulov’s services, there’s reason to believe at least one of them will be willing to give him a five-year deal. We’re going to find out if Bergevin’s willing to go that far. If he isn’t, he’ll have to find a suitable replacement on the market.
Various reports have the 38-year-old Markov angling for two years. He’s spent his entire career with the Canadiens and has stated his desire to one day retire as a member of the team. The $6 million asking price (we suspect it’s $5.75 million, which Markov has made in each of the last 10 seasons) isn’t out of range, but will Bergevin commit to paying that sum over a two-year period? It’s questionable.
One more reason Bergevin might want to be careful about committing dollars beyond 2018 to Markov—or any other free agent—is that goaltender Carey Price is due for a massive raise on his $6.5 million salary, which can be negotiated as early as July 1.
Bergevin has acknowledged he has holes to fill on his roster, but we suspect he’ll be particularly prudent about how he invests on July 1.
SALARY CAP BREAKDOWN
Forwards (10): $28.44 million
Defence (5): $17.98 million
Goaltenders (2): $7.56 million
Total: $53.99 million (cap space: $21.01 million)
AREAS OF NEED
Top-four defenceman: Assuming Markov returns, the Canadiens are still in need of a defenceman who shoots left and can log upwards of 20 minutes per game. With Mikhail Sergachev, Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin out of the equation, there’s a strong possibility this hole is filled by a free agent. The player doesn’t necessarily have to have considerable offensive upside; he just needs to be reliable in his own end and capable of complementing Jeff Petry.
Top-six/middle-six centre: The eternal search for a scoring centre continues for Montreal. As it stands, Alex Galchenyuk is expected to line up as a winger, leaving Tomas Plekanec and Phillip Danault in the top two slots. The former scored a career-low 28 points last season and the latter had a career-high 40. That’s not good enough. One possibility is that Jonathan Drouin, who was acquired from Tampa Bay in the trade that sent Sergachev the other way, could play in the middle, but that’s anything but a guarantee.
Scoring winger: If Radulov moves on from the Canadiens, he must be replaced.
Karl Alzner: There’s nothing flashy about the 28-year-old’s game, but he fills the criteria of a player who can complement Petry. Alzner, who plays a simple and steady game and can bring it physically, is coming off a four-year contract that paid him $2.8 million annually. The Canadiens have reportedly shown interest and he is reportedly open to the possibility of signing with them.
Joe Thornton: There are a couple of red flags here. He’s 37, reportedly after a three-year deal, he’s coming off ACL surgery, and his production went from 82 points in 2015-16 to 50 points in 2016-17. But there’s very little question—if any—he’d be the best centre on the Canadiens throughout the term of a three-year deal, and he’d be the best one they’ve had since Saku Koivu. Would he be willing to come? That’s the real question.
Patrick Marleau: At this stage, the 37-year-old’s a 40-50 point player, but his versatility makes him an appealing option. Can play in all situations at centre or left wing and is a contributor at both ends of the ice and in all situations.
Justin Williams: The 35-year-old had 24 goals and 24 assists last season and is the consummate professional. Bergevin likes to say you need players who get you to the playoffs and players who get you through them. Williams can definitely still help you get to the playoffs, and you don’t get a nickname like "Mr. Game 7" without being a clutch player.
Nick Bonino: The 29-year-old centre played a huge hand in back-to-back Stanley Cup championships for the Pittsburgh Penguins and has proven capable of being a strong middle-six option. Can he elevate his offensive output in a bigger role than he played in Pittsburgh? If the Canadiens feel he can, he’ll be an option they strongly consider.
RECENT FREE AGENT ACQUISITIONS
Alexander Radulov, one year, $5.75 million, 2016: Hard to argue there was a better signing made on July 1 of last summer. Radulov undid whatever (faulty) perception still existed about his commitment to the game with an 18-goal, 36-assist season. His effort level was above board, he proved to be a leader, and he also scored seven points in six playoff games.
Al Montoya, two years, $2.12 million, 2017: After signing the backup goaltender to a one-year, $950,000 contract on July 1, 2016, Bergevin extended the deal by two years in January of 2017. Montoya played 19 games, picked up eight wins and another four points in overtime/shootout losses, posting a .912 save percentage and a 2.67 goals-against average.
Jakub Jerabek, one year, $925,000, 2017: The 25-year-old had 34 points in 56 penalty minutes in 59 games last season with the KHL’s Chekhov Vityaz. He’s on a two-way deal and can spend time in the AHL.