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Some free agents of interest to the Habs in the summer of 2024

Will the Habs be a major player on the free agent market this summer? Maybe it’ll be too soon for Hughes and Gorton to get serious about free agents, but maybe not, either.

The basis of a successful rebuild is, first and foremost, to draft, develop and assemble a core of talented young players over a fairly short period of time, generally between 5 and 8 years.

If we take the case of the Habs, this will result in a core built over 8 draft years between 2017 (Suzuki who “replaced” Poehling) and 2024 (top-10, top-5?).

But whether they bank on exceptional players or not, young cores are always insufficient. To make it among the contenders in a reasonable timeframe, you have to keep trading for talent from elsewhere, and then, eventually, come to an agreement with experienced players who are as free as a bird during the summer.

Admitting himself that it’s currently difficult to say – not least because of the damned injuries – where his club is in its rebuilding process, in a recent appearance on L’Antichambre (watch from the 13th minute), Kent Hughes didn’t completely close the door on the free agent market over the next two or three seasons.

“Ideally, probably two years,” Hughes replied to Vincent Damphousse, who asked him when he thinks he’ll be able to attract a free agent to Montreal.

But the Tricolore GM was careful to add that should a player “of Panarin’s calibre” become available, a player who arrived with the Rangers “probably sooner than Jeff Gorton anticipated” in his rebuilding plan, it would become imperative to “evaluate” this kind of option and inquire about the demands and interest of such a player.

We’re far from convinced, then, that Hughes and Gorton will enter the free agent race in earnest as early as July.

Honestly, even the best free agents of the summer of 2024 that we’re going to present to you today won’t be quite on the level of the superstar that Rangers’ Panarin was at 28 and still is today.

But from where we’re sitting, there are certainly some players who deserve to be “evaluated” in one way or another, as they could help the Habs in the final stages of their rebuild.

Some could even accelerate it substantially and still be there when the Habs are very competitive.

Others would, at the very least, help the Habs on their way to a playoff spot, a necessary phase in any rebuild.

Let’s take a look.

Steven Stamkos
If Stamkos were to divorce the Lightning at the end of this season, it would be difficult to completely remove the Ontarian from the scene in Montreal: Stamkos, 34, is a former teammate and friend of Martin St-Louis, whom he regarded as a true mentor at the time. In fact, St-Louis had an assist on Stamkos ‘ first career goal.

The “biggest name” on the market, winner of two Stanley Cups (including one with David Savard in 2021), author of over 500 goals and 1,000 points in the NHL, would certainly bring a good dose of experience to the Habs and could round out the top-6 for a few seasons with his offensive talents, including his famous shot.

To attract Stamkos, in addition to guaranteeing him a nice role in the lineup, the Habs’ offer would of course have to be competitive in terms of money and number of years, but the Habs would also have to present themselves to Stamkos as a team that could win in the short term. These conditions are not impossible to meet.

That said, in order to present themselves as a serious team in the eyes of the big free agents of 2024, the HuGo duo will have to be aggressive on the transaction market between now and the beginning of July…and/or get very lucky in the lottery!

For the record, this would be the Habs’ second major “charm operation” for Stamkos, after the one in 2016.

What would he say to 4 years at $7 million a year?

Elias Lindholm
For the time being, we’d be very surprised if 29-year-old Lindholm continues his association with the Flames beyond the current season. With an 8.3% probability of making the playoffs, he could even leave Calgary by March 8.

In this eventuality, general manager Craig Conroy’s ideal solution would of course be to trade Lindholm to a club that would agree with him beforehand on the terms of a long-term contract, but this kind of scenario is often easier imagined than realized… That said, the Canucks, Jets, Avalanche, Golden Knights and Bruins would all be “possible” destinations for the Swede.

With so many right-handed centers already in place, Lindholm might not be my favorite target for the Habs should he reach his prime in July. But Lindholm is still quite a player – perhaps the best free agent of 2024 – and let’s not forget that Dach can also play on the wing and that Jake Evans is not an immortal in the line-up…

Nobody’s going to hold their breath here – Lindholm, if he hasn’t already agreed with a club, is likely to be spoilt for choice – but for form’s sake, let’s say, 6 years at 7.75 million a season.

Jake Guentzel
Although there are whispers that he might be on the market right now, it’s far from certain whether Guentzel will leave the Penguins this winter or summer. But one thing is certain: the prolific left-handed scorer would be a great asset for the Tricolore.

At 29 and in good shape, the American still has several productive seasons ahead of him and would be an immediate upgrade on the team’s current top-two left-wing options. That’s 30 goals guaranteed for years to come…

With a combined career average of nearly a point per game in both the regular season and playoffs, Guentzel has been a veritable metronome for the Penguins. But the Penguins are clearly on the decline since winning two Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, and the Omaha, New England native could be looking to join a club on the rise. We don’t know if the Habs would be at the top of his list, but we do know that Guentzel has always performed well on his visits to Montreal and could thrive in the Metropolis surrounded by several American players.

What’s also VERY interesting about Guentzel is that he could serve as a great argument to convince his good friend Sidney Crosby to come to an agreement with the Habs in the summer of 2025… we can come back to that.

Would a 7-year offer of $7.5 million per season – which would put him somewhere between the Kyle Connors and JT Millers of this world – give him pause?

A few options to move the team towards the playoffs

Some might have wanted me to mention Sam Reinhart in the previous category, but all indications are that he will extend his career in Florida alongside Alexander Barkov.

There would also have been Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko, as “star” players worthy of mention. However, it’s hard to see how these two would be interested in the Habs.

Perhaps the return of Kirby Dach for Patrick Kane? Big maybe.

Let’s turn instead to a category where we’ll still find quality options, but where we’ll have to be cautious about the length of contracts in some cases…

Jonathan Marchessault
Speaking of metronome, that’s exactly what Marchessault was throughout his stay in Las Vegas. At 33, a member of the original Golden Knights and the most recent recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy, the Quebecer still has plenty of gas in the tank and shows it by scoring his share of goals with his nose in the traffic.

So, for the time being, it’s not hard to imagine him extending his career in “Sin City”, where he’s greatly appreciated and where he’s always seemed to enjoy himself, but let’s not rule anything out.

It’s hard to say whether a return to his native province is in the Cap-Rouge native’s late-career plans, but the idea of playing under Martin St-Louis, a feisty player of small stature who undoubtedly greatly inspired him in his career, would seem to tickle his fancy, having played for Syracuse and Tampa Bay. Marchessault himself stated on RDS in 2022 that he believed St-Louis would eventually attract free agents to Montreal.

How about that?

Say, 3 years, $6 M per season? Or 4 years at $5.5?

Sean Monahan
No matter what happens with Monahan between now and March 8, there is a universe (perhaps a parallel one, but one just like it!) in which he could return to the Habs next summer. After all, Kent Hughes himself said:

If he were to come to a long-term agreement with the Habs next summer after leaving this winter, we’d be forced to reinvent the famous metaphor of butter (Monahan acquisition) and butter money (the Flames’ 1st pick in 2025), adding interest on the butter money (another first pick in 2024) and investment in a tax haven in the Bahamas of the interest on the butter money (return in 2024-2025)!

Of course, Monahan will have to prove to the Tricolore and other NHL clubs that he’s capable of staying healthy and performing for a full season before he thinks he’ll land a major contract, but so far he’s headed for a 58-point season.

No worse, no worse.

That said, while he may be the team’s best forward some nights, at other times his hips seem a little stiffer and his reflexes a little less sharp…

So, unless they’re very confident medically, it’s hard to imagine the Habs signing him to some kind of5 x $5M contract , however amiable and good a leader Monahan may be.

If anything, we’d be looking at a three-year, $15 million deal.

Just long enough for Dach to settle in and for youngsters like Roy and Beck to acclimatize to the NHL.

Teuvo Teravainen

The Finn would have interested Trevor Timmins in another era, and after moving on from the Hawks and Canes, Teravainen has indeed enjoyed a fine career. However, his career seems to have taken a step backwards last year, when he had to settle for 37 points in 68 games, as well as a meagre assist in six playoff games…

At 5’11, I don’t think the Tricolore is chasing him around screaming like a teenage girl in front of Paul McCartney in 1964, but Teravainen, soon to be 30, remains offensively talented and is a good forward on the proverbial “200 feet”. He could help the Habs in their progression and stay with the team for some time if he accepts a reasonable sum and term.

I wouldn’t go any higher than 4 years/$18 million.

David Perron
David Perron has already shown interest in the Habs.

At 36, the Quebecer, who has never been the fastest on skates, is starting to show signs of decline. But for a few seasons, should he wish to end his career in Montreal, the Stanley Cup winner with St. Louis in 2019 could be of great service to the Tricolore.

We could easily imagine him occupying a role in the middle-six and playing on the second unit on the power play, in addition to being a quality veteran in the dressing room.

Perron could still command an attractive salary, but he shouldn’t be too greedy.

3 years, $3 M per year.

The discount basket in the back of the store

Could I have included Matt Duchene in the previous category, or even in the first one? Perhaps. But, after the blow of 2019, I no longer believe in his sincere interest in the Montreal market.

Let’s look at the discounts instead!

If all we’re hoping for is a progression towards the playoffs, here are two not-too-risky bets that would, what’s more, bet on homegrown guys who would bring a little offensive depth to one of the league’s worst attacks…

Anthony Duclair
The previous administration had a few opportunities to take an interest in Duclair, but always preferred to turn up their noses at the Pointe-Claire native.

Could things be different with HuGo?

Not so sure…

Duclair, 28, can still play in the NHL without a problem – he was even pretty good in the playoffs with the Panthers last year – but he hasn’t been quite the same player since his Achilles tendon surgery (2022) and doesn’t seem to me to be able to bring anything other than depth to the attack, say between 30 and 40 points.

If that’s what we’re looking for, and we want to put Duclair in competition with the likes of Newhook, Roy and a few others for a top-9 spot, so be it.

At this stage of his career and at the salary he’ll command, Duclair, only 29 next August, wouldn’t represent a big risk. But he’s simply not in a position to demand the moon.

1 year or 2, $2 M per year.

Anthony Mantha

Mantha’s case is quite similar to Duclair’s. Known for his shooting ability and scoring touch, the big, lanky Mantha has been plagued by injuries in almost every NHL season, and has lost some of his shine over the years.

Despite his obvious attributes and the offensive depth he could bring, Hughes and Gorton might be worried about betting on another player prone to spending more time in the infirmary than on the ice…

But hey, with a good end to the season – he’s headed for a 25-30 goal campaign – and a good summer of training, a healthy Mantha could undoubtedly restore his reputation and earn himself another interesting NHL contract next summer.

That said, at this point, it’s just hard to see a team like the Habs paying him much more than $2M for one year, max two.

Horizon 2025 and 2026?

In addition to the quality of the free agents themselves, HuGo’s interest in the 2024 crop will largely depend on how he assesses his club at the end of June, and whether or not he’s able to complete any transactions between now and then.

If the duo don’t feel the team is ready enough yet, they’ll delay bold moves on the free agent market for a year or two, and everyone will be no worse off.

The 2025 crop will include Crosby, Tavares, Rantanen and Draisaitl, to name but a few…

La cuvée 2026 – c’est encore loin! – could be McDavid, Eichel, Kaprizov, Panarin, Kyle Connor and Adrian Kempe.

Big stock still here!

In short, no matter when they choose, Hughes and Gorton must already be prepared to make a convincing case for themselves in some major free-agent deals. They’ll have no choice if they want to seriously aspire to the Stanley Cup by 2028. At present, they are far from being among the favourites, according to The Athletic…

At some point, if you want to go bear hunting for real, you have to have one or two high-calibre weapons.

And sometimes, if you don’t already have one in the cupboard, you have no choice but to buy them from the store…

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