Montreal Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier heads into the off-season facing significant decisions regarding his defense corps.
Dave Stubbs of The Montreal Gazette noted that Andrei Markov, James Wisniewski, Hal Gill, Brent Sopel and Roman Hamrlik are eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, meaning the Canadiens blueline could have a very different look next season.
Francois Gagnon of La Presse agreed and suggested the defense corps will get younger, while calling for Yannick Weber to be re-signed.
It’s believed Markov’s recent injury history (including two knee injuries in one year) will complicate his contract talks with the club, but Gauthier recently said they’d like to keep Markov, though the GM admitted “we’ll keep all our options open.”
When healthy, Markov ranks among the better defensemen in the league, but it remains to be seen how much money the Canadiens are willing to commit to him and for how long.
If Markov opts for free agency, Gauthier may instead focus on re-signing Wisniewski, who did a good job replacing the injured Russian at mid-season after coming over from the New York Islanders in a trade.
While not as talented as Markov, Wisniewski proved to be a good fit, working well on the power play and bringing an additional measure of grit. If, however, Markov is re-signed, ‘Wiz’ will likely hit the open market.
Gill has had a steadying influence on rising young star P.K. Subban and has provided veteran leadership in the dressing room. He’s well respected and earlier this season expressed his wish to return with the club. It’s possible he’ll be re-signed to a one- or two-year deal for around the same salary ($2.25 million) he made this season.
Hamrlik has also expressed a desire to return, but the 37-year-old has slowed in recent years, plus he’d have to accept a considerable pay cut from the $5.5 million he made this season. All things considered, this was probably Hamrlik’s final season with the Habs.
Sopel and Paul Mara were brought in around the trade deadline to provide additional depth to the injury-ravaged defense and aren’t expected to be re-signed.
Weber is a restricted free agent coming off an entry-level contract that had an $875,000 cap hit, so re-signing him shouldn’t be too expensive. Shutdown defenseman Josh Gorges is also an RFA and despite having his season cut short by a knee injury, he’ll be in line for a significant raise over the $1.1 million he earned this season.
Gagnon and Gazette columnist Pat Hickey also believe the Canadiens lacked size and scoring at forward. Gagnon suggested Gauthier will have to consider what to do with center Scott Gomez, whose performance this season was certainly not worth his $7 million-plus cap hit.
Gagnon was also critical of left winger Andrei Kostitsyn’s performance against the Bruins and suggested Benoit Pouliot won’t return next season.
Gomez’s sub-par performance all year and expensive salary make him as untradeable as you can get and it’s doubtful Gauthier will buy out the remaining three years of the veteran’s contract.
Kostitsyn has been a reliable 20-goal scorer for the Canadiens, but he’s earned criticism for his inconsistent play and isn’t likely to earn a significant raise over the $3.25 million he made this season.
The concern over the Canadiens’ lack of size and skill at forward is justified and has been an ongoing problem for more than a decade.
Gauthier, who has more than $34 million committed to nine players next season, should have enough cap space after resolving his blueline issues to look for more size and skill up front.
He’ll find the pickings slim in this summer’s free agent market, which will make the trade option a more likely possibility.
STARS SALE MAY SINK RANGERS HOPE FOR RICHARDS
It’s assumed the New York Rangers will pursue Dallas Stars center Brad Richards if he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, but there’s a chance he might not be available.
Earlier this week it was reported that efforts by Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi to purchase the Stars hit a new stage, as he may soon enter into an exclusive 30-day negotiating period to finalize the purchase of the club along with a 50 percent share in the arena.
Globe & Mail reporter David Shoalts suggested if the sale to Gaglardi goes through it would take Richards off the free agent market, as the center previously suggested a willingness to remain with the Stars, but wanted assurances of stable ownership that was committed to building the club into a Cup contender.
FLASH BACK TO WINNIPEG?
Anaheim Ducks right winger Teemu Selanne intends to take some time this summer to decide if he’ll return to the NHL next season.
If he does return don’t expect it to be with whichever team (Coyotes? Thrashers?) ends up in Winnipeg next season (if it happens at all).
Earlier this week, Selanne denied a silly rumor out of Manitoba that suggested he’d consider returning to the city where he began his NHL career.
‘The Finnish Flash’ played most of his NHL career with Anaheim and it’s the only team he’ll play for if he returns next season.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.