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Canadiens Watch: Signing potential UFA Streit should be a priority

When your No. 1 goalie is a pending unrestricted free agent, usually he becomes priority No. 1 in terms of players to get signed.

But that’s not likely the case with the Montreal Canadiens.

Entering the season, Montreal’s two most prominent players eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer were goalie Cristobal Huet and two-time 30-goal man Michael Ryder.

How things have changed.

Now, the player Montreal must be most concerned with retaining is Swiss swingman Mark Streit.

Like Huet and Ryder, Streit’s current contract expires at the end of the season and if he’s not signed to a new deal he’ll be eligible to hock his services to the highest bidder come July 1.

And make no mistake; whether the contract he gets is from the Canadiens or some other team, Streit is in for a big raise.

The 31-year-old late bloomer, in just his third NHL season, is earning $600,000. He’s likely to triple that money when it comes time to sign on the dotted line.

Streit is capable of playing defense and wing effectively, making him a versatile asset for any coach to have.

And then there’s his work on the power play. Streit possesses a rocket of a shot and he’s a big part of the reason the Canadiens’ power play hasn’t missed a beat in the absence of Sheldon Souray.

Streit’s blueline bombs might not be quite to Souray’s standards, but in addition to his big shot Streit also has great vision and passing skills. He’s teamed with Andrei Markov to make the best top end of any power play in the league.

With nine goals and 39 points through 59 games, only four players on the Canadiens were higher on the team scoring chart than Streit. At the same time, only four players on the Habs roster make less money than Streit.

Something doesn’t quite add up.

Carey Price is likely going to make Huet expendable soon and Ryder can’t ride off into the sunset fast enough for Montreal. But even if it requires a 300 percent raise, the Canadiens would be well advised to keep Streit in the fold.

This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.

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