Could this post-series handshake between Montreal's Saku Koivu and Boston's Manny Fernandez be the last time fans see their long-time captain in a Habs uniform? (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
With their disappointing centennial season now history, the Montreal Canadiens face significant questions about its roster heading into the off-season.
The Habs have 10 players eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, among them Alex Tanguay, Mike Komisarek, Alex Kovalev and team captain Saku Koivu. Chris Higgins, Tomas Plekanec and Guillaume Latendresse become restricted free agents.
Kovalev and Tanguay expressed their willingness to re-sign with the Habs, hinting money might not be a factor.
Koivu also suggested he’d like to return for perhaps another two or three seasons, but added he’d like to have a deal in place prior to July 1 or he’d consider testing the market.
Komisarek, meanwhile, declined to comment on his future, leading to speculation he’s leaving it in the hands of agent Matt Keator, who apparently isn’t a fan of the “hometown discount.”
Robert Lang, 38, and Mathieu Schneider, 39, also expressed their willingness to return, but given their ages and injury issues that might not be possible.
Patrice Brisebois, Mathieu Dandenault, Tom Kostopoulos and Francis Bouillon are also unrestricted free agents, but it’s unlikely they will all return.
Plekanec, Higgins and Latendresse didn’t have memorable performances this season – the latter two due to injuries – so rival clubs aren’t likely to come calling this summer with offer sheets. They could be re-signed, but it’s possible one – or perhaps all three – could be traded.
Rumors of Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Vincent Lecavalier being dealt to Montreal this summer took a significant hit when, during his season-ending press conference, Canadiens GM Bob Gainey slammed Lightning GM Brian Lawton for apparently leaking the names of Higgins, Plekanec and Josh Gorges during trade discussions last January.
Lawton vigorously denied Gainey’s accusation, but it seems unlikely the two would be willing to discuss a Lecavalier trade – or any other possible deal between the two clubs – in the near future. That is, unless Gainey is replaced should the club have a new owner in the coming months.
Lecavalier has a no-movement clause that kicks in July 1, but if the Lightning front office is to force the issue it’s possible – emphasis on possible – he could waive it to facilitate a trade to Montreal.
If there’s a bright spot for the summer it’s the fact the Canadiens have more than $30 million in available cap space to re-sign key players and bid competitively in the summer’s UFA market.
It’s anyone’s guess as to which players will be returning to the Canadiens and which free agents Gainey or his potential successor could target, but it’s a safe assumption the Habs roster will look significantly different in the fall.
• The Philadelphia Flyers first round elimination at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins leaves GM Paul Holmgren facing some difficult choices.
Holmgren has just less than $50 million committed to next season’s payroll and with the salary cap expected to remain close to $56 million, he won’t have much space to re-sign goaltenders Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki, forward Mike Knuble and defenseman Andrew Alberts, all of whom are eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer.
Biron and Knuble said they’d prefer to return to the Flyers next season, but both admitted the club’s cap situation could make that difficult, if not impossible.
If Holmgren decides to re-sign some or all of his free agents he’ll have to dump considerable cap space via trades, demotions or contract buyouts. Even if he opts to not re-sign them he’ll still have to replace them, especially the goaltenders.
The Philadelphia Inquirer claimed the Flyers have interest in Florida Panthers netminder Craig Anderson and listed Boston’s Manny Fernandez, New Jersey’s Scott Clemmensen and Chicago’s Nikolai Khabibulin as other possibilities.
Trade rumors have dogged the Flyers for months, with Daniel Briere believed to be the trade candidate. Unfortunately, Briere’s expensive contract – with an annual cap hit of $6.5 million over the next six seasons, plus a no-movement clause – and injury history will probably keep him in Philadelphia.
Possible trade candidates could include forwards Joffrey Lupul ($4.25 million per season) and defenseman Randy Jones ($2.75 million).
THIS AND THAT
• St. Louis Blues president John Davidson was understandably pleased with his club’s strong finish to this season and their surprising playoff berth. Even though they were swept by the Vancouver Canucks, the Blues’ future looks bright.
Veteran Keith Tkachuk hopes to have a part in the Blues’ immediate future and while Davidson didn’t make any commitments, it’s possible Tkachuk could be back for at least another season.
• Edmonton Oilers defenseman Sheldon Souray denied a rumor claiming he’d requested a trade following the club’s elimination from playoff contention.
Souray claimed he’d had no conversations with Oilers GM Steve Tambellini, adding he had no idea where the rumors came from. What might’ve sparked them is that Souray’s family lives in Los Angeles, but he insists he’s happy playing in Edmonton.
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Rumor Roundup appears Mondays 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.