P.K. Subban (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
With their Stanley Cup bid cut short, the Montreal Canadiens enter the off-season with some roster questions to answer. From Dustin Tokarski's future in the organization to P.K. Subban's expiring contract and more - what is Montreal's plan this summer?
As the Montreal Canadiens pack their gear and head into the off-season following their elimination in the Eastern Conference final, the media focus shifts to potential roster moves by GM Marc Bergevin.
Topping the list, of course, is re-signing star defenseman P.K. Subban, who's a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Subban's coming off a two-year, $5.75-million contract. After winning the Norris Trophy in 2013, finishing second in team scoring twice and leading the Habs in playoff scoring this year, the 25-year-old blueliner is in line for a significant raise.
During the team’s dressing room clean out on Saturday, Subban told the media he hopes to ink a long-term deal, adding he wants to spend his career with the Canadiens. As for how long or for how much, Subban's leaving those details up to agent Don Meehan.
ESPN.com's Craig Custance believes Subban could earn an eight-year deal “north of $8 million per season.” Custance also notes the threat of an offer sheet, as the rising salary cap will provide rival clubs with extra money. However, the Canadiens have the cap space - $26 million, according to capgeek.com - to match any offer. Judging by Subban's comments, he doesn't sound interested in offers from other clubs.
Custance also suggests winger Rene Bourque's strong playoff performance (eight goals, 11 points in 17 playoff games) could improve his trade value if Bergevin decides to go that route. Bourque has two more years at an annual cap hit of $3.3 million, but his actual salary drops to $2.5 million, which Custance feels could be attractive to budget teams trying to reach the cap floor, which could rise to $52 million. Those teams include the Buffalo Sabres (cap payroll of $39 million), Florida Panthers ($41 million) and New York Islanders ($43 million).
Trade deadline acquisition Thomas Vanek is eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1. He stated his intent to test the market, hoping to pick a team where he has a chance to win, but didn't rule out returning to the Canadiens.
While Vanek had solid regular season numbers with the Canadiens (15 points in 18 games), he struggled offensively as the playoffs progressed. Of his 10 post-season points, only two (both assists) came in the conference final. Vanek's disappointing post-season numbers prompted the New York Post's Larry Brooks to suggest the 30-year-old winger not only isn't a player a team can depend upon in the playoffs but is also unworthy of the seven-year $50-million offer he rejected from the New York Islanders earlier this season.
Vanek's poor playoff numbers could adversely affect his free agent value. Still, Brooks admits teams usually overpay in the UFA market. Given the lack of quality free agent talent, Vanek might find a club willing to meet his asking price, though it might not be one with which he can win a championship. It's unlikely the Canadiens will get into a bidding war to bring him back.
The future of long-time Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov remains uncertain. He's finishing a three-year deal worth $5.75 million annually. Though he played well most of this season, the 35-year-old Markov slowed considerably as the playoffs progressed. The Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey notes the danger in re-signing Markov beyond a two-year deal. He also believes the blueliner could depart via free agency if he doesn't get an offer he likes from the Canadiens. Habs captain Brian Gionta is also eligible for UFA status, but Hickey feels someone “cheaper, younger and bigger” will replace the 35-year-old.
Blueliners Mike Weaver and Douglas Murray are also UFAs. The slow-footed Murray was a disappointment and won't be back. Weaver - a trade-deadline pickup - proved a fine addition, garnering praise for his character and shot blocking during the playoffs. He earned $1.1 million last season and should be an affordable re-signing.
The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa believes Bergevin must find some defensemen who can shift some minutes away from Subban, Gorges and Markov (if he returns). While acknowledging the Habs could look to promising Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, Shinzawa feels they won't be enough.
Free agent options are slim. They include former Canadien Ron Hainsey, Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik and the Rangers' Anton Stralman. If Bergevin decides to trade Bourque, he could seek a blueliner in return.
Dustin Tokarski's strong performance filling in for injured starter Carey Price raises questions over backup Peter Budaj's future with the club. Budaj has another season at $1.4 million left on his contract, while Tokarski starts a two-year, two-way deal worth $562,000 annually. He's no longer exempt from waivers, meaning the Habs could lose him if they attempt to demote him next season. Rather than risk losing the promising Tokarski, Bergevin could shop Budaj.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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