The Montreal Canadiens are going to need to improve offensively if they want to take the next step, but where will they look to do that? Teams under a cap crunch, like the Chicago Blackhawks, could be prime targets for Montreal GM Marc Bergevin.
Following the Montreal Canadiens' elimination from the 2015 playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the overwhelming media consensus indicates the Habs must improve their offense. It's easy to understand why. The Canadiens were 20th in goals-for during the regular season, making them the lowest-scoring team to reach the playoffs. After two playoff rounds, the Habs were 12th out of sixteen teams in scoring and 15th in power-play percentage.
SI.com' s Allan Muir was among those who believe the Canadiens must bolster their scoring depth. Muir suggests the Habs need a first-line center and “at least” two top-six scoring wingers. The Montreal Gazette's Jack Todd also thinks the Canadiens need a scoring center and winger, while colleague Dave Stubbs feels GM Marc Bergevin will have to “shed a few assets” to find a scorer.
Since becoming the Canadiens' GM three years ago, Bergevin has pulled off surprising deals which benefited his club in the short term without giving up much in return. Finding the right pieces to improve his club's offense will be his biggest challenge yet.
Given the lack of scoring depth in this summer's free-agent market, Bergevin must look elsewhere. The options are a little better among the restricted free agents, which includes such notables as New York Rangers center Derek Stepan, Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad, Ottawa Senators winger Mark Stone and Arizona Coyotes right wing Mikkel Boedker.
It's highly unlikely those players are available via trade. Bergevin could try to pry one of them away via offer sheet. Given how rarely that tactic is employed, however, don't expect the Habs GM to go that route.
Bergevin could contact clubs with limited salary-cap space seeking to shed a contract or two. The Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks could be among Bergevin's trade targets. What those clubs could offer up, however, might not suit the Habs' needs.
Given the rivalry between the Bruins and Canadiens, a deal between those clubs seems remote. Blackhawks forwards Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell could become salary-cap casualties. The 33-year-old Sharp's production declined sharply this season, while Bickell is an inconsistent scorer.
The Kings would love to shed center Mike Richards' $5.75-million annual cap hit, but he's not the solid two-center performer he once was. The Wild might be willing to move Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville or former Hab Thomas Vanek, but their best days are behind them.
Bergevin would probably love to pry winger Chris Kreider away from the Rangers, but he's a key part of the Blueshirts' future. The Flyers will try again to peddle fading center Vincent Lecavalier but the Habs GM probably won't be interested.
Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin would definitely address the Canadiens' need for a top-line scorer, but Penguins ownership has no intention of trading him. Winger Chris Kunitz should be available but his scoring has gone into steep decline.
After another early post-season exit, the St. Louis Blues could shake up their core this summer. Winger T.J. Oshie lacks a no-trade clause, but he's a streaky scorer with only nine points in 30 playoff games. The Vancouver Canucks might be willing to part with rugged winger Zack Kassian, but he's yet to prove himself as a power forward.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are believed keen to ship out some of their expensive forwards this summer. Matt Larkin recently proposed the Leafs trade Phil Kessel to the Canadiens. While such a move would certainly provide a much-needed boost to Montreal's offense, even Larkin doubts that blockbuster deal takes place.
Bergevin was reportedly interested in Joffrey Lupul last summer, but given Lupul's ongoing injury issues it's doubtful he'll revisit those talks. He could make a pitch for promising center Nazem Kadri, but the Leafs likely see the 24-year-old as a key part of their roster rebuild.
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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