Montreal finished the season with a respectable 44-30-8 record. Good for sixth overall in the East, but went down in game seven to the Bruins. Currently Montreal has six forwards, three defense and one goalie under contract with around $23M in cap room to round out the roster. The core of the team starts in goal with star Carey Price having had a break out season to establish himself as an elite starter. The defense is anchored by Subban and the forwards are lead by Cammalleri, Plekanec, and captain Gionta. A good core, lots to work with there but no star power up front.
First order of business for GM Gauthier to address is UFA Andrei Markov. Markov's $5.75M deal expires July first making him a UFA. Markov has only played fifty two games in the past two seasons due to serious injuries to both knees. Prior to the injuries, Markov had established himself as an elite level defense man. Serious concerns about his ability to come back at that level will make it difficult for Markov to get a long term deal. The emergence of young talented P.K. Subban complicates the matter. Gauthier and coach Martin may be quite confident moving forward with Subban as the number one franchise defender. For Markov to return it would likely be a short term deal for around $4M
Gauthier has plenty of work to do this summer and the teams biggest need is a big number one center. This seems like a good place to start. The Habs current centers Gomez, Plekanec, and Eller are all small. Prospect Louis Leblanc is promising player ranked twenty seventh in Hockey News Future Watch. He is skilled, hard working two-way player and a strong skater. Leblanc is sure to be a fan favorite being a local boy and first round pick. Should Leblanc make the team they would have four centers, but still be missing the first line star with size. Ideally if they were able to acquire a a first line center the depth chart would follow with Plekanec in the second spot. Eller in the third, and Leblanc as the fourth line center. That leaves out Gomez. Gomez has three more seasons left with a cap hit over $7M. Gomez has a limited NMC that gives him the right to list three teams he will not go to. If Gauthier can find a taker for Gomez (which is doubtful) they should jump at the chance regardless of the return. perhaps a team desperate to meet the cap floor like Florida may have some interest if the Habs sweeten the deal with a draft pick.
Potential targets for Gauthier to go after to fill the Center need may be T.J. Oshie a RFA from St. Louis. Brassard, Stastny, and Weiss have been rumored to be available as well. As per my blog, Next Move Flames Jokinen may be an option as well.
Montreal may look to sign one or two UFA's this summer as well but Gauthier should be able to fill out the forward ranks from within. RFA's that will be resigned include Kostitsyn, Pouliot, Pacioretty and rookies White, Desharnais, and Pyatt all played their way on to the team. All good players, but it would leave the team a little weak on offense. A star player who can score a point per game is needed to provide support for Cammalleri and Plekanec.
Hal Gill was recently resigned, adding to Subban and Spacek already under contract. RFA's Georges, and Weber will be resigned leaving one spot to fill.
Carey Price is the franchise player and will play over sixty games if healthy next season so look for a cheap back up to be acquired. perhaps Pascal Leclaire sees Montreal as a good fit to reestablish himself. Plenty of options this summer for a back up to be found on free agent list such as, Garon, Theodore, or Lalime.
Bottom line. Making a decision with Markov is priority number one as all other decisions hinge on this.
Try to find a way to get Gomez off the team and the Cap. Trade, waivers, or demotion to minors are best bets options as a buyout would hurt too much. Find either a star scoring winger or a number one center with size, or both.
Rookies to watch to make the team are Leblanc, Tinordi, and Avtsyn.
Making an impact in the AHL, Kristo, Trotter, Emelin, and Ramo
Montreal's next moves are, prepare for life with out Markov. Move Gomez. Find a top six forward with size.
Montreal is a young team on the rise with an elite goalie in his prime. A franchise Defense man in his sophomore season and a crop of talented young players with promise insulated by good and versatile players like Cammalleri, Plekanec, Gill and Spacek.