As always, GM Marc Bergevin was very active on July 1st. He signed a total of 5 players over the course of the day. After starting the day with a big splash, adding a significant piece on defense, Bergevin stuck to depth and AHL guys. It was pretty clear that Bergevin was aiming to address two needs, strengthening the left side of his d-core after moving out several players at that position, and putting out a winning roster for the debut season of their new AHL team the Laval Rocket. With that being said, it’s time to take a look at the five new additions to the Montreal Canadiens.
The Habs started off the free agency with a bang, signing left defenseman Karl Alzner to a big contract. The 28-year-old will be carrying a $4.625 million cap hit for the next 5 years. The former 2007 5th overall pick has spent his whole career with the Washinton Capitals up to this point. Despite never putting up great numbers offensively, never surpassing 5 goals or 21 points, Alzner is considered to be one of the top defensive defensemen in the league. His 1.65 GA/60 last season was 8th amongst defensemen with 50+ games played. Additionally, Alzner has not missed a game in the last 7 seasons.
Alzner should slot in beside Jeff Petry on the 2nd pairing. His defensive game should complement Petry’s smooth skating offensive style quite nicely. It will also allow Petry to get into the play more and use his talents and he will know there is a solid defender to back him up if any mistakes are made. Also, adding in another top defender alongside Shea Weber, in front of star goalie Carey Price will make it very hard for other teams to score goals against the Habs.
The concern with Alzner is that his style of play does not suit the way the NHL is heading. He has problems with his skating and is a very poor possession player (47.25 CF%). Also, although the Habs do need defensemen, they did not need another shutdown guy and should have been focusing on acquiring a puck moving d-man to slot in beside Weber. Lastly, Alzner’s contract is a slight overpayment and will take him to the age of 33, but then again the Habs are in win now mode and Bergevin needed to ensure the Habs will contend for the next season or two.
Bergevin also added some depth to the lineup, signing Peter Holland to a 2-year, $675,000 contract. The first year will be a two-way contract, while the second will be a one-way contract. The 6-foot-2 centerman has 81 points in 253 career NHL games, including 12 last season between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Arizona Coyotes. Holland has also broken the 25 point mark twice in his career.
Although he is not a lock to make the NHL lineup, Holland will provide a solid option at center if the Habs decide to ever slot him in on their 4th line. The Habs 4th line constantly struggled last season, and Holland should be able to address this problem. Overall, Holland was a nice, and cheap, depth addition to the roster.
As mentioned early on, Bergevin really wanted to put out a winning team in Laval for their first AHL season. With that in mind, Bergevin signed forward Byron Froese to a 2-year deal at $575,000 per. Like Holland, the first year will be a two-way contract, while the second will be a one-way contract.
Froese’s production in the AHL has been very good over the past few seasons. In 54 games last year between the Toronto Marlies and the Syracuse Crunch, Froese scored 27 goals and had 46 points. He also had 13 points in 22 playoff games with Syracuse during their run to the AHL finals. Froese also has played 62 NHL games, including 56 during the 2015-16 season with the Leafs. Although he probably won’t get a lot of time in the NHL with the Habs, he is still a very solid add for the AHL roster.
Continuing the trend, Bergevin signed AHL all-star defensemen Matt Taormina to a 2-year, 2-way contract at $650,000 per. Taormina has been on of the AHL’s best defenseman for the past few years.
He won the Eddie Shore Award, which is presented to the best AHL defensemen, last season after picking up 60 points in 70 games with the Syracuse Crunch. He also had a very good run to the finals with the Crunch as he had 20 points in 22 games. Taormina will be one of, if not the best player in Laval and will significantly help the team have success in their first year. If the injuries hit Montreal like they have in the past few year, Taormina may even get some NHL time with the Habs.
Bergevin’s final signing of the day was defensemen, and former Boston Bruin, Joe Morrow. The 2011 first rounder was part of the blockbuster trade which saw star player Tyler Seguin head to the Dallas Stars. He was signed to a 1-year, $650,000 contract.
Morrow spent most of the last 3 seasons up in the NHL with the Bruins but was never a regular and spent a lot of time up in the press box. Despite this, Morrow will most likely play in the AHL next season as the Habs have a lot of defensive depth in the system. Still only 24-years-old, Morrow may be able to grow into an NHL defensemen in the future.
Overall, Bergevin’s start to free agency was ok, but nothing too special. Although he added several players, and a few good ones, he is still yet to address Montreal’s two biggest needs, a top 6 center and a puck moving D. Also, ex-Habs Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov are both still on the market, and it is clear that the Habs need to bring both of these players back. If there’s one thing for sure, the Habs are not even close to being finished, and Bergevin still has a lot of work to do.