The Montreal Canadiens are keen to having some of the best players to ever lace up the skates. With 24 Stanley Cups, there is no doubt that these players helped accomplish great things for the "blue, blanc, rouge". However, the free agency period has brought the Habs both success and disappointments.
Free agency is supposed to be an easy way to pick up some skillful players. With the salary cap era in full force, it is sometimes tough to pick up some players for cheap and the Canadiens, like all teams, sometimes overpay for a certain player to bolster the roster. Some of the signed players make a huge mark on the franchise and prove their worth while others simply leave fans with a sour taste in their mouth and make them completely lose trust in team management.
From the general manager's point of view, it is sometimes hard to predict how well the player will perform on the Habs as sometimes their resume looks impressive but they end up losing their touch when they reach their new lineup. This is especially disappointing when the team signs a player who is already in a decline in their career as this is money that could have been used to sign a more meaningful player.
In the end, like all teams, the Montreal Canadiens need to cut their loses and strive to sign only the best players who would only provide a positive impact on the organization. They have done so, quite a few times actually but other times we are just left wondering, "what in the world was the GM thinking?"
15 Best: Hal Gill
In the 2009 offseason, the Montreal Canadiens signed Hal Gill to a two-year, $4.5 million contract. A veteran defender is what the Habs were looking for in Hal and this is exactly what they got and more.
One thing we need to get straight is that the Habs did not get Gill to score goals. His job was to block shots and provide his goaltender reassurance. Hal accomplished this with ease. His first season saw him score 9 points in 75 games but accompanied with this was 82 hits and 150 blocks. Gill had similar stats for the next two seasons that he played in Montreal. In February of 2012, the Canadiens decided to part ways with Hal Gill by trading him to the Nashville Predators.
14 Worst: Georges Laraque
The Montreal Canadiens signed hometown native Georges Laraque in the 2008 offseason. It appalls many that Laraque signed for three years and carried an annual cap hit of $1.5 million. What exactly did Laraque do for the Habs during his tenure? Not much.
Georges played less than 8 minutes per game and was literally only put on when the team needed some grit or a fight to spark things up. This was definitely not worth $1.5 million and his total offensive output of 1 goal in 61 games didn’t make things any better. To make matters even worse, the Canadiens actually had to buy out his contract in July of 2010. This a lesson learned for Montreal. Gritty fourth line players do not increase offensive productivity.
13 Best: Mike Keane
Before the 1985-86 NHL season, the Montreal Canadiens took a chance and signed winger Mike Keane. There wasn’t much concern here as this was low risk and could yield high rewards for Montreal. The high rewards are exactly what the Habs got out of this signing.
Keane was a solid player for this organization. He got better and better each year in the 8 seasons he spent in Montreal. Mike hit a career high 60 points in the 1992-93 season and eventually helped the Habs to a Stanley Cup after a 15-point playoff performance for his team. This signing was looking like a steal but with tensions flaring he was sent in a trade with goaltender Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche in 1995. He won another cup with Roy in 1996 and a third Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999. It is safe to say, Mike Keane retired with glory.
12 Worst: Manny Malhotra
Manny Malhotra was signed to a one-year deal in the 2014 offseason to bolster the bottom six group of the Canadiens. Manny was the faceoff king. In the 900+ NHL games he has appeared in, Malhotra has won an insane 59% of the faceoffs he has taken but was this enough to justify the signing?
Let’s face it. Malhotra was nearing the end of his career as his offensive output was practically non-existent. With one goal in 58 games, the only upside that he had was his faceoff win rate. In the end, the Canadiens made the right choice by letting him hit free agency in the offseason as they would soon trade for a younger and better forward named Bryan Flynn, to solidify their bottom six unit.
11 Best: Doug Gilmour
The last free agent signing on this list from the pre-salary cap era is forward Doug Gilmour. Doug was signed in 2001 and was looking to continue his already distinguished career.
Gilmour made his Canadiens debut in the 2001-02 season. At 38 years of age, he was quite impressive, scoring 10 goals and 41 points in 70 games. Doug played one more season in Montreal before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 6th round pick. He announced his retirement shortly after that. In the end, Montreal fans got some offensive strength from Gilmour and even near the end of his career, he played his best and put out some respectable stats. Doug retired the next season as a Maple Leaf and was inducted into the hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
10 Worst: Mathieu Dandenault
After winning two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, Mathieu Dandenault was offered a four-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens. For $1.75 million per season, Montreal seemed to have a two-time Stanley Cup champion on their bottom-six unit.
This feat didn’t hide the fact that he seriously underperformed on the Habs. In those four seasons, Dandenault netted just 20 goals and 54 points in 252 games. His help in the postseason was non-existent as well which made matters even worse. Mathieu’s best years were spent on the Red Wings and the Habs simply got the worst years of his career. It is unfortunate but this is a lesson learned for the Habs; do not lock up unproven bottom six forwards to long-term deals. Dandenault retired at the end of his contract.
9 Best: Erik Cole
In the 2011 offseason, the Montreal Canadiens acquired one of the key pieces from the Carolina Hurricanes 2006 Stanley Cup win. Erik Cole was ready to step up for Montreal after signing a 4-year deal carrying an average annual value of $4.5 million.
Cole shined in his first season. He posted a 35 goal, 61-point campaign which proved he still had some gas left in the tank. The next season was a different story. In just 19 games, Erik posted just six points and the only reason that saved him from being put on the worst signings was the fact that the Canadiens traded him to the Dallas Stars. Cole’s career starting to near its end from there but it wasn’t Montreal’s problem any longer as they had Michael Ryder and a 3rd round pick in return for his services.
8 Worst: Daniel Briere
The Montreal Canadiens decided to bring in another Quebec forward in the 2013 offseason. Daniel Briere was coming off an already sub-par season and so the Canadiens did what they do best, offer loads of money to aging forwards. A two-year, $8 million deal is what Briere got from Montreal.
Briere’s performance in Montreal can be described in one word; underwhelming. With 13 goals and 25 points, this was nowhere near what Daniel posted in his time with the Philadelphia Flyers. Noted that Briere was 36 years old and obviously his stats would not be the same. If only the Canadiens saw this but they did make up for it somehow. Before things got worse, they traded him to the Colorado Avalanche for P.A. Parenteau and a 5th round pick. This softened the blow.
7 Best: Brian Gionta
Brian Gionta’s career on the New Jersey Devils is one that would not be forgotten. With a 48 goal season on his resume, Montreal fans were excited to hear that management inked Brian to a 5-year, $25 million contract. While Gionta’s stats were not incredible, he took the realms of captaincy and tried his best to lead the dwindling Habs to a successful playoff run.
Gionta scored 28 and 29 goals in each of his first two seasons at the Bell Centre but his stats started to slow down as he aged year after year. This was on the Canadiens management for signing him to a long-term deal, considering he was already in his 30s at the time of signing this contract. Gionta showed leadership but the Habs core just was not strong enough to back him up.
6 Worst: Alexander Semin
The Carolina Hurricanes surely regret signing Russian forward Alexander Semin to a 5 year, $35 million contract back in 2013. After scoring at a point per game pace in the first season of his contract, Semin was posting an abysmal 19 points in 57 games by the time this deal was just halfway done. It’s safe to say the Canes were glad to have Alex off the books.
Onto the Habs. In the 2015 offseason, Montreal saw some skill left in the young forward and signed Semin to a one year deal worth $1.1 million. Let’s just say the Canadiens could have lived without this singing as Alex put up a mediocre one goal and 4 points in the first 15 games of the season. If you want a final answer to Semin’s season, he was placed on waivers in December of that same year...
5 Best: Mike Cammalleri
Mike Cammalleri is another one of the few forwards that had a quite successful run at the Bell Centre. Picked up in the 2009 offseason by the Montreal Canadiens, Mike signed a five-year deal that would pay him $6 million per season. The Habs were expecting greatness out of Cammalleri as the previous season saw him post a career high 39 goals with the Calgary Flames.
Mike did not surpass that career high but his performance in Montreal was decent. He starred in 170 games for Montreal and posted 119 points in that span. Where Cammy came up big was in the postseason. Mike was a great playoff asset for the Habs. He has an insane 17 goals in 32 total postseason games. Talk about clutch. Unfortunately, this did not equate to a Stanley Cup win but that is a team effort and not a solo one.
4 Worst: Alexei Emelin
Alexei Emelin is the most overpaid defender on the Montreal Canadiens roster. How exactly did it get to this point? Well, it starts with the ridiculous contract he was offered back in November of 2013. With a no trade clause and a $4.1 million yearly salary, Emelin had a lot to prove in those four years to even come close to being worth that amount of money.
We are now 2017 and Montreal has been recently eliminated from the playoffs. The Habs faced a New York Rangers team that was ready to make its mark. They evidently lost in six games and $4.1 million Emelin played in only two of those games. This speaks for itself and while Montreal may be his draft team, Emelin did leave to play in the KHL to tone his skills and made a comeback when he was offered a contract by Montreal. To this day, Alexei is a career minus-18 and while he does deliver many bone crushing hits to his opponents, his sloppy defensive play and his large salary overshadow his positives.
3 Best: Roman Hamrlik
The Montreal Canadiens struck gold when they signed Czech defender Roman Hamrlik in the 2007 offseason. Roman was 33 years of age at the time and he was more than capable of solidifying the top four defensive unit for Montreal. With a 65-point season under his belt, Hamrlik was ready for the task that was presented to him.
It is acceptable to say that Hamrlik played some good hockey for Montreal. He suited up for 312 games in four seasons in which he acquired 119 points and a +15 rating. He was also not shy to help his goaltender by blocking more than 150 shots a season. A defenceman that can put his body on the line like that shows perseverance and Hamrlik was quite the iron man, playing in a minimum of 75 games a season and showing Montreal fans why he deserved his spot in the lineup.
2 Worst: David Desharnais
David Desharnais was turning heads when he put up 16 goals and 60 points in the 2011-12 season for Montreal. This earned him a sizeable contract in 2013, which netted him $3.5 million for the next four years. Desharnais posted one more decent season after he signed this deal, netting 52 points in the 2013-14 season. He also posted a 48-point season in the following year.
Sadly, this was the downfall for David. He was constantly the go-to guy for former coach Michel Therrien, who shockingly would play him as his number one centre. Desharnais was far from a number one centre and this is the biggest reason why he makes this list. Montreal management needed a wakeup call after he posted just 29 points in the 2015-16 season. Even more shocking, David was still being played in the top-six even after such a disastrous season. In the end, Montreal made the right call by firing Therrien and trading Desharnais to Edmonton as the team was better off without both of them.
1 Best: Alexander Radulov
Alexander Radulov was a complete success for the Monteal Canadiens. Signing a one year deal worth $5.75 million in 2016, Radulov was attempting to regain his presence in the NHL after his 5-year departure to the KHL. This is indeed what he accomplished.
In his first season, Radu posted 18 goals and 54 points. The highlight reels of the plays he made during the season were incredible. Alex was the primary assist on many of the goals he took part in and seeing him cut through defenders after not playing in the NHL for so long proves that he hasn’t lost his touch. Radulov was even better in the postseason and his one-handed goal on Henrik Lundqvist is one that will be showed on the highlight reels for years to come. Alex is full of talent and Montreal’s main priority this offseason should be to re-sign him and get him a better supporting cast for a potential successful Stanley Cup run next year.
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