More speculation on which players will or won’t return with the Montreal Canadiens next season.

MONTREAL GAZETTE: Pat Hickey reports Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier said he was proud of his team’s performance this season but also admitted all options were on the table for putting together next season’s roster. It’s believed assistant coach Kirk Muller will become the new head coach of the Dallas Stars once their new ownership is in place. Gauthier’s priority will be in sorting out his defense, as he’s currently carrying 11 blueliners and obviously he won’t bring all of them back. Only Jaroslav Spacek and P.K. Subban are under contract for next season. The Habs GM intends to make re-signing UFA Andrei Markov and RFA Josh Gorges his priority. His comments about the importance of team chemistry likely means Hal Gill will return to play alongside Subban next season. Roman Hamrlik wants to return but he would have to accept a huge pay cut from his current salary of $5.5 million. Assuming the salary cap remained at $59 million, Hickey noted Gauthier would have $25 million of available cap space, believing Markov and Gorges would eat up a significant chunk, meaning not enough left to re-sign James Wisniewski or Brent Sopel. Hickey also wondered what options Gauthier could have for under-performing Scott Gomez and his $7 million-plus per season salary. Forwards Max Pacioretty, Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot are restricted free agents, but of the three Pacioretty seems the most likely to get a multi-year contract, while the latter two don’t appear to be priorities. Hickey suggested the Habs could shop Kostitsyn and Pouliot. Hard-working FAs Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Darche should get new contracts, while promising young FAs David Desharnais, Lars Eller and Ryan White should also return. Backup Alex Auld is a UFA but he too could be welcomed back. Hickey doubts Gauthier will be a major player in this summer’s UFA market but noted Gauthier isn’t ruling out making moves to benefit the franchise.

CANADIAN PRESS: Bill Beacon reported Gauthier wants to retain Markov despite the blueliner’s recent injury history but also noted he’ll keep all his options open. Gauthier also confessed his concern about Gomez’s declining production but added he was pleased to hear the center was also unhappy with his performance, believed he let the team down, and hopes to make amends next season.

CANOE.CA: Yvon Pedneault also speculated on the Canadiens options with Gomez, including a contract buyout or burying him and his salary in the minors next season. Pedneault also believes Pouliot, Tom Pyatt and Alexandre Picard won’t be back next season. He also speculated about Hamrlik perhaps getting a two-year, $3.5 million contract offer, doesn’t believe Brent Sopel or Paul Mara will be back, and wondered if Hal Gill might be re-signed if there were better options, like Kevin Bieksa, Joni Pitkanen, Christian Ehrhoff, Eric Brewer or Scott Hannan, were available on the free agent market. Pedneault also believes Wisniewski’s future with the Habs could be tied to the club’s contract negotiations with Markov, suggesting him as an alternative if Markov’s talks fall through.

Louis Butcher meanwhile reported Gill believes the Canadiens have the potential to become a championship team, believes fans have accepted his role with the team, and expressed his desire to return. Hamrlik told Butcher remaining with the Canadiens is his priority and acknowledged he’s have to accept a pay cut to do so, while Brent Sopel said he’d like to return but that decision would be up to management.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: While Gauthier has significant decisions to make regarding his defense corps for next season it’s apparent most of the key players are likely to return. My guess is Markov will be back, but if talks should fall through, Wisniewski could be “Plan B”. Gorges will definitely be re-signed, and given Gill’s chemistry with Subban he too should be back for at least one more season. Hamrlik’s willingness to accept less money to return is admirable, but given his age I’d look toward younger options if they’re available. If Gauthier does re-sign Hamrlik it should only be for a one-year deal and certainly for no more than $3 million. Sopel and Mara won’t be re-signed, and if Markov is re-signed, Wisniewski will likely be a goner too. Pouliot most definitely won’t be back, but Kostitsyn isn’t a certainty to move if the Habs can’t find a suitable replacement, though I don’t see him getting a multi-year extension. If however there’s a better option available via trade or free agency, then Kostitsyn probably would be dealt. Auld could return too, but if not there’s plenty of affordable, experienced backups available in this summer’s UFA market. The Canadiens are set in goal, and should have a very good defense corp next season, but Gauthier must start addressing his team’s lack of big, physical, skilled forwards. That’s going to take time, but it’s long overdue to start addressing that issue. He won’t have enough cap space to land a big star after he’s done addressing his blueline signings, but it might be possible to bring in one or possibly two affordable physical forwards with size and decent skills via trade or free agency.