The Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild were the latest teams eliminated from the 2013 Stanley Cup conference quarterfinals.
Both clubs bowed out in five games; the Canadiens falling to the Ottawa Senators, the Wild to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Injuries were a contributing factor for both clubs. The Canadiens lost five regulars, while the Wild’s top goalies were sidelined over the course of their series.
Their early demise can also be blamed as their respective weak play over the final weeks of the regular season carrying over into the playoffs.
The Canadiens outplayed and out-chanced the Senators, but were stymied by the goaltending of Craig Anderson, who outperformed Habs starter Carey Price up until the latter’s season-ending leg injury late in Game Four.
Price’s critics among the Canadiens fan base want him dealt, with the more deluded calling for either Ryan Miller from Buffalo, Jonathan Bernier from Los Angeles or even Roberto Luongo from Vancouver as his replacement. Their pleas, however, will fall upon deaf ears.
While inconsistency continues to dog Price, the Canadiens remain invested in him for another five years at an average annual cap hit of $6.5 million. He’s not moving anytime soon, nor for that matter is his trusty backup Peter Budaj, inked for two more years at a reasonable $1.4 million per.
The blueline contains a blossoming superstar (Subban), a fading star (Markov), promising talent (Emelin, Tinordi) and small but hardworking stalwarts (Gorges, Bouillon), along with the unlucky (Diaz), the expendable (Kaberle, Weber) and the uncertain (Drewiske).
What’s lacking is a proven physical blueliner capable of logging big minutes and punishing anyone foolish enough to take liberties around the Habs net.
At forward, the Habs have plenty of promise in Lars Eller (provided his horrific head/facial injuries suffered in the Senators series doesn’t make him gun-shy) and rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher.
The seemingly indestructible Max Pacioretty is good for 30-35 goals and 60-65 points per season. Tomas Plekanec is a reliable, if overpaid, two-way center. Brandon Prust proved an invaluable physical leader.
David Desharnais, Michael Ryder and Travis Moen disappointed, team captain Brian Gionta and Colby Armstrong faded, Rene Bourque improved but was hampered by injury, and Ryan White was energetic but mistake-prone.
The Habs have decent skill up front, especially from their younger stars, but they’re still lacking physical clout, which was evident as the series against the Senators ground on. They don’t need goons, but another pair of Prust-like players to provide a welcome boost of muscle.
CapGeek.com reports the Canadiens only have $2.269 million in cap space next season, but without any significant members of their core to re-sign.
It’s expected, however, they’ll use their remaining compliance buyout to rid themselves of the final year (at $4.25 million) of Kaberle’s contract. Bergevin could also move some salary via trade for an affordable piece to help his roster.
As for the Wild, last year’s expensive additions Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were certainly positive influences, but they couldn’t overcome the other roster shortcomings.
The Wild must decide if they’ll re-sign or replace starting goalie Niklas Backstrom, who’s eligible for UFA status this summer. They’ve extended Josh Harding for two years, but given his MS, he’s probably best suited as a backup.
On defense, the Wild have a promising young blueliner in Jonas Brolin and another possibly on the way next season in Matthew Dumba. Tom Gilbert, who has another season at $4 million on his contract, was a disappointment this year. Suter, of course, had a Norris-worthy season.
Like the Habs, the Wild could benefit from an experienced physical shut-down defenseman.
Scoring punch remains very much an issue for the Wild. They were the lowest-scoring team in the opening round, and failed to cash in with the man-advantage against the Blackhawks. This was merely a carry-over from the regular season, as they were the third-lowest scoring team to make the playoffs (only San Jose and Ottawa averaged fewer goals-per-game).
The Wild could use one or two more proven scoring forwards, but with over $55 million invested in 17 players for next season, they don’t have the cap space to add one via free agency. That money will be invested in Backstrom (or his replacement), RFAs Cal Clutterbuck, Jared Spurgeon and Justin Falk, plus re-signing or replacing UFA forwards Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle acquitted themselves well during the series against Chicago, and Mikael Granlund could be ready for full-time duty next season.
Management could draw again from their depth in promising young talent to land an experienced scorer, as they did in acquiring Jason Pominville from Buffalo at the trade deadline, but such a move would be short-sighted, mortgaging the future for a short-term fix.
It’s also possible the Wild use one or both of their compliance buyouts to free up cap space to re-sign a core player as well as use the savings to pursue an affordable scorer via free agency. The fading Dany Heatley could be a candidate, provided he’s recovered from his season-ending shoulder injury. The inconsistent Devin Setoguchi could be another.
While the Wild shocked the hockey world last summer with the two biggest free agent signings, this summer could see more low-key moves, with an eye upon promoting their promising talent.