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The 2012 unrestricted free agent class has widely been considered to be weak. It is particularly thin on the blueline where there are only a handful of impact players on the market that nearly every team will be coveting. To kick off our UFA coverage, we focus on the defencemen and who is available.
One of the areas that some fans think Marc Bergevin would like to add to is a bonafide minute muncher. Sadly, there are just ten defencemen available who averaged 20 minutes per game or more last season (and one of them played less than 20 games). Having someone to help on the penalty kill (to help offset Hal Gill's lost minutes) is also an area that could be upgraded. Beyond the one top d-man out there (Ryan Suter), let's look at some of the names that could be getting a phone call shortly after noon eastern time.
Adrian Aucoin: There has been interest from both Aucoin and the Habs in the past although a contract has never come to fruition. He no longer is the offensive threat he once was and is now a typical stay-at-home defenceman. Durability is a bit of a concern but when healthy he can give a team second pairing minutes while helping out on the penalty kill. At his age (38), he likely would be willing to take a one year pact.
Bryan Allen: Offence is not something you're going to get out of this blueliner (he has hit the 20 point mark all of once in his career) but he brings a lot of intangibles to the table. For starters, he has the size that Montreal's back end needs while he also plays a physical game and will block shots. Given the rising value of these types of players and their lack of availability on the market, it will probably require a long-term deal above the $2.9 million cap hit he has had the past five seasons.
Matt Carle: There are rumblings he may already have a deal in his pocket with the Flyers that can't be announced due to the NHL's tagging rules (the value of the new deal would put them over the current salary cap). If he opts to listen to what's out there, he's likely to get some big offers as one of the rare defencemen capable of playing at all ends of the rink while also being one of the youngest players available. If the Dennis Wideman contract is a comparison, he might price himself out of the Habs' range in a hurry.
Jason Garrison: The one consistent element over Garrison's career is his willingness to play physical and block shots. That alone would get him a good contract in this market. His breakout offensive season is what will make teams hesitate some, was it a fluke or a sign of things to come? If you want the Habs to go after a 'home run,' this would be the player; if his scoring abilities continue, his new deal may wind up being a bargain even if it is pricey.
Milan Jurcina: Although it's hard to do, look away from the -34 rating he posted this year. He is a defensive minded and physical third pairing defenceman with good size. As his upside is only that of a bottom pairing player, he won't cost a ton of money to acquire. If Montreal's focus is up front primarily, he wouldn't be a bad addition as a 5th-7th player.
Filip Kuba: A year ago, Ottawa was pretty much willing to give him away for nothing. Now? He'll be one of the more sought after d-men on the market. He can still play top-4 minutes and brings some offensive abilities to the table. Despite his reputation as a bit of a soft player, he doesn't hesitate to block shots while his hit totals more than doubled from 2010-11. Despite his 35+ status, I figure he'll get a two or three year deal; he'd be a pretty good insurance policy if there are still concerns about the health of Andrei Markov.
Michal Rozsival: He has often been criticized for his cap hit to the point where he has been underrated the past couple of years. He's not the point producer he once was but he still can play second pairing minutes while being defensively responsible. Durability has been a concern the past couple of years which could help keep his cap hit in a more reasonable range though he'll still get at least a two year deal.
Bryce Salvador: He was one of the most interesting stories of New Jersey's run to the finals. His point production in the playoffs alone equalled the second highest single regular season points total in his career which should bump his new contract up. That aside, he's a steady third pairing defender that can help to anchor a penalty kill. Despite having concussion issues, I think he'll get a multi-year deal which is why I'd stay away.
Justin Schultz: Although I doubt Montreal is on his reported shortlist, he needs to be mentioned. Upside wise, he sits either at or close to the top in this class of free agents although the risk factor is there as well. I'm not sure he can step in and play top-4 minutes right now but he should be able to down the road. Given the amount of suitors, he'll have a max ELC with a cap hit of over $3.5 million.
Greg Zanon: If the Habs are looking to sign a poor-man's version of Josh Gorges, this is the guy to get. Offence is more or less a foreign concept to him, all he does is block shots and hit. He'd best be utilized alongside an offensive minded defenceman to allow them to take some risks. He was acquired fairly cheap at the trade deadline by Boston which suggests he might be a bit undervalued. At 32, a multi-year deal wouldn't be the end of the world either.