Montreal Canadiens: Pierre Gauthier will have money to spend on free agents

Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier has some extra cash to spend when the National Hockey League’s free agency market opens at noon Friday.

The Canadiens’ situation became clearer Wednesday when (a) Roman Hamrlik rejected the Canadiens’ offer of a one-year contract; (b) Montreal traded the rights for impending unrestricted free agent James Wisniewski to Columbus for a draft pick; and (c) Yannick Weber was signed to a two-year deal worth $1.7 million.

The Weber signing brings the total of signed players to 17 with a salary cap commitment of $50,345,510. The Canadiens still have to sign defenceman Josh Gorges, Ryan White and another forward and a backup goalie. Once Gauthier satisfies those needs, he should have at least $8 million to spend on another defenceman and/or a forward, preferably one with some size.

The big prize in the free-agent sweepstakes is Dallas forward Brad Richards. He can make the decision on where he wants to play and the Canadiens aren’t on his list.

Names that have been thrown around include affordable players who could add some size to the bottom two lines. Pittsburgh’s Michael Rupp is in the mix, although I would prefer an aggressive push for his teammate Tyler Kennedy, who became a UFA because the Penguins didn’t qualify him. Pittsburgh did so because they didn’t want to risk Kennedy going to arbitration and they still hope to sign him. He’s not big at 5-foot-11, but he plays with an edge and picked up the slack when the Penguins lost Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Aaron Asham, who started his career in Montreal, is available and so is Ville Leino. Then there are big bodies like Ben Eager, Michal Handzus and Alexei Ponikarovsky. And then there’s Bobby Butler, a former U.S. college scoring star who made an impression on the Canadiens last season when he was called up from Binghamton by the Ottawa Senators, scoring a goal and adding two assist vs. the Canadiens in a game last April.

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