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Preview: Habs GM

Habs GM

Updated: 2018-03-05T21:31:43.331-08:00


The Alex Effect


Pierre Gauthier signed Alexandre Picard and Alex Henry this week, further bolstering the depth on an already strong blueline. In fact, defense is where the Habs are strongest.

In so doing, Gauthier no doubt learned from the drubbing that Philly handed them in the playoffs. The Flyers were hardly a fashionable pick to win the East, esp when they were down to their third-string goalie, and with a couple of injured top-6 forwards.

But an incredibly strong blueline corps carried them through, and were inexplicably able to take two games from the Blackhawks (who had superior goaltending and more talented forwards).

The Habs already had a deep set of NHL-ready defensemen, but chose to let go of Bergeron and Mara. It was doubtful that either would settle for the two-way deals that Picard and Henry signed, enabling the Habs to leave them in Hamilton until they might be needed. Yannick Weber and/or Mathieu Carle would be the only Bulldogs the Habs had that might be able to make the jump. But Picard especially leapfrogs those two, and enables the Habs to allow the younger set to more fully develop at the AHL level.

Bergeron especially should find a home on an NHL team. His kind of PP prowess would be valuable to some teams, even if he has to play as a 6th or even a 4th line forward. With the revelation that was PK Subban, the Habs simply didn't need him anymore.

As far as when Picard (or Henry, should the Habs need more of an enforcer-type) might be called up, mark February 1 on your calendar. That's when Hamrlik's limited no-trade clause expires. The Habs will then be free to trade him to any team, not just the six he specified before then.

Hamrlik carries a significant cap hit, but his salary will be mostly paid by that time. His contract also expires at the end of the year, so he might make an attractive piece for a team making a playoff push but needing a #3 or #4 dman who can play on the 2nd PP unit and provide stable defensive help. They get the help without the lingering cap hit, and could be free to negotiate a more suitable contract for a defenseman of his age and skill set (somewhere below Spacek's $3.833M/yr).

And with the cap space gained by the Hamrlik trade, Gauthier could get a top 6 forward from another team looking to gain some value from a UFA they know they won't/can't resign. That is, assuming the Habs are still contenders at that point. If not, Hamrlik will probably just be traded for draft picks and/or prospects.

But if the Habs are contending, who might be that soon-to-be UFA top 6 forward? It could be Simon Gagne, if the Yzerman-makeover in Tampa Bay doesn't pay playoff dividends in it's first year. Granted he has a full no-trade clause, but he might just waive it for another chance at the Cup. The numbers work at least: he makes $250k less than Hamrlik.

Still all of this only works if O'Byrne is ready. O'Byrne will start the season as the 7th, but could conceivably take Hamrlik's slot by early next year. Gauthier could then and call up Picard (or Henry) as their 7th.

But if O'Byrne isn't ready, and the Habs are still playoff contenders, expect Hamrlik to stay put.

Getting Creative


What exactly was Peter Chiarelli thinking when he traded for Nathan Horton? The guy has tons of potential, but isn't worth the $4M cap hit he carries. Now of course, he's not exactly the waste of cap space that Michael Ryder turned out to be (also $4M). But for a team desperate to clear space, this wasn't a wise move.

So now Blake Wheeler, one of their up and coming stars, needs to be signed. An RFA, he was eligible for arbitration, and took it. Unfortunately, the Bruins only have $12, 229 in cap space after the Horton deal, according to And with that $12, 229 Chiarelli needs to sign another three forwards. Given that the NHL minimum salary is $500,000, I'd say Chiarelli has a bit of a math problem.

But Chiarelli's problem could be Gauthier's opportunity. Despite some missteps (the Gomez trade in particular), the Habs are in decent cap shape. Could Gauthier swing a sign-and-trade deal for Wheeler?

It all depends on two things: how much the arbitrator gives to Wheeler and how much Price ultimately signs for. The latter could have been settled by now had Gauthier been a bit wiser in playing his cards. We've gone over this in the last few posts, so no need to revisit that subject again.

But what would Wheeler get? Mason Raymond recently avoided arbitration by agreeing to a deal carrying a cap hit of $2.55M. Raymond is a bit smaller than Wheeler, a year older, one year's more NHL experience, and better stats: 25G/28A to Wheeler's 18G/20A in the same number of games. So based on Raymond's contract alone, Wheeler might get a deal worth $1.5M to $2M.

But the Habs only have $4.7M in cap space, and still need to sign Price and two forwards to fill out their roster. The only way this works is if Price signs for a reasonable $2.2M (his old cap hit), leaving $2.5M for Wheeler and another forward. That other forward would have to be someone like the diminutive but talented David Desharnais ($550K), leaving $1.95M for Wheeler.

And who would the Bruins take in return? Obviously they need some lower paid talent, so draft picks and/or raiding the Bulldogs' roster would be the only recourse. One could see Max Pacioretty ($910K) or Ben Maxwell ($850K), but Chiarelli would be wiser to aim for someone with potential but earning near the minimum. That might mean JT Wyman or Ryan Russell, each on one year deals for $550K.

But this all begs the question: why Wheeler? Everyone knows the Habs' main weakness is their lack of size up front. Wheeler addresses that with his 6-5, 205 lb frame. He's also right handed, and thus could take Kostitsyn's spot on the line with Cammalleri and Plekanec. That would push Kostitsyn into competition with Pouliot for the left wing spot on the second line -- a good thing since both players tend to disappear for stretches at a time, and both will be playing for a new contract.

The loser of that battle could then be pushed down to the third line, with Ellers in the middle and Lapierre on the right. That would give the Habs' much better scoring depth.

What's Price worth?


The Habs have a few remaining pieces to round out their roster for next year, the biggest of which is RFA Carey Price. As reported here earlier, Gauthier probably made a huge blunder by trading Halak and not signing a decent goalie to replace him (Alex Auld certainly doesn't qualify). Gauthier had the right idea by trading Sergei Kostitsyn for essentially the negotiating rights to Dan Ellis (and Dustin Boyd), as Ellis was one of the better goalies available. Maybe not as good as Turco or Nabokov, but certainly on a second tier.

But he still managed to fumble away that opportunity, letting Ellis sign elsewhere for a mere $500k more than what he eventually signed Alex Auld for. Now Price's agent is in the driver's seat, knowing that his client is the undisputed #1 goaltender going forward.

But this mistake aside, what should Price be paid? His cap figure from his original contract stood at $2.2M. But that certainly was inflated by his potential, not by what he had actually accomplished.

And the Habs can't afford much more than that anyway. According to Gauthier has about $4.7M left to sign Price as well as add a couple of forwards. The site makes a few assumptions about who will actually make the roster, including Boyd and Lars Ellers. These are reasonable assumptions, so one only needs to figure out who the two remaining forwards would be to arrive at the remaining cap space for Price.

Those forwards could be any of the following:
  • Max Pacioretty ($910k cap hit), another first rounder who could push Benoit Pouliot, Tom Pyatt and Mathieu Darche for playing time.
  • Ryan White ($850k), a gritty forward who would be the only right handed centerman on the team.
  • Alexander Avtsin ($607k), a big right winger who will only make around $67k playing for the Bulldogs. He could have made much more staying in the KHL, so he must think his chances of sticking with the big club are fairly good.
  • Ben Maxwell ($850k), who managed to grab a postseason roster spot with the Habs even though he could have been gaining valuable experience with the Bulldogs' own deep playoff run.
The safe bet for the remaining two spots would be on Maxwell and White. That would leave about $3M left for Price. One would hope that Gauthier would leave some cap room for future transactions, and sign Price for a more reasonable $2M cap hit. But Price's agent has almost certainly done the same math, and knows he can get more. And hence the prolonged standoff.

2010-11 Habs


The Habs made quite a bit of headway in securing next year's lineup, by signing all of their RFA's except Price and Lapierre, and their lone must-sign UFA, Tomas Plekanec. Given these signings plus the Halak trade, the lineup for 2010-11 is taking shape.

The goaltending and defense situations are the most obvious. Price has been handed the reins again as starting goaltender (a big mistake on Gauthier's part, at least from a negotiation standpoint). Alex Auld will be his backup. Price has a lot of potential, and we'll see if he can live up to it, especially with the rule changes governing pad sizes.

On the blueline, both Mara and Bergeron will no doubt not be re-signed. Instead, Gauthier will go with Markov, Subban, Hamrlik, Spacek, Gorges and Gill. O'Byrne will serve as the seventh. This gives Martin a better mix of left and right handed defensemen than last year. It also has a nice mix of youth and veteran experience, as well as stay at home types vs the offensive minded. This is clearly the strength of the Habs lineup.

Up front, the only changes are the UFA's that couldn't be re-signed due to cap issues: Moore and Metropolit. Moore was brought in to improve the Habs' percentages on faceoffs. He did a decent job in the regular season, but fell off precipitously in the playoffs. Lars Ellers will probably take his place, given his projection as a future second line center man.

Metropolit was a gritty fourth liner, and had a much needed right handed shot (used to good effect on the PP). But he doesn't fit with the Habs' desire for speed. Gauthier acquired and signed Dustin Boyd as a potential fourth line center man, but it says here that Boyd is just insurance in case Ryan White doesn't work out. White showed real promise last year, and would be the only right handed center in the lineup.

So that would probably leave the forward lines looking something like the following:
Cammalleri - Plekanec - Kostitsyn
Pouliot - Gomez - Gionta
Moen - Ellers - Lapierre
Pyatt - White - Darche

Kostitsyn is a RFA next year. This is his last chance to prove that he wasn't yet another first round bust for the Habs. There are a few others that could make the lineup and push players like Pouliot, White and Darche for playing time. Pacioretty and Boyd would be the most likely candidates to round out the lineup, but JT Wyman's size and right handed shot would fit nicely. Ben Maxwell is another candidate and got a long look last year, but rarely made an impact.

Overpaid, Pt II


In the last installment we examined the contract given to Tomas Plekanec. It looks like he was overpaid, especially for someone who hadn't hit the UFA market yet and wanted to stay a Hab.

Maybe the biggest impact of the Plekanec contract was on the backup goalie position. Earlier we presumed Gauthier wouldnt simply hand the keys over to Price, given Price's inconsistent play. So Gauthier traded malcontent Sergei Kostitsyn for essentially the negotiating rights to Dustin Boyd and, more importantly, Dan Ellis. Gauthier managed to sign Boyd, but Ellis went elsewhere -- for only $500k more than what the Habs ended up giving Alex Auld.

When one looks at the probable lineup for next year, its not hard to see that the Habs only had about $1M to offer a backup goaltender. But here's where the Plekanec contract comes back into play: if the Habs had $500k more in cap room, Ellis or (better yet) Johan Hedberg could have been in play. Both signed for $1.5M per and both are goalies with a much better track record than Auld. Even when Gauthier traded for the negotiating rights to Ellis, he still couldn't close the deal. Gauthier was probably trying to pitch the $1M cap hit contract, and Ellis knew he was worth more.

It doesnt stop there: now that Price's agent knows that Price is the man, his bargaining position suddenly got much better. And the Alex Auld signing only reinforced that position. If Ellis or Hedberg were signed instead, the message to Price and his agent would be: we still have options.

The Plekanec contract may have also affected how Gauthier could improve his corps of forwards. He wanted to leave it mostly intact, but obviously could not afford to re-sign Moore and Metropolit (at least not at their current salaries).

Still, the Habs desperately need size and some grit, something that was only provided consistently by Moen and Lapierre during the playoffs. And that size and grit was available, for a decent price: Adam Burish was signed by the Stars for only $1.15M in cap hit money. His Stanley Cup experience and right handed shot would have been an added bonus too. But instead the Habs signed Dustin Boyd, for $500K less.

So if Plekanec signs for a much more reasonable $4M per, the Habs would have had a chance at Burish, Ellis and Hedberg. Much better than Boyd and Auld.



There was much to like about the contract signed by Tomas Plekanec, not the least of which is that it came before both the draft and the July 1 free agent frenzy. It gave the Habs more certainty going into those critical periods.

The no-trade clause, while a potential negative, could also be viewed as a positive as it shows Plekanec's commitment to the Habs. He meant it when he said he wants to play in Montreal. The length in contract too is another sign of that commitment, and it also helps solidify the Habs pivot position for years to come.

When taken in conjunction with the Halak trade, it's obvious that their playoff MVP was moved to create the necessary cap space to sign Plekanec. And because Ellers was identified as the main player in return, one has to wonder about the future of Dominic Moore and/or Glen Metropolit in the short term, and Scott Gomez the long term. If Ellers works out as Gauthier thinks he will, he and Plekanec will form a solid one-two punch down the middle for the Habs.

But for all those positives, one has to wonder about the money. $5M seems a bit much for a player who seems to go invisible during the playoffs. By comparison, Ryan Kesler was in the same position as Plekanec (first time UFA at age 25) and also got $5M/yr. But Kesler also got fewer years, is a bigger body, had more points in both the regular season and playoffs, is better in the faceoff circle, and has a right handed shot to boot.

All of that says that the Habs overpaid Plekanec by maybe $1M/year. That kind of money would no doubt come in handy for a team that now has only $9M in cap space to sign their remaining free agents and fill out the roster.

Not as bad as it would seem


Trading your playoff MVP for a pair of prospects may not seem like the most shrewd opening move for Pierre Gauthier’s first offseason as Habs GM. But as we noted in our analysis of the Habs’ goaltending needs, small goalies like Halak were bound to be a bit of a risk.

So while Halak may be worth more than two (highly rated) prospects, he also might be worth less. At least Gauthier covered his bets by trading him to a Western Conference team, where Halak would be less likely to haunt his former team, either in the regular season or the playoffs.

And Gauthier did address some needs. The Habs are desperate for size up front, some scoring punch, and right handed shots. It’s too bad that all couldn’t be combined in the same player: if Ellers had Schultz’s size, grit and right handed shot, this would have been a much better deal. But Ellers may be the insurance Gauthier needs if he can’t sign Plekanec. Or if Gauthier can’t afford Plekanec by going after a big fish like Patrick Marleau instead. But the most likely reason for the trade is not the players received, but the cap space gained to both sign Plekanec and keep Hamrlik.

As we suggested in our blueline analysis, Hamrlik would be likely traded to gain the necessary space to sign Plekanec, Halak, and the rest. Little did we guess that it would be Halak traded to keep Hamrlik and Plekanec. Now Martin gets to keep his outstanding blueline intact, with O’Byrne as the seventh – meaning Bergeron’s days with the Habs are most likely over.

And from this perspective, the trade does make more sense. This offseason is chock full of established goalies that could be signed for a relative pittance. And signing one sooner than later would increase the pressure on Price's agent, instead of giving him free rein to assume Price is the automatic #1. And after his demotion to second string, Price can't assume anything.

Some have speculated that trading for the rumored-to-be-available Jeff Carter would be the better move. Certainly Carter would give the Habs a first line right winger with size and scoring punch. And he no doubt would have been the better pick than Andrei Kostitsyn in 2003. But his contract carries a $5M cap hit, basically placing the Habs in the same position as they were before the Halak trade: trade either Hamrlik or Gomez to free up some space to sign Plekanec and other FA's.

And perhaps that is the real end-game. Ellers has been talked up as a potential second line center. But the Habs already have Gomez and Plekanec. If Ellers turns out as Gauthier expects he will, then either Gomez or Plekanec will be expendable. And that will give the Habs much needed cap space in the 2011-12 season, when all the Habs dmen save O'Byrne and Subban will need to be re-signed.

Blueline outlook: all about the PK


And we're not talking penalty kill. PK Subban's playoff performance was a revelation, mostly in the good sense. Sure he had some Bergeron-esque adventures in the defensive zone. But these are the sorts of mistakes you expect from a 20 year old rookie.

And for that reason, we may have seen the end of Marc Andre Bergeron's tenure with the Habs. After all, at the end of the season, the Habs were carrying nine defenseman on their roster. Most teams only carry seven.

With the blueline depth the Habs currently have in the minors (Yannick Weber, Mathieu Carle, Shawn Belle, etc), they ought to be safe with carrying only 7 defensemen. Paul Mara will almost certainly be one of the nine to go.

But I think MAB's value on the PP and relatively light cap hit will keep him around. Instead look for Gauthier to move one of the more highly paid defensemen, especially since additional, more pricey help up front will be needed and UFA's and RFA's need to be re-signed.

Hamrlik and Markov are the most highly paid and trading either could help clear some cap space. But don't expect Markov to be traded. He proved his value to the club -- when he was out, the Habs struggled. Hamrlik is much more expendable, but it might be difficult to get someone to take on his salary.

Still, he is a veteran presence, and is often given credit for tutoring Dion Phaneuf during his stint in Calgary. He could fit in well on a team that is a little young on their blueline, which probably also means they have the cap space to fit him too.

One team that comes to mind are the Anaheim Ducks. They lost Pronger and Beauchemin last season, and this season may lose Niedermayer to retirement and Ward to free agency. That leaves them with Visnovsky as their sole veteran presence along the blue line.

The Ducks are also interesting because they have a plethora of young, big, right-handed forwards, exactly what the Habs lack. It's unlikely that they would part with Perry, Getzlaf or Ryan, and definitely not straight up for Hamrlik. But maybe a Lupul, Bodie or Brown? Lupul brings some cap issues in return, so other players would have to be involved. But he also brings more proven scoring prowess than the other two.

Gauthier might also consider trading Gill or Spacek, the next two most highly paid dmen. But both bring a lot of value relative to their cap hits, as evidenced during the playoffs. Gorges and O'Byrne are young, cheap and may be the new shut down pair for years to come. They're untouchable.

So next year, the defensive pairings may very well look like the following:

Next up: analyzing the forward line needs.

An Embarrassment of Riches


Today we look at the situation between the pipes. The Habs have two very good goalies. No, make that one outstanding goalie and another very good with a lot of promise. Both are young and restricted free agents this off-season.

As RFA's, the Habs could underpay them, offering them just enough to keep other teams at bay. Or the Habs could try to lock them up long term, beyond when they turn 27 and become eligible for UFA status. This would probably apply more to Halak (24 yrs old) than Price (22 yrs old).

But I don't think there will be any long term contracts for either, mostly because of rule changes next year. Goalie pads will now be regulated according to the size of the goalie. No more of those extra large pads that extend up to the goalie's waist.

The effect of those oversized pads was most noticeable with butterfly-style goalies. The pads closed up the five-hole, leaving the goalie free to use the paddle to cover up other areas.

One would think the rule change would affect Halak more than Price. After all, Price is a much bigger goalie than Halak, and covers up a lot of net with or without the large pads. But Halak showed a lot of mental toughness, especially during the playoffs.

Price hasn't shown that kind of toughness, given his propensity to let in a soft goal every so often. Still Price showed a lot of maturity in accepting his backup role, and could be seen encouraging Halak, practicing hard, and calling out teammates who didn't put in the necessary work. Even his two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in that one Washington game could be seen it this light. Sure he went a bit overboard with his team spirit, but knowing where the line is is something that comes with experience.

So while there is a lot of promise in their young netminders, there are a lot of question marks too. Bet on Gauthier offering a one or two year deal to Halak, in the $2M to $2.5M annual cap hit range. Price might get a longer contract, given his younger age, but at a lower annual cap hit. Maybe $1M to $1.5M?

These low amounts will also be necessary for Gauthier to re-sign most of his RFA's, as well as his important UFA's, none more important than Plekanec.

Up next: blue line changes.

UFA countdown


Now that the season is over, Pierre Gauthier and company can concentrate on what the next year may bring. And with such a long playoff run, they have a lot of data to sift through. But even without crunching the numbers, it's evident that the Habs are strongest on the blueline and between the pipes. These are great building blocks. So Gauthier must focus on how to upgrade his corps of forwards, and search for players with the skill and speed to match the Giontas and Cammalleris, but enough size to create space for them as well.

There is one player with all those qualities, and due to be an unrestricted free agent this July 1: Patrick Marleau. But with his 44 goals this regular season, and a similar performance in the playoffs (despite playing much of the time with No Show Joe), Marleau will be a hot commodity.

How hot? Currently he carries a $6.3M cap hit. To lure him away from the team that drafted him and the only team he has played for in his 12 years in the league, any GM would have to significantly boost that amount. His teammate Dany Heatley carries a $7.5M cap hit. With UFA inflation, that could easily go to $8M. There are some who question his mental toughness and and others who say he won't fare as well without Thornton. Both unfounded, especially given his most recent playoff performance, but they might serve to at keep him at or under $8M.

But the Habs are only $12M or $13M under the cap for next year. Much of that will go to signing or replacing three of their top four centers (Plekanec, Moore and Metropolit). Another chunk will go to re-signing RFA's, especially Halak. Assuming Marleau gets $7.5M to $8M and replaces Plekanec as the #1 center, then Moore and Metropolit would have to be replaced with minimum wage UFA's or minor leaguers (Maxwell and White?). And the RFA's will all have to be low balled, probably on one year deals while the Habs wait out the economy and hope for a higher cap the following year -- and also hope no other team is willing to part with the compensation necessary to pry away a Halak.

Or maybe there's another scenario where Marleau could wear le bleu, blanc et rouge. Maybe by replacing the only center who is under contract, a contract that just happens to carry a very similar cap hit as the one Marleau would command. We're talking about Scott Gomez of course. This topic has been addressed ad nauseum in this space. And nothing has changed, even during the course of the playoffs. Gomez is a good player. He's just not worth the cap hit he currently costs.

But it's that same issue that will make it almost impossible to trade him. So the Habs will either gut their roster to get Marleau, or have to look elsewhere. Next up: looking elsewhere.

Post mortem


Well, that was a helluva ride. Given that they were the 16th seed, rising to the top four is well beyond anyone's expectations. Still, there is room to improve and the deep run into the playoffs exposed this team's strengths and weaknesses.

To rate the individual pieces, we don't need to go into the tangible qualities of speed, skill and size. We know the Habs need size. But the playoffs exposes those intangibles that aren't so readily seen, especially heart, grit and determination. And here the Habs had some players who stepped it up in that department, some who stayed level with their regular season play, and others who looked completely lost:

The Lost: Pouliot, A. Kostitsyn and Plekanec.

With three shutouts against a third-string goalie, the top six forwards should have been more present. But these three especially somehow couldn't get it done. Granted, they were thrown against some of the better forwards and defensive pairings, but that didn't stop Gionta and Cammalleri from lighting it up.

The Level: Subban, Markov, O'Byrne, Bergeron, Spacek, Darche, Moen, Gomez, Moore, Price and Hamrlik.

Hamrlik almost ended up in the Lost category, given how slow he looked esp on every one of the shorthanded goals the Habs gave up. But his +4 night in their lone win against the Flyers makes up for those.

Bergeron could have gone either way. As a PP specialist, he was a flameout. Still, this was due at least in part to the opposition's knowledge that they had to get high in his shooting lane. So he didn't have many opportunities. And with the injury to Markov, and the general lack of scoring, he had to play a lot at even strength -- and a league worst plus/minus to show for it.

Moore and Moen provided some timely goals on occasion. But Moore was brought in for his faceoff prowess, and ended up a team worst 41%. Moen finished second on the team in hitting, but his weren't of intimidating kind that the team leader (Lapierre) seemed to provide.

The Lionhearted: Gill, Gorges, Cammalleri, Gionta, Pyatt, Lapierre and Halak

Gill and Gorges shut down the world's best scorers night in and night out. Gionta and Cammalleri accounted for almost half the Habs' goals. Pyatt and Lapierre provided secondary scoring, speed, defense, hitting, and energy. And if enough of the rest of the team played like these guys, we would be talking about Halak as Conn Smythe trophy winner.

It's unfortunate that more didn't step up their game. But getting that far into the playoffs can be a rich learning experience for a fairly young team. Which bodes well for next year.

Trade deadline 2010


As much as Gomez's contract is the single biggest albatross on the books right now, he probably won't be traded. Not with the Habs contending for a playoff spot, and Gomez dutifully (albeit expensively) centering the second line. Neither will Halak, not given his stellar clutch performances in the Olympics -- that kind of play will be needed in the next 20 games and come April.

No, there is another player who is 1) garnering interest; 2) will free up cap space for an additional acquisition this season; and 3) free up space for next season to sign various RFA's as well as Plekanec next year. That player is Hal Gill.

Gill's value in any one game can be correlated in inverse proportion to the number of skaters on the ice: 5-on-5, he's a liability; 5-on-3, his long reach can take away an entire side of of the ice. Further, his inability to skate is less evident in short-handed situations, esp when down 2 men. During those times, one needs positioning, reach and size more than foot speed.

And for this reason, the Penguins want him back -- and presumably others in the playoff hunt who need help on the PK. The Habs would do well to trade him. His $2.25M cap hit isn't much, but when added with the others that will come off the books next summer, it might be just enough to squeeze Plekanec in, as well as the minor raises due to various RFA's.

Gill may also be expendable because of the play of PK Subban. In his brief stint, Subban showed he was ready for the NHL. He might not be able to kill penalties like Gill, but his offensive prowess may more than offset that. Plus, on the odd occasion he did get beat on the defensive end, he quickly hustled back to get back in position.

There are other Habs who also may be expendable because of Subban, namely Bergeron and Mara. Bergeron would gain more interest because of his versatility and howitzer of a shot.

In return the Habs should be looking for more secondary scoring. When all four lines are clicking, an opposing coach will have difficulty determining matchups (see Canada's 4 game win streak to end the Olympics). The Plekanec and Gomez lines are settled, esp when Andrei Kostitsyn gets back. The fourth line could be comprised of Darche, Metropolit and Lapierre -- size, some speed and lots of grit. That leaves Moen, Sergei Kostitsyn and Dominic Moore for the third line.

While that line is defensively capable, it lacks much scoring punch -- aside from Kostitsyn. So it would be nice to ship Moore or Moen off for an upgrade on the offensive end, preferably someone with a right handed shot to balance out that line. And some size would be nice too.

That's a tall order, admittedly. But some combination of Gill, Mara, Bergeron and/or Moore (and maybe some prospects) could do the trick.

Oops, gotta go!


Such strange timing, even if one accepts Gainey's reasoning: a GM needs to be focused on the long term, and he doesn't see himself here for much longer. But if that's so, why not step down at the end of last season, when huge decisions had to be made about the future of the team?

To recap, half the team went UFA. He attempted to keep two: Kovalev and Komisarek. Both fortunately fled elsewhere for similar money, allowing Gainey to pick up better replacements: Gionta and Spacek. (Gainey seriously lucked out here). And then he let everyone else go, including replacing their long time captain with a similarly skilled centerman -- only to pay him twice as much. Or as Pierre LeBrun sums it up: "Mercy. The wrong center is making money in Montreal"

But Gainey now says he wants to let someone with a more long term commitment take over so that they can put their mark on the club? Sorry, bub, but you already did that -- and not very well either, given the Habs' tenuous hold on a playoff spot.

And that's actually worse than being a confirmed loser like the Leafs or Canes. At least they know they are sellers and have started rebuilding. The Habs have no idea what they will be before the March 3 trade deadline.

So now it will be Gauthier's problem to squeeze Tomas Plekanec under the cap. And so long as the Habs keep sniffing around a playoff spot, Gauthier will be forced to hold onto to Gomez, Gill, Halak and any other rumored departures. But he also can't sell off the future (including Price) for a short term rental, because even if they do get in, they're not going far.

Unmitigated Disaster? Times Two?


From's Scott Burnside, this little nugget in the aftermath of the big Phaneuf trade: "... Olli Jokinen, Sutter's big trade-deadline acquisition last season, ... has been an unmitigated disaster. Jokinen has just 11 goals and 35 points this season, far below what a top-line center making his kind of money ($5.5 million this season) should be producing. It's worth noting that Matthew Lombardi -- the roster player who went to Phoenix in the Jokinen deal -- has 10 goals and 35 points and is making $2.35 million."

Interestingly, this year Scott Gomez is making almost twice as much as Olli Jokinen. $10M to be exact. And he also has only 35 points, to go with only 7 goals.

So if Olli Jokinen is an "unmitigated disaster" what does that make Scott Gomez?

A proposal, v. 2


Dallas isn't the only Western Conference team in need of a long term goaltending solution and with significant cap space to. St. Louis also fits that description.The Blues are on the cusp of a playoff berth, but most likely staying home come playoff time. The Western Conference is far too competitive. They also draw decent crowds, a surprising 8th in the league in average attendance and better than 98% full arenas. Since the NHL is a gate-driven league, they ought to be able to afford to pay near the cap limit -- but are almost $9M below this season.So they could definitely afford the $7M+ hit that Gomez would bring (again, we're operating under the assumption that Gomez has to go in order for the Habs to free space to sign Plekanec and others). Gomez's almost point-per-game pace after lining up between Gionta and Pouliot also helps his trade value -- and the Blues could use another playmaking center to take some of the pressure off Andy McDonald.But Gomez's better play of late still doesn't justify his salary. The Habs need to dangle Halak (Price?) to make any deal worth making.Chris Mason is the Blues starting goaltender, but is 33 years old and a UFA this off season. He's not a long (or even medium) -term solution. He is posting respectable numbers (2.54 GAA/.911 SPCT), but so is his backup, Ty Conklin (2.58/ .922). Conklin is a UFA the season after next, and has a more manageable $1.3M cap hit. Halak would shore up at least their medium-term goaltending situation, and allow more development time for 19 year old Jake Allen.The Blues are also in the enviable position of having many good prospects in the pipeline, rated #1 by So they could afford to lose some veterans while picking up additional talent.And who would those veterans be? Like the Dallas proposal in the last post, the Habs would almost certainly have to pick up the current starting goaltender. In this case, that means Mason and his $3M cap hit.But the player the Habs should have their eyes set upon Brad Boyes. He's currently the Blues points leader, but apparently that's not tough to do: he only has 10 goals, and 24 assists. Still, he's a right handed shot with some size, and the Habs need more of those, esp of the scoring variety. He's also scored at least 65 points in his four full seasons, except for the one year he was traded. Boyes also carries a $4M cap hit, so with Mason the trade is almost a wash in terms of salary.So how might the Habs lineup look like with this trade? The loss of Gomez means a hole on the second line, probably filled by Sergei Kostitsyn. Or maybe Ben Maxwell, depending on how his most recent audition fares. A sample lineup:Cammalleri-Plekanec-A. KostitsynPouliot-S.Kostitsyn-GiontaMoen-Maxwell-BoyesDarche-Metropolit-LapierreSure, this lineup has a lot of issues, esp the lack of scoring punch on the third line (Boyes can't do it by himself). But moving Gomez is only about the future. Bringing in Boyes solidifies the right side. Mason's $3M deal comes off the books, and combined with Metropolit and Mara (and Bergeron?), that gives Gainey almost $6M to dole out next year, assuming the cap stays at the same level. That ought to be plenty to keep Plekanec and others, as well as bring in a playmaking center to slot behind Plekanec.That would leave the Habs looking something like this for 2010-11:Cammalleri-Plekanec-A. KostitsynPouliot-($2-3M UFA) -GiontaS.Kostitsyn -Maxwell-BoyesDarche-Lapierre-MoenThat gives the Habs three scoring lines, with some decent energy, size and defense for the fourth. But who would that second line center be? Well, there is a certain one-time captain who will be a UFA once again this offseason...[...]

A proposal


So Jaroslav Halak wants out? With Carey Price solidifying his play (save his troublesome glove hand; use a broken-in mitt, Carey!), Halak is somewhat expendable. "Somewhat" because Price hasn't proven that he can't be a Brodeur-like iron man. Martin has tried, at least twice starting Price in both games of a back-to-back. And both times Price looked good in the opener, and somewhat suspect in the closer. To wit:So a decent backup is needed. But what the Habs need more is cap space, to re-sign Plekanec especially. But it would be nice to re-up Bergeron too, and maybe Metropolit. And of the RFA's, Lapierre, Sergei Kostitsyn and especially Price are must-signs.But as we have seen from the last post, cap space will be hard to come by next season. While there is much speculation as to where the cap will actually be, let's assume it's the same as this year. Only $6.175M is coming off the books in UFA contracts. Two thirds of that could easily go to Plekanec. The rest would have to be split in raises to Price, Lapierre and Kostitsyn. Price alone could command the remainder of the UFA savings. He makes $2.2M in cap dollars today, and another $2M might not be completely outlandish to lock him up long term.So that leaves Metropolit, Bergeron, Lapierre and Kostitsyn out in the cold. And it also assumes that the other RFA's will be content to extend their contracts at the current levels.So what's a GM to do? The easy target is Gomez. He makes by far the most on the team, but is a second-line player. He was the same for the Rangers too, and Glen Sather really lucked out in finding someone stupid enough to take his fat contract so that he could sign points-leader Marian Gaborik.So if Gainey is to trade Gomez, he needs to package him with a player with real worth, and minimal cap hit. And that's where we get back to Halak. But who could afford the cap hit that Gomez brings, and also needs goaltending help? For some unknown reason, Gainey apparently shopped Halak to the Flyers. Sure they need the goaltending -- but trade an asset like Halak to an intra-conference rival pushing for the same playoff spot you are? No, a better target is someone in the Western Conference.Turns out that the Dallas Stars are at a crossroads in their goaltending situation. Marty Turco is a UFA at the end of the year, and has turned it around from last season's poor performance (2.81 GAA/.898 PCT). The Stars are weighing their options, but it certainly would help if they had someone to push Turco and thereby make the decision easier -- someone better than Alex Auld (3.16/.892). Even better if that someone came at a bargain-basement price like Halak.The Stars could definitely use the help. They are currently 6th in the league in goals scored, but only 21st in goals against. Halak by himself might not be able to cure this, but certainly would be an improvement on those nights that Turco doesn't play.Gainey ought to be very familiar with the Stars and their personnel, having come from their organization and consummated several deals with them over the years (Begin and Ribeiro for basically nothing). He should also know that they are significantly under the cap, to the tune of almost $10M. Playing in a 90+% full arena, they're not the Coyotes. They can afford to spend more.So the Stars might be willing to take on Gomez's huge contract, so long as it were sweetened with Halak. The Stars wouldn't have a problem fitting Gomez in as the second line center behind Ribeiro, as Richards easily slides over to the wing.And who would the Habs get? Draft picks or prospects might be enough in compensation, as the whole point of this exercise is to clear cap space. There are e[...]

Another look at the ugly


With a quarter of the season played, the last post looked at Bob Gainey's Extreme Habs Makeover. Most of it looked pretty good. A few bad moves, to be sure. And Gainey certainly got lucky by not re-signing a couple of players he had no business chasing in the first place. But the one thing that stood out was the trade for Scott Gomez. He's a good player, but just not worth what the Habs gave up, specifically... 1) A captain: Gomez has in effect replaced Koivu. They are both about the same size (Koivu: 5-10, 187 lbs; Gomez: 5-11, 200 lbs). Both shoot left. Both were playing as #1 centers, but would be bumped to #2 with the emergence of Tomas Plekanec. Both play the same aggressive forechecking game. And this year, Gomez has 3 goals and 11 assists mainly centering the high scoring Gionta and Cammalleri. Koivu has 3 goals and 8 assists (in two fewer games), centering the high scoring Teemu Selanne. You can go on and on about the similarities, even their success rate on the shootout (both 42%). Maybe the only statistical difference is in the faceoff circle: Koivu was the Habs' best faceoff man since the lockout ended, while Gomez has never been a go-to faceoff guy. This year continues that trend, with Gomez at 49.4% and Koivu at 53.3%.But it's the ability to lead a team that truly differentiate the two. I remember the game when Andrei Kostitsyn was blind sided with a nasty hit from Blair Betts in a game against the Rangers. The younger Kostitsyn immediately wanted to mix it up with any and all players from the opposing team. Then we see Koivu on the bench with his arm around Sergei, trying to talk him down. Sergei played the rest of the game with his usual edge, but kept his composure. There are countless other stories like that, including the seemingly impossible-to-coach Mikhail Grabovski saying that Koivu was his only friend on the Habs. I'm not sure that Koivu would have characterized the relationship that way, but it's obvious that he tries to at least build one with anyone he plays with. He's a consummate professional, and his sort of leadership is sorely missed.2) Blue line prospects: Both Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valetenko have the potential to be future defensive stars. Granted, potential is cheap, and neither may end up playing in the NHL (esp Valetenko), but having that kind of depth on the blue line is extremely important. Teaching defense is often much more difficult than teaching offense. The latter is innate. The former takes time and practice -- and lots of both. Some will make it through that teaching period, and some won't. And with the salary cap realities, cheap young players are relied upon more and more by all NHL teams.3) Injury replacements: Chris Higgins was always a player with a lot of potential. Some games he lived up to it; some games, not so much. He was also good in the locker room, and was talked up as a future captain. With the injuries this year, a player of his caliber would have come in handy, even playing first line minutes if need be. But his true skill seems to be on defense, scoring two short handed goals last year in limited playing time and was otherwise effective on the PK. When players came back from injury he could have pushed youngsters like Pacioretty, D'Agostini, Latendresse and either Kostitsyn for playing time, and could have helped transform the fourth line into an effective checking line. Plus his contract expires at the end of this year -- perfect timing for a shrinking cap.4) Cap space: This is where the Gomez trade hurts the most. Gainey could have kept Higgins and Koivu for much less than Gomez's cap hit this year. With that space, another sc[...]

Extreme Habs Makeover: the good, the bad and the ugly


So here we are, 23 games into the season. After a poor start, the team is definitely on the upswing, overcoming extensive injuries with disciplined play and outstanding goaltending. So is Gainey's pre-season plan of going small and fast up front, and big and experienced on the blue line paying off? Most of the acquisitions (and deletions) were for the better. Some, just the opposite. And one in particular looks like it will haunt the Habs for years to come. A look at all of the pre-season changes:The GoodFirst the acquisitions:Mike Cammalleri: Leads the team in goals, despite being bounced around between the first and second lines. Bonus? Leads the team in +/-.Brian Gionta: Second on the team in goals, and provides valuable leadership to boot. He won the Cup with New Jersey, and is the closest thing to a captain the Habs currently have.Jaroslav Spacek: Leads all defensemen in +/- and second to defense partner Hamrlik in ATOI.Travis Moen: His size has been effective in playing the kind of puck possession game Martin desires, and wears down opposing defenses with his aggressive forecheck (leads the team in hits). This sort of grinding style will pay off in the playoffs -- assuming the Habs reach the playoffs. Bonus? Cup-winning experience in Anaheim, and his unexpected offense. Jacques Martin: Sure he's not a player, but he was a good hire. The players seems to be buying into his system, winning even with half the team as callups from Hamilton. Hockey can be won on talent alone, but it's discipline that usually gets you over the top.Now the additions by subtraction:Alex Kovalev: His inconsistency and drama are now Ottawa's problems. And yet Gainey was apparently ready to give him the same deal. If it weren't for some miscommunication, we'd have AK-27 instead of Gionta.Mike Komisarek: Essentially replaced by the much steadier and cheaper (albeit less splashy) Jaroslav Spacek. Komisarek’s shortcomings have been commented upon before; no need to belabor the point. And yet he was another near Gainey re-signing, making me wonder if Gainey prefers highlight reel hockey rather than actual effectiveness.Mathieu Schneider: He provided offense no doubt. But how often in playing the point on the PP did he let speedy forwards blow by him for a shorthanded chance?Mathieu Dandenault and Francis Bouillon: These were decent 6th and 7th dmen, and Dandenault's versatility paid dividends. But it's time to give some of the youngsters a shot.Tom Kostopolous and Robert Lang: Both players were solid in their respective contributions. Tom Nonstopolous was really best suited as a energy-providing 4th liner. Lang was a great contributor on the PP as the only right-handed scoring forward, but there’s simply no space on the roster for him.The BadAgain, acquisitions first:Paul Mara: Leads the D in hits, but is last in blocked shots among d-men who have played every game. He brings experience and size, but takes minutes from youngsters. And it looks like Gainey could have had Bergeron for a cheaper price and better offense – although at a cost of more heart-stopping adventures in his own zone.Hal Gill: Yes, he just won the Cup. But $4.5M over two years for essentially a 7th dman? Markov, Gorges, Hamrlik, Spacek, O'Byrne and even Bergeron, Mara and Leach have played better D. He is the proverbial pylon, albeit a Paul Bunyan-sized version.Now, the deletions:Saku Koivu: There should have been some transition from old to new, as witnessed by the Habs' extremely poor start. And no one has claimed the mantle of Captain, something that Koivu did with extraordinary skill. He would have been an ef[...]

Gomez vs Koivu


An interesting comparison of the basic career stats of Scott Gomez vs those of Saku Koivu (full years only):

More or less identical. Gomez has a better plus/minus average -- the latter padded by his years playing the trap in New Jersey. Probably the only true advantage that Gomez has is that he gets injured less. But is that really worth a $7.357M/yr cap hit vs Koivu's $3.5M deal with Anaheim?

And for all the Guy Bertrand followers out there, Gomez doesn't speak a lick of French, in private or public.



What exactly was Bob thinking? Maybe he wasn't. After all, the only UFA's he went after were Komisarek and Kovalev, probably the last ones most Habs fans would have selected, judging by the vitriol thrown their way on the way out. And then when Kovalev supposedly didn't get back to him on his offer he went hog wild on a bunch of second-tier UFA's. No Hossa. No Sedin twins. Gomez, Gionta and Cammalleri. How utterly underwhelming.And it wouldn't have been so bad had he not sunk much of his future cap space into these three players. Three players who are notably not the "big centreman" he supposedly was looking for.Certainly size and strength are overrated in today's NHL. Just ask the Red Wings or Penguins. But paying superstar money to non-superstars is simply insane. While the Habs might get under the cap this season, next year's cap is sure to shrink significantly -- at the same time that Bob needs to sign Lapierre and Price, among other RFA's.This year? He'll be lucky if he gets $1.5M under the cap after signing all his RFA's, assuming he doesn't try to shore up his defense with another veteran dman (which might be needed). Next year, more cuts will be necessary to both get under the cap and keep Lapierre and Price.But it wasn't all bad. Letting Komisarek walk was probably ok. The Leafs overpaid for a guy that still has a lot to learn about playing positional defense. But if he does learn that while playing with the Leafs, he'll be well worth it. Spacek is a decent replacement, but it would be nice if they got a right hander instead to round out the top 4 (Markov, Gorges and Hamrlik are all lefties).Gionta was also a decent pickup, being the cheapest (and smallest) of the smurf-like overhaul. He's a desperately needed right handed shooting scoring forward. Only D'Agostini and Lapierre could be (generously) described as such.As for the rest, here's what Habs GM would have done:Gill? Sign Phillippe Boucher instead. He's not as big (who is?), but at least he won't be skirted around like a giant pine tree on a downhill slalom course -- like Gill often is. Boucher's got a wicked right handed shot, and would push for a top four spot. He probably could have been signed for the same amount too. The fact that he's French-Canadian is only a bonus.Cammalleri? Re-sign Tanguay instead. Why exactly did we give up a first round pick to the Flames anyway? When he was healthy, he pushed the Habs to another level. And sure it was frustrating when he passed instead of shot, but he was one of the few Habs to at least create scoring chances. Whatever line he was on seemed to click. He would certainly have been cheaper, maybe half as much as the $6M/yr doled out to Cammalleri. And again, French-Canadian. Only a bonus.Gomez? Re-sign Koivu, thereby not trading away our best defensive prospect (McDonagh) in the process. Higgins seemed to be headed to a third or fourth line, defensive-specialist role, so he wasn't a huge loss. But Koivu could have been had at much less than half the cap hit as Gomez, and for about the same production.With the money saved by getting Koivu and Tanguay instead of Cammalleri and Gomez, Gainey could have easily gone after Hossa. Hossa's cap hit was only $5.23M, albeit over a much longer term (but we've gone over that before). Or save it and go after a big name in 2010 -- Jokinen? Marleau? Kovalchuk? All UFA's.Instead, we will be treated to about the same on ice product as the last few years, just with more speed and less skill. How is that an improvement?[...]

Roster Moves: forwards


The forwards who played last year were all about speed and skill. Size and strength weren't as evident. While the Habs definitely need to keep the speed and skill (see Detroit, Chicago, Washington and Pittsburgh), size and strength should also be added, where possible.Those from last year that don't fit this model are Georges Laraque and Glen Metropolit. Laraque has plenty of size, but seemed reluctant to use it. He also has zero skill. And with the upcoming crackdown on fighting, his value is greatly diminished. Metropolit was on the smaller side, esp for a defensive forward, and had limited skill. He was also the only center to lose more than half of his faceoffs. He's a checking line center on a team that already has a more effective checking line center (Lapierre), and another on his way up (Chipchura). Both Laraque and Metropolit should be released or traded.Gregory Stewart is similar, but should be re-signed and assigned to Hamilton. Like Laraque, he has zero skills, and is much smaller than Laraque. Still, he at least attempted to leverage whatever he had, and generally got under opponents' skin.The rest is easy: every other UFA and RFA forward who played regular shifts last year should be re-signed. While that ensures another year of speed and skill, it also offers some (limited) opportunity to get bigger.Maybe the biggest opportunity is for Max Pacioretty. He played responsible hockey last year with the big club, and showed flashes of being the power forward the Habs desperately need. Another player with size is Robert Lang. Hopefully he can return from that foot injury unscathed, although he was already maybe the slowest player last year -- and will turn 39 this year. But right handed, scoring centers are in short supply this offseason.The Habs also should re-sign every man from their most potent line: Tanguay, Koivu and Kovalev. When on the ice, they were a good match for almost any line in hockey. Having Lang back will provide decent second line scoring, and provide good matchups against most opponents.Plekanec centering the third line will be a bit like Patrice Bergeron centering the same line for the Bruins. Having that kind of scoring potential on the third line shows how deep the Habs can be. His dogged, hounding-the-puck style of play should also provide some defensive coverage, especially when paired with Chris Higgins.Lapierre's line would then form maybe the best two-way line in all of hockey. They would provide defense, energy, size, and even a bit of scoring, especially from Latendresse and Lapierre. This line may have been the most consistent throughout the year, at least when healthy.The lines might go something like this (free agents marked with asterisk):*Tanguay-*Koivu-*KovalevPacioretty-*Lang-A.KostitsynHiggins-*Plekanec-D'AgostiniLatendresse-Lapierre-*Kostopolousbench: Sergei Kostitsyn, *DandenaultThis lineup has a right handed shot in every line (except Lapierre's which has two). It also mixes the youngsters like Pacioretty and D'Agostini amongst the veterans. D'Agostini especially needs to play with players who are defensively responsible, and can help teach him that part of the game.Plekanec's line is almost all speed. D'Agostini is probably the fastest on the team, followed by Higgins. They'll be tough to pin down, and will blow by many an attempted hip check.Lang's line has quite a bit of size, although a bit slower than Plekanec's. But if Kostitsyn and Pacioretty hit like they can hit, this will be a tough line to play against. This especially appli[...]

Roster moves: Post-Komisarek blueline


Let's assume Big K opts for free agency, and signs a monster contract with some struggling team. The Habs still have a lot of options to fill the void, but need to go with someone who can help spark the offense.Besides the obvious importance defensemen have in protecting the net, this position is where a lot of offense is generated these days. A lot of goals are either deflections or seeing-eye shots through a thicket of legs and sticks. Thus someone who can uncork one from the point has a lot of value. Most of this has to do with the size of goaltenders today -- and the size of their pads (but more on that in a later post).Offense was ostensibly the reason the Habs signed Brisebois and traded for Schneider. But the Habs should take a pass on both, because both have limited defensive skills. Brisebois is the least effective of the two. Easily pushed off the puck, he also doesn't have much of a shot. While he is a decent PP QB, that's not enough to keep him with the team, especially when there are other options -- without the drawbacks.Schneider was much better than Brisebois, but had similar shortcomings. He helped revive a dormant PP with his howitzer of a shot. But he is just too slow to play an effective defensive role. Playing the point on the PP often left him alone along the blueline. If a puck were ever to escape the zone, almost any opposing forward could beat him to the puck and create a short-handed breakaway.Instead, the Habs are going to have to look outside. The most intriguing UFA available is Philippe Boucher. He has a powerful, right handed shot and likes to play the body with his 6'3", 218 pound frame. In his last full season (2006-07), he was second among Stars defensemen with 159 hits, tied for first in plus/minus, first in goals (with 19) and second in points. But the key is "full season." He hasn't played one since then, being felled by one injury or another.It's difficult to say if he's injury-prone. It could simply be two straight years of bad luck. In any case, should the Habs take a run at him, the contract should have a provision for games played. Still, it would be nice to have a Quebec-born player playing big minutes on the blueline again.Another player that might fit the bill is Francois Beauchemin. He's somewhat smaller (6'0" and 207 lbs) and is a left handed shot, but has many similarities to Boucher: loves to play the body, has a pretty decent shot, and a Quebec native to boot. He's also coming off an injury, but has played significantly more than Boucher recently.Of the two, Boucher is the better fit. He's bigger and his right handed shot would complement Markov nicely. Further, with three lefties under contract, Gainey needs to sign righties. Boucher also only made $2.5M last year, and would be hard pressed to get more than that given the last two years.With Markov, Boucher, Hamrlik and Gorges, that leaves room for three or four more d-men. This is the easy part. Re-sign Bouillon and Dandenault as the #7 and #8. The fact that Dandenault can effectively play both forward and defense is a depth asset that many GM's and coaches would covet. Further, Bouillon is left handed and Dandenault right, giving the future coach flexibility come injury time.The other two positions can be filled by O'Byrne and Weber. This is somewhat risky, as having two green defensemen can causes problems. But O'Byrne grew a lot last year, especially in the playoffs. And Weber was thrown into the fire as well late in the season. And both have right hand[...]



A small break from the critical work at Habs GM, to bring you an update on the impact of this year's playoffs. The most entertaining series of the year is sure to be the Penguins and Capitals: Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Green and rookie sensation Varlamov vs. Crosby, Malkin, Guerin, Gonchar and Fleury. Game 2 was Crosby's hat trick vs Ovechkin's -- great stuff. Too bad this matchup of the two most talented teams had to come before the conference finals.

But the most important series is between the last two Cup winners: Detroit and Anaheim. This series is a study in opposites. Detroit is smaller, more skilled and loaded with (not-so-soft) Europeans. Anaheim is huge, less skilled (but still fast) and loaded with North Americans who love the physical game. They're like linebackers on skates.

Typically, GM's will look to past Cup winners and try to copy their rosters. The Red Wings-Penguins final last year was great for hockey, as it had two of the most skilled teams in the final. A similarly good final this year would involve either the Red Wings or Blackhawks from the West and Penguins or Capitals from the East.

Not so good for hockey would be an Anaheim-Boston final. Both play with speed and some skill. But they emphasize size over skill -- especially Anaheim.

The good news is that Anaheim has had to rely largely on their game breaker of a goaltender. While their top line of Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan causes all sorts of havoc, and is huge to boot, Hiller is often the difference maker. How far Hiller can take them?

Hopefully not past the Wings.

Roster moves: Mike Komisarek


The last post dealt with the goaltending situation. Continuing on out from the net, the blueline makeover is next. This one is particularly challenging, and perhaps where Gainey has the most work to do.Only three regulars -- Markov, Gorges and Hamrlik -- are under contract next year. This is a fairly solid core to build around: able to play good defense, gets the puck out of the defensive zone quickly and sets up forwards for scoring opportunities. Markov is clearly the best of the three, and probably the best defenseman to play for the Habs in a number of years.The Habs rash of injuries last year proved that blueline depth is critical. Hockey is a defensive sport, and depth at goaltending and defense are critical. But the Habs can't rely on four or five of their prospects to fill the void either, as impressive as they are (O'Byrne, Weber, Carle, and Subban, to name a few). While it's nice to get some of the youngsters some much needed NHL ice time, at most only one or two can expect regular play with the big club-- and maybe only as part of the third pairing, lining up against the opposition's third and fourth lines.Defense is simply much more difficult to play than offense. It is often more a matter of experience and good habits, and less instinct and skill. Most successful defensemen are not born, but rely on training and practice, doing the same thing over and over again until the memory is burned into every muscle. Take Nick Lidstrom. He might be the best in the business -- at 39 years old! Or his teammate, Chris Chelios: 47 years old, and taking regular shifts during these playoffs. 18 year old forwards are common but 18 year old defensemen are not.One defenseman who did make the jump earlier than most was Mike Komisarek. He has done reasonably well as a young defenseman, but is still learning the game. He will often go for the big check, get tangled up and then ends up out of position. He also often fails to trust or communicate with his defensive partner, turning two-on-twos into two-on-ones and trying to play the pass between the opposing forwards.The Habs know this, and won't offer him huge money. With the amount of players they need to re-sign, they can't afford to anyway. A long term contract would be justifiable, maybe as long as 10 years, but average somewhere between $4M/year and $5M/year. Markov should be the highest paid defenseman on the team, and his deal averages $5.75M/year (and only 4 years?!).But Komisarek would be a fool to try to sign before he becomes goes UFA on July 1. If he waits, he will almost certainly get a huge contract from one of the struggling U.S. teams that needs to fill seats -- and Big K's brand of hockey fills seats. The bet here is that the Islanders will throw a front loaded, 15-year/$90M contract at him. He's a Long Island boy after all, and what better way for the Islanders to resurrect their moribund franchise than by signing one of their own. He would make an excellent partner for the left handed, offensively minded, smallish and not-very-physical Mark Streit.Most of all the Islanders need to sell tickets. Look at what overpaying for Cristobal Huet and Brian Campbell did for the Chicago Blackhawks last season. They ended up first in the league in attendance, averaging 22,247 per home game. The previous year they were 19th, averaging only 16,814. Splashy, big ticket free agent signings are expensive, but effective marketing. There might not be a better, quic[...]

Roster moves: goaltending


Enough with the theory. On to the nuts and bolts of the 2009-10 edition of the Montreal Canadiens. Every team's most valuable player should be their goaltender. Hockey is in essence a defensive sport. And the goalie is the last line of defense. So it only holds that any team must be built from the pipes on out.

The Habs started out last season with what seemed like a pretty good goalie tandem. Toward the beginning of the year, Price and Halak may have been the best in the league. That soon faltered -- badly -- after the All Star break.

Price has clearly the more upside of the two, with a combination of size, skill, and inflappable demeanor (uh, usually). Some have argued that Price needs a better coach. That could be true, given some of his struggles last year. He often was too deep in his net, failing to challenge shooters. And he went down far too quickly, leading opponents to believe they could successfullly shoot high on him.

But some of this may be due to a lack of confidence, in addition to inadequate coaching. Price could then use a mentor, someone who has seen success between the pipes in the NHL, and is now ready to assume the elder counsel role -- but also still spry enough to spell the youngster on occasion.

That man may be Olaf Kolzig. Kolzig was Price's early mentor, when Price was with the Tri City Americans in the Western Hockey League -- part owned by Kolzig. So they have a history, and Price openly talked about Kolzig's mentorship in those days. Those very successful days.

Kolzig made $1.5M last year. He would have to take a significant cut to join the Habs. Or sign a front loaded, multi-year deal for a smaller cap hit (a loophole that the Habs should exploit before it is closed).

The only problem is that Kolzig is 39. And he didn't play all that well last year. After all, a #2 will have to do more than just teach.

Better options for actual goaltending might be Brian Boucher or Ty Conklin. Both are in their mid-30's and both posted very good years for very little money. For those same reasons, other teams will be after them too, so they won't be that cheap this year. But again, the multi-year deal can avoid the cap problem. The bigger issue is: can they mentor a young, confidence-challenged goaltender?

And then what of Jaroslav Halak? Two options: the Yann Danis route (eternity in the minors as injury insurance) or be traded. Halak would certainly pick up some trade interest, with his generally solid play and bargain rate price. And it would avoid the Yann Danis scenario of losing a quality netminder without compensation.

But if Halak goes, and both Price and his backup go down, who then? Cedrick Desjardins had a decent season for the Bulldogs, but was usually outplayed by NHL castoff Marc Denis. Not exactly the stuff of stellar resume. But still, he's only 20. He might be ready next year for a game or two.