Friday, February 22, 2008

Who needs UFA's anyway?

As mentioned in the last post, the Habs' season high 3 game losing streak coincided more or less with the absence of Roman Hamrlik.

But now that both Hamrlik and O'Byrne are back, Carbo has a different problem: where to play all his dmen. If you include Streit and Dandenault, the Habs have 9 blueliners on their active roster. Of course, Dandy has played right wing all season, but not very successfully. He's a team worst -12.

But it's Carbo's healthy scratches from two of the past three games that are most interesting: Smolinski, Kostopolous and Brisebois. Kostopolous and Smolinski were supposed to replace Mike Johnson and Radek Bonk in the lineup, and were paid more together than both Johnson and Bonk ultimately received from St. Louis and Nashville respectively. Brisebois provided veteran blueline insurance, presumably until O'Byrne was ready to come up.

The most interesting part is that all were UFA signings this year. And yet all are sitting in the press box, and for good reason. Smolinski was centering the fourth line, more or less until Begin got back. Smolinski replaced Begin in the last game against the Penguins, coincidentally the same time the Habs 4 game win streak was snapped. Presumably Smolinski played because of Begin's atrocious faceoff percentage this year (28.8%). But Begin's pitbull style of forechecking is sorely needed by the Habs. Maybe only Komisarek and Bouillon hit as frequently and ferociously, and that's only in the defensive end.

Brisebois was out as soon as Hamrlik came back. But his real replacement was O'Byrne, who can really skate well for a big man. And, of course, he hits. Hard. This gives Carbo some real physical presence on each of his blueline combinations.

Kostopolous is the hardest to figure out why he is sitting. One could argue that Ryder has taken his spot on the right wing, but Ryder never deserved to be benched. Kostopolous' real replacement is Dandenault, who has more points (12 to K's 9) but a worse +/- (-12 to K's -8). Carbo has Dandy playing on a line with Latendresse centered by Begin or Smolinski, the most likely line where Kostopolous would play.

In a Theory of Ice post from last season, e recounted a conversation with an old-time Habs fan who more or less said that the Habs don't buy UFA's. They grow their own talent the old-fashioned way. There certainly is an appeal to that, as we can follow their progress from fresh-faced draftee to uncertain rookie to veteran playmaker. And the Habs' surprising showing this year is in no small part due to the play of their youngsters, players who have been drafted and groomed by Habs GM's.

But the UFA's? Apart from the very big exception of Roman Hamrlik (and his very big contract), they haven't contributed much at all.

Now that's not to say that the Habs can continue going to the well for all their roster needs. No doubt they are deep on the blue line (O'Byrne, Valentenko, Emelin) and between the pipes (Price, Halak, Danis). But if they want to move forward, they need some help on the scoring end, especially to help Carbo fully realize his strategy of throwing out three full fledged scoring lines. And with the upcoming trade deadline, look for Gainey to move one or more of the above mentioned assets for a high end scoring threat -- more on this in the next post.

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