Bob Gainey really has his work cut out for him. A season just imploded before him, up close and personal. And now he has maybe half a team under contract for next year, with a salary cap that may shrink anywhere from 1 to 6 million dollars from the previous season. Who exactly will be the Montreal Canadiens next year? And how can they be competitive with such an impending drastic makeover?
Or so goes the prevailing pessimistic view. Chances are that it won't be nearly that bad. Sure the Habs have 15 free agents, 10 of the unrestricted variety. So the GM could go wild and try to sign a whole new lineup.
But as Elliot Friedman points out, it's just not necessary. And good thing too, because the way Habs fans and the media treat their players, who'd want to come here? Certainly not Brendan Shanahan, Mats Sundin or Marian Hossa. At least some of the current UFA's are at least making noises that they want to stay, as crazy as that seems. Which begs the question: if it's so bad in Montreal, why would they want to stay? But let's just take them at their word, and address the larger question of what the Habs can do to prevent the late season collapse and early playoff exit.
The easy answer is less injuries. They were simply snakebit this year, and played much of the 4 playoff games without their top guns, including Markov, Lang, Tanguay and Schneider.
But that doesn't explain the post-All Star break swoon. While injuries played some part, most of the poor showing was due to shoddy defense and goaltending. The players themselves -- at least the healthy ones -- had enough talent to do better than they did. Somehow that talent just wasn't showcased on ice.
Some part of that has to be coaching. After Carbo was fired and Gainey took over, some players perked up noticeably, esp Higgins and Kovalev. Gainey has to find someone who can continue that, and get the rest of the team playing as well. The Habs simply seemed to have stopped listening to Carbo, for whatever reason.
Friedman's article points out Price's recent deficiencies. He was spot on describing how Price is at his best when he seemingly doesn't move. He just plays positional goaltending and uses his big body to make the save. No theatrics necessary. Gainey has to hire someone who can better mentor and bring Price along, and maybe restore some of his confidence. Rollie Melanson may not be that guy.
But maybe the bigger portion of the offseason work is to sign a new team. As unpopular as this may seem, every current Habs RFA and almost every UFA should be brought back. With a lower cap a near certainty, this will take some fancy accounting to make it all pencil out. But as the Red Wings showed, the cap can be gotten around, if teams with the money are willing to bet long term on some of their star players. Who wouldn't want to lock up Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa and Johan Franzen for as long as possible? The same goes for Mike Komisarek and Alex Tanguay, and even older veterans like Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev.
So it might be possible to squeeze all those free agents under an even lower cap. But that begs the question: why sign the same roster that was more or less responsible for the implosion this season?
That's a big question, best taken up by another post.