Sunday, November 15, 2009

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 Good
First 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 Bad
Again, 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 effective 2nd line center behind Plekanec, and his faceoff skills are sorely missed.

Alex Tanguay: Yes, he passes when he should shoot. But the Habs were much more dynamic when he was in the lineup as he made just about any line click. He led the team in +/- and was second on the team in points per game despite only 16:05 ATOI. Plus, he was the closest thing to a hometown hero the Habs have iced since Jose Theodore.

The Ugly
Scott Gomez: He has played decent hockey (and so wasn't a bad acquisition), but he's just not worth what the Habs gave up. He has put up second line center numbers, but for franchise center money.

Worse, his signing handcuffs the Habs for years to come. Some have suggested that Gainey only made the trade so that Gionta would sign. But Gainey only turned to Gionta after he didn't hear anything from Kovalev’s agent – all days after the Gomez trade.

With all that cap space, Gainey could have signed Koivu and Tanguay. He could have kept Higgins (an effective penalty killer who was going UFA anyway) and one of his best blue line prospects in McDonagh. And he might have had Koivu and Tanguay for less money than each settled for in Tampa respectively, simply because a multi-year deal could have been offered.

And what of next offseason, when Plekanec and Metropolit go UFA> and Price and Lapierre are RFA's? Plekanec will almost certainly go elsewhere – especially since next year the cap will most likely shrink. The Habs will simply not be able to afford him. Heck, with a shrinking cap, they won’t be able to afford Metropolit. The Gomez trade in by itself may undo all the other good work done by Gainey this offseason.

No comments: