Tuesday, May 25, 2010

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.

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