Sunday, June 27, 2010


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.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

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.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

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.