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.

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