Monday, July 26, 2010

Getting Creative

What exactly was Peter Chiarelli thinking when he traded for Nathan Horton? The guy has tons of potential, but isn't worth the $4M cap hit he carries. Now of course, he's not exactly the waste of cap space that Michael Ryder turned out to be (also $4M). But for a team desperate to clear space, this wasn't a wise move.

So now Blake Wheeler, one of their up and coming stars, needs to be signed. An RFA, he was eligible for arbitration, and took it. Unfortunately, the Bruins only have $12, 229 in cap space after the Horton deal, according to And with that $12, 229 Chiarelli needs to sign another three forwards. Given that the NHL minimum salary is $500,000, I'd say Chiarelli has a bit of a math problem.

But Chiarelli's problem could be Gauthier's opportunity. Despite some missteps (the Gomez trade in particular), the Habs are in decent cap shape. Could Gauthier swing a sign-and-trade deal for Wheeler?

It all depends on two things: how much the arbitrator gives to Wheeler and how much Price ultimately signs for. The latter could have been settled by now had Gauthier been a bit wiser in playing his cards. We've gone over this in the last few posts, so no need to revisit that subject again.

But what would Wheeler get? Mason Raymond recently avoided arbitration by agreeing to a deal carrying a cap hit of $2.55M. Raymond is a bit smaller than Wheeler, a year older, one year's more NHL experience, and better stats: 25G/28A to Wheeler's 18G/20A in the same number of games. So based on Raymond's contract alone, Wheeler might get a deal worth $1.5M to $2M.

But the Habs only have $4.7M in cap space, and still need to sign Price and two forwards to fill out their roster. The only way this works is if Price signs for a reasonable $2.2M (his old cap hit), leaving $2.5M for Wheeler and another forward. That other forward would have to be someone like the diminutive but talented David Desharnais ($550K), leaving $1.95M for Wheeler.

And who would the Bruins take in return? Obviously they need some lower paid talent, so draft picks and/or raiding the Bulldogs' roster would be the only recourse. One could see Max Pacioretty ($910K) or Ben Maxwell ($850K), but Chiarelli would be wiser to aim for someone with potential but earning near the minimum. That might mean JT Wyman or Ryan Russell, each on one year deals for $550K.

But this all begs the question: why Wheeler? Everyone knows the Habs' main weakness is their lack of size up front. Wheeler addresses that with his 6-5, 205 lb frame. He's also right handed, and thus could take Kostitsyn's spot on the line with Cammalleri and Plekanec. That would push Kostitsyn into competition with Pouliot for the left wing spot on the second line -- a good thing since both players tend to disappear for stretches at a time, and both will be playing for a new contract.

The loser of that battle could then be pushed down to the third line, with Ellers in the middle and Lapierre on the right. That would give the Habs' much better scoring depth.

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