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Everyone loves playing GM…so it’s my turn

While I like to write about hockey generally, I am clearly a Habs fan. So, if you’ll allow me to dabble for a moment, my thoughts on the Canadiens roster - as of August 4.

Sidenote: While I’d like to add Kovalchuk, Selanne, etc. etc. – the cavalry ain’t coming. I have tried to be as realistic as possible with potential additions/subtractions. Now, onto the fun.

Forwards

Up front, Pierre Gauthier has made some significant changes, but perhaps more significant is what he has not done. Gauthier has brought in Dustin Boyd, a valuable fourth liner at a much lower salary than, say, Glen Metropolit. A good cap move that makes the team younger and faster. The big acquisition of the summer - so far - is Lars Eller. Acquired in the Jaroslav Halak deal, Eller gives the Canadiens a rising young power forward for the 3rd line centre role. He replaces Dominic Moore, bringing much more offensive upside and potentially more physicality.

Perhaps the most surprising move to many Habs fans was the re-signing of Tomas Plekanec to a five year contract. While I am a big Plekanec fan, even I must admit his playoff performance was lacklustre at best. After scoring the overtime winner in game one of the playoffs, he was virtually invisible as the Canadiens defeated Washington, Pittsburgh and then fell to Philadelphia. This suggests two things: one, the Canadiens felt Plekanec was good value at five million a year, and two, the Habs braintrust believes Plekanec will continue to grow into the role. What must be acknowledged is that while Plekanec scored 70 points last year, and 69 three years ago, he is also a great defensive cog for the Habs penalty kill. He is arguably the PK’s hidden secret, a catalyst for the Candiens success short-handed in the past two or three seasons.

What wasn’t done? Well, while Sergei Kostitsyn was shipped to Nashville in the Boyd deal, brother Andrei still finds himself in Montreal. Owners of perhaps the largest biceps in Quebec, Andrei Kostitsyn possesses incredible physical talent, but often seems out of synch with the rest of the team. Will having his meandering little brother out of the way lead to Andrei’s coming out party? Only time will tell.

Defence

The Canadiens defence is largely intact from last year, save for one swap of Paul Mara for Alex Picard. The addition of Picard adds more speed to the Habs, and his two-way contract also offers some cap relief (a bargain, by the way, at $650k at the NHL level and $100k in the AHL). Mara was well liked by his teammates, but spent much of last year injured and never really had a chance to integrate himself into the team’s system.

The Canadiens’ defence will be led by Andrei Markov, whose skill will be complemented by the effervescent P.K. Subban. Josh Gorges and Hal Gill proved to be a very dependable shut down pairing in last year’s playoffs, and will no doubt be counted on for the same role this season. Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik also give the Canadiens a pair capable of shutting down offensive threats on the opposition, while Ryan O’Byrne and the previously mentioned Picard provide necessary size, depth and, in Picard’s case, speed.

Goaltending

This is the tricky one, because - as I’m sure you know - Carey Price isn’t signed. So do I focus on Alex Auld and Cedric Desjardins, or do I consider Price the starter even though he’s inching towards a holdout? Well, I for one can’t imagine the Habs starting the season, having traded Halak, without Price signed. So the Habs have a competent young goaltender with a lot of experience at 23, and a decent backup in Auld. And don’t forget Desjardins, he was an AHL all star last year and could be a late bloomer. Keep an eye on him. Curtis Sanford also continues to play down in the AHL for Hamilton if he is needed throughout the year.

What would I do?

And this all brings me to my favourite part of this blog post - what would I do if I were GM. Well, going back to Price, and the fact he isn’t signed, I have to believe that behind the scenes something else is happening. What, you ask? Well, I have to believe the Canadiens are trying to ship some salary out to sign Price to a long-term contract. Otherwise, he’d be signed already. So, the first move I make:

Roman Hamrlik to the Islanders for a 4th round pick

Why? For the Habs, it clears out salary and the extra body on defence they don’t need. For the Isles, it brings them an experienced defenceman, helps them hit the cap floor, and the loss of the 4th is minimal. Hamrlik played in New York once already and apparently liked it, so it would probably work out all ways around.

Now the Habs have nine million to work with in cap room, and seven defencemen signed. What next?

Andrei Kostitsyn to Vancouver for Kevin Bieksa

Why? Kostitsyn’s time in Montreal has run out. He has one year left to free agency. He likely won’t be re-signed. Similar story for Bieksa in Vancouver. Gives the Habs the physicality on defence they sorely lack, and gives Vancouver another 20-30 goal scorer, which they desperately need. The salaries are a wash, and each player has one year left on their respective deals. Maybe a late pick is involved one way or the other, but I don’t think so. All in all, this is a good move for both teams.

Sign Eric Belanger for 2 years at $1.25 million a year

Why? Belanger is Francophone, always important in Montreal, takes heat off some of the other non-French speakers, has proven to be a leader in the past, is physical and can score. He is a great addition to the third or fourth line, which will miss Dom Moore and Glen Metropolit, whether people want to admit it or not.

With the $7.5 million or so dollars left, sign Carey Price, and extend Gorges and Markov. Let’s say Price signs at $3.75 million for the next 3 years. That leaves about $4 million to play with. I might also consider signing a guy like Kyle Wellwood for $500k on a one year deal. Depth is always valuable down the line.

The 2010-2011 Montreal Canadiens, if they were run by an Upper Canadien:

Pouliot-Gomez-Gionta
Eller-Plekanec-Cammalleri
Pyatt-Belanger-Lapierre
Moen-Darche-Boyd
Maxwell, Wellwood

Markov-Subban
Gorges-Gill
Bieksa-Spacek
O’Byrne

Price
Auld

Is it the best team in the NHL? Not by a longshot. Would I take it? Yes. The offence is better than last year, the defence is stronger, the team is more physical and they should make the playoffs.

From there – it’s anybody’s game. Jaroslav Halak proved that…unfortunately he ain’t here anymore.

Filed in: | KK Members Blog | Permalink
  Tags: 2010-2011, canadiens, free+agency

Comments

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I think you’re dreaming. Cammalleri on the second line? Price starting? I’d rather start a dead horse.

Posted by Jamphone on 08/04/10 at 07:19 PM ET

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I can see your point of view - after all, the horse would likely cover the entire bottom of the net.

And yes, Cammalleri second line. He worked really well there all last year, and there is no point disturbing the chemistry since it was so successful. I say leave him there to start the year.

Posted by The Upper Canadien from Toronto on 08/05/10 at 01:48 AM ET

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Thoughtful piece, although you better hope the Habs can sign Price for less than $3.75M per season. He doesn’t deserve that kind of money.

@Jamphone & The Upper Canadian: I think that’s a second line in name only, as they will likely get the same minutes as the #1 line. Plekanec & Cammalleri will log as much ice time as Gomez and Gionta, no question.

Posted by Briney on 08/05/10 at 10:19 AM ET

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