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The Upper Canadien

Habs win on Cole, lose on Pouliot

So the frenzy has come and gone for Les Canadiens, and the outcome, surprisingly, isn’t all that bad. I’m actually pretty impressed with Pierre Gauthier. He went out and got, arguably to be sure, the best free agent available. Not only that, he identifies the immediate need of the team: a power forward. When’s the last time you can say the Habs did that?

I’ll tell you when: never. Unless you include signing Yanic Perreault many years ago because the Canadiens were bad on faceoffs. No, Erik Cole is a solid signing by Gauthier, and as a fan I’m pleased. Did he get too much money? Probably. Did he get too many years? Probably. Did everyone else that was a free agent? Yes they did. So despite the $4.5 million price tag, and the 4 year term, I am pretty happy that Erik Cole is a Hab. There’s no one else I wanted more.

You’ll recall that I cited Cole as target #1 in my Habs off-season review. Why? Because of what Erik Cole brings to a hockey game. Size, strength, grit - everything that Montreal’s top two lines have been missing. He’s a consistent 20-30 goal scorer, and someone who is usually close to the league lead in hits. Again: he’s exactly what Montreal needs. I’m not sure Gauthier is getting enough credit here. Erik Cole is perfect for the Habs first line.

What makes Cole more interesting is his history. As most know, Cole had a serious neck injury years ago, very similar to the injury suffered by Max Pacioretty at the hands of Zdeno Chara. Cole battled back and has enjoyed success since his mishap, and my bet is Pacioretty will too. Cole is the perfect tutor for the young Pacioretty, both as a power forward but also as someone who rehabbed from a terrible accident. Without question, Erik Cole makes the Montreal Canadiens a much better team, for many, many reasons.

Now, the backup goaltender is a separate issue. I was a tad perplexed on the Peter Budaj signing, but here’s my theory: 1) Alex Auld wanted more money to stay than he got in Ottawa, which is probably true. 2) Budaj wanted a multi-year deal, Auld did not - also quite possible, and 3) the second year of the contract was a very, very important aspect of this signing. Why? Carey Price is a restricted free agent next year. Surely Montreal will sign him; however, should this prove to be difficult, the Canadiens now have insurance in an NHL-proven goaltender who can step in. Having Budaj for the second year of the deal may not get much consideration from fans, but my bet is that this was a central aspect to passing on Auld and locking up a goalie who, we can only hope, is not the next David Aebischer.

Lastly, as some may have heard, the Canadiens confirmed earlier today the signing of Brock Trotter, which was reported on this blog weeks ago. Trotter comes back form the KHL an older, wiser player, with a keen hockey sense and a solid two-way game. Trotter was solid as a Bulldog two years ago, and has a reasonable shot of making the Canadiens in a fourth line role.

Benny moves on

A small mention here of Benoit Pouliot, who goes to Boston on a one year contract. This is where the businessman inside me goes ballistic. How can a team deal an asset like Guillaume Latendresse, that cost a 2nd round draft pick, not to mention many hours of development on, for one as talented as promising as Pouliot, play him less and less over two years until his value is nil, and then let him go? If he didn’t fit, why not trade him last offseason, or this fall after a good few weeks? Surely they could have dangled him for a draft pick, or as part of a package at the deadline.

It’s not often you see a team take an asset once as valuable as Pouliot and turn it into dust, but the Habs did here, and it’s a real shame. Not only do I suspect he’ll do well in Boston and ply his trade as a solid NHLer, I hope he does. The Canadiens give up on players far too often, and that’s one thing, but acquiring an asset at a reasonably high value and letting it go for absolutely nothing is not only hockey, it’s bad business. Shame on Pierre Gauthier, Jacques Martin, and the Habs for letting this kid go for zilch.

What next?

Josh Gorges still needs to be signed, but the Canadiens still have lots of breathing room under the salary cap. Rumours swirled on many Quebec radio stations over the weekend that Pierre Gauthier was trying to dump Scott Gomez and his anchor of a contract. Can it be done? I doubt it - but Brian Campbell was traded, and I never thought I’d see that either. If Gomez moves, I have to believe the Phoenix Coyotes are the team that bites. They need to make the cap floor, and there aren’t a lot of options left in free agency.

I suspect that Gauthier also tries to sign a depth forward, a veteran with some faceoff skills and shot-blocking abilities. The Canadiens had Dominic Moore and let him go, had Jeff Halpern and let him go - why they continue to let these players leave I do not understand. Each was a key member of the team and played a pivotal role in important games. I’ll be interested to see who Montreal finds to slot in as their faceoff expert for the 2011-12 season.

As for the trade route, I suspect Gauthier is looking, but I don’t expect him to bite unless there’s a deal to be made. The Canadiens have a roster that is pretty much set, so he has no reason to rush a deal. The Fourth Period, an excellent hockey magazine for those interested, had an interesting piece on their website last night speculating that the Habs may be looking into restricted free agent defenceman Keith Yandle on the Coyotes. Yandle would be an excellent addition to Montreal - but he’d be an excellent addition anywhere, and for that reason, I suspect a deal isn’t forthcoming.

Jaromir Jagr may be gone…Alex Kovalev on a try-out, anyone?

Don’t hold your breath, Habs fans. The team that takes the ice in October is likely to look very similar to the one on paper today.

 

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Comments

Avatar

I don’t know about Cole being the best FA available. I would probably give that title to Richards. That being said, there is nothing wrong with the contract that they gave him and he should help address some glaring deficiencies that this team has. If they are letting go of Pouliot, you hope that it is because they have identified him as a character deficient person that will never develop into his potential. If they got rid of him simply because they didn’t like him, they will eat some serious crow for many years. Not much left out there. Budaj for Auld is a wash. They both suck.

Posted by BlackXinu on 07/04/11 at 10:11 PM ET

NHLJeff's avatar

Really? Arguably the best free agent available? You just lost any credibity you might have had. I am sure we all stopped reading after that.

Posted by NHLJeff from Pens fan in Chicago, IL on 07/04/11 at 11:13 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

UMMM so they VASTLY overpaid him

Posted by Evilpens on 07/04/11 at 11:26 PM ET

Steve Strowbridge's avatar

Really? Arguably the best free agent available? You just lost any credibity you might have had. I am sure we all stopped reading after that.

I finished reading the article, but I was definitely going to comment on this as well.

Seriously? What are you basing this opinion on? If it’s arguable, please enlighten me. I want to know. What makes Erik Cole the most desirable free agent this offseason?

Posted by Steve Strowbridge from St. John's, NL, CA on 07/05/11 at 12:40 AM ET

Avatar

“arguably to be sure, the best free agent available”
Haha. What planet do you live on that Erik Cole is the best free agent available? Not even close.

Posted by Puckbubba from FL. on 07/05/11 at 01:24 AM ET

Luongo-is-my-hero's avatar

LOL cole the best free agent available. 

ya maybe after the previous 50 passed the habs by.  haha

Sorry, just had to say that.  He is a solid pick up for the habs, but that said, we all know his luck with teams not named the hurricanes. 

4.5 may have been justifiable for cole 5 years ago, unfortunately this is 2011 and not 2006

Posted by Luongo-is-my-hero on 07/05/11 at 01:42 AM ET

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

I kinda got that he was the best fa for the jabs not necessarily the best overall..

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 07/05/11 at 04:14 AM ET

Avatar

Erik Cole - best free agent available for the Habs. Anyone who has watched them in the last decade has seen an obvious lack of size, and despite management’s assertion time after time that this was not an issue, it clearly was. Was Cole the best free agent period? No. Brad Richards clearly was, and one could make a case that a couple of defencemen were talented enough that they’d be ahead of Cole as well. But for the Habs, as I stated in my UFA preview and on my XM interview of two weeks ago, Cole was, without question, the best guy available. He will have much more of an effect making the team better than any other available UFA would have.

Posted by The Upper Canadien from Toronto on 07/05/11 at 08:23 AM ET

Avatar

As someone who has watched nearly every shift Erik Cole has taken in the past ten years, I’ll say this:  when he’s good, he’s really damn good.

Unfortunately, that’s once every six times over the boards.

Posted by Brian on 07/06/11 at 02:59 AM ET

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The Upper Canadien is your one stop shop for all things Montreal Canadiens. Since the summer of 2010, I've been providing Habs related news, notes, and most importantly, opinions. As a blogger, I don't believe it's my job to report the news, it's my privilege to comment on it. You may disagree with what I suggest. In fact, you most likely will. But that's the great part about blogging: it spurs opinion, comment and engages all involved. I've really enjoyed all the debate and commentary from readers thus far and I encourage everyone to respond with ideas on lineups, trades, logos, sweaters, mascots, whatever. The Upper Canadien is a conversation for all hockey fanatics.

I've come to Kukla's Korner with four years of campus radio and three years of sportswriting from my time at Mount Allison University on Canada's East coast. Not only do I not have any professional journalistic training, after five years in the corporate world, I've spent much of the past two years completing an MBA. Business by day, hockey by night, I'm a Canadiens fan through and through. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I do writing.

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