Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

The State of Things

(An aside before I digress into off-season discussion: I will be joining Mick Kern on the War Room Review tomorrow on XM NHL Satelittle Radio at 11 AM EST. Tune in for some free agency discussion as we review the NHL season that was. )

Andrei Markov is a Montreal Canadien for three more years. Was there ever any doubt? Yes, there was, given the two major knee surgeries in a year and two consecutive seasons plagued by injuries. However, Markov is an elite defenceman, and injuries or not, he was a player Pierre Gauthier could not allow to leave for nothing. Markov is back, and Montreal’s defence remains a strength on a team of questions. Looking for answers? Here’s the Upper Canadien’s off-season game plan for the Montreal Canadiens.

Now, first of all, you’ll read many “off-season plans” for Montreal and various other teams. They’re all written by pundits, bloggers and others who are, largely, theorizing and expressing their ideas on where a team should go. Who knows what will transpire? Well, Pierre Gauthier has some idea (hopefully), and that’s probably as far as it goes. The Canadiens are no doubt discussing roster options, trade options, draft options, but at the end of the day, anything could happen, and there are no answers. So, please keep that in mind as you read my ideas, and those of other writers, heading into the always exciting NHL off-season.

Where do things stand now, and what’s likely to happen? Without further ado, my rough estimates and ideas of the current roster situation:

Goaltending

Carey Price is the man in net, at a very reasonably $2.75 million. That’s a given. However, Alex Auld is an unrestricted free agent. He did well as Price’s backup, and seemed to rub off the right way on young #31. If I’m a betting man, I’d wager that Auld is coming back for another year, likely at a similar contract, if not the same $1 million he made last year. $3.75 million for your goaltenders, in today’s day and age, ain’t too shabby.

Defence

The Canadiens currently have $13.7 million tied up in five defenceman: Markov, PK Subban, Hal Gill, Alexei Yemelin and Jaroslav Spacek. Josh Gorges will re-sign as an RFA, let’s say at $3 million or so for two or three years, and Yannick Weber will likely get close to $1 million a year. That brings the defence up to approximately $18 million for the entire corps.

Forwards

The Habs currently have $32.5 million tied up in ten forwards. I suspect the Canadiens will qualify Benoit Pouliot, an RFA, at about $1 million, and you can likely bank on Ryan White getting about $500 thousand on his next deal. That leaves us with four lines relatively similar to last year at a cost of $33 million.

But what does it all mean Basil?

This all suggests the Canadiens would have 21 players locked up next season for a very respectable $54.25 million. More importantly, perhaps, it also suggests the Canadiens have about $10 million in cap room heading into the ever exciting free agent frenzy. So, what’s a blogger to do? Well, if he’s the general manager in Montreal, here’s a few ideas to chew on.

1) The Canadiens need a power forward: Yes, they have Max Pacioretty, but they need more size up front. There aren’t many dominant forwards available as free agents, but one who is large, physical and can score is Erik Cole. He’s also a legendary Habs killer. So why not pick him up? $$2.75 million would likely get the job done. Cole could slide onto the second or third line, and he’s good for 40-50 points. That’s depth the Canadiens need, and it will help them compete down the stretch.

2) Puck moving defencemen: Can you ever have too many? No. That’s reason number one the Canadiens should immediately start negotiations to sign James Wisniewksi. Reason number two? They gave up a 2nd round pick for him. And reason number 3? There are rumours he may go to Boston, and that would sting severely after he was such a key member of the Habs in 2010-11. The Canadiens should throw $4 million a year at Wisniewski, for 4 or 5 years. I’d like to think that could get it done, and Wisniewski would make another player on the Habs defence expendable in a trade. The Wiz has a heck of a shot, and he can pass with the best of them. Here’s hoping that Pierre Gautheir is reading this, because signing Markov-Subban-Wisniewski-Gorges would arguably be the best top-four in the East. And that’s something worth writing home about.

3) Add a jack-of-all-trades: Depth players are very important. Chris Higgins is a guy that can play any forward position, grind, play defence, play offence, and he looked pretty darn good in the playoffs. Throw a $1.5 million deal Higgins way and see if he’ll bite. He’d look great on the third or fourth line, and allow patience with some of the younger Habs.

4) Hit me with some J: Jaromir Jagr, apparently, wants to play in Montreal. I sign him in a heartbeat. Players with his talent come along once in a blue moon. $3.5 million. One year. Done.

What wouldn’t I do? Let’s address the one I keep hearing about: Jaroslav Spacek. Spacek is not a tradeable commodity, and as a +35 player even a Spacek in the minors still counts against the cap. He’s not going anywhere folks. Live with it (if Gauthier can deal Spacek, he is a genius and deserves our praise. But it won’t happen, folks).

What are we left with: my moves add approximately $11.75 million per year to the team. However, the additions of Wisniewski and Jagr would allow the departures of Pouliot, Weber and/or Kostitsyn. It’s all doable, and it’s all within Gauthier’s grasp.

So what will happen? Well, most Habs fans are used to offseasons of disappointment. But this year has some interesting storylines. Jagr. Wisniewski. Simon Gagne is a name that has popped up in the past.

And hey, it’s June 23: are the Scott Gomez for Vinny Lecavalier rumours far behind? The first time I hear a Lecavalier to Habs rumours it’s usually more indicative of summer than the 21st of June.

Bottom line: this is a fun time of year to be a hockey fan. So get out there, enjoy the weather, and have fun with your family and friends – but keep your cell phone on, and Twitter running in the background. You never know when a blockbuster may go down. 

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Comments

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When healthy, Markov is an elite defenceman in the NHL. The Habs better hope that he spends more time on the ice this year if they want to remain competitive. The price for Markov is a bit high for me (given his past injuries), but they needed to make him a respectable offer to stay in Montreal. Wonder if he would have signed for $5M per year?

I also agree with you re: Wisniewski. I don’t think they should let him walk.

The Jagr talks seem to be gravitating away from Montreal a bit. I don’t think he’ll land north of the border.

And I agree that the Habs need more size up front. Not sure that I’d sign a power forward who isn’t also a top 6 forward. That signing needs to be someone who can have a significant impact on the game. I’m not sure a third line PF will do the trick.

Posted by Briney on 06/24/11 at 11:20 AM ET

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About The Upper Canadien

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.

Questions or comments? theuppercanadien@kuklaskorner.com