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Game 27: Habs/Blue Jackets

  • The Canadiens are back home to face the Blue Jackets (known locally of course as the Vestons Bleu – not really).

    The game will be big for Louis Leblanc who (I can only imagine) will be dealing with a case of jitters that you couldn’t possibly imagine. He`ll start off on the fourth line, but if things go well for him – I can`t believe that Martin wouldn’t try him on a line with Eller and Kostitsyn given the chemistry they seemed to have together in LA. I`ll be watching with interest to see what happens there tonight.

    Of course the bigger news of the day is the report that Andrei Markov underwent another surgery today to clear fluid and shrapnel from his knee which will keep him out of the Habs lineup until at least the new year.

    Calls for Gauthier`s head have begun.

    Its difficult not to be disappointed as a Canadiens fan – that the supposed saviour of the team`s fortune will miss more time.

    Still – this situation requires one to take a wider perspective than simply saying – Montreal should have re-signed James Wisniewski.

    Even if Markov is out until January, he will still have the possibility of playing for over half of the team`s regular season. If Markov comes back and is able to resume his career, this painful period will be a blip, soon forgotten once he starts contributing.

    From that standpoint you have to understand the gamble (and it was a gamble) that Pierre Gauthier made in this offseason. PG was betting (with medical staff advice) that Markov would return to playing action and should not have significant danger of a repeat injury due to a successful surgery.

    With this information Gauthier made a decision. His choice was that he could sign only ONE of Andrei Markov or James Wisniewski given that both of these players would command nearly $6M per season. He signed Markov who is the superior player in EVERY respect and would be signed to a shorter term – giving the team flexibility in the future.

    The gamble of course was that Markov`s injury could linger and hamper the team in the short team. So far, this has been the reality.

    Still, if Markov returns for the remainder of the 2012 portion of this season (+ playoffs if we`re lucky), and plays for the next 2 seasons, Gauthier will have still brought tremendous value to the team. Markov`s contract, despite the many current detractors calling for Gauthier`s head,  is still a huge discount given his historical production and the other comparable players who make considerably more. Markov is the 16th highest paid defenseman in the NHL, despite being the second highest point producer (behind Lidstom) between the lockout and his first major injury. Consider Christian Erhoff`s 10 year deal in Buffalo paying him $10M this season! How about Brian Campbell making $7+M in Florida!

    The fact is, if Markov comes back healthy at any point this season Montreal will add a top 10 offensive defenseman to their lineup, at a discount for the remainder of his `prime years`. Nothing in the NHL comes without gamble. But to criticize Gauthier betrays how sound this decision actually was for the Montreal Canadiens organization. The current results may not lend to a happy fanbase, but Markov remains the right choice until it is proven that he will not play for the CH.

  1. #1 Mats Naslund says:
    December 6, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    What kills me is that Wisniewski played 43 games with Montreal last season.

    If Markov comes back in late December / January he`ll play more games than Wisniewski for less money.

  2. #2 Senet1 says:
    December 6, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Well I agree but also disagree. Wiz would have signed in Montreal for less than 6M he wanted big money to go to Columbus when he knew there was no change of playoffs. We could have had a better shorter deal with Markov too for less money especially in the first year and make a deal for more money if he could play. That way our cap space not have been taken up and Wiz would have been well within out reach. If we had Wiz right now, I believe that we would be in the 35 point range right now and not struggling to get into eigth place. New Jersey won over 75% of their games in the second half of the season last year and did not make the playoffs. We are fortunate to be as close as we are right now. But with three point games it is hard to make up ground. Just look last week we lost 3 of 4 games and did not really lose much ground to the other teams because of the three point game.

  3. #3 Senet1 says:
    December 6, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    So although I will cut PG some slack because I realize the difficult decision he had, I still believe that it could have been managed better and we would have had more offense in our lineup. I never give up on this team, most of you know that from a couple of years ago then all the nae sayers came out and I kept saying have faith. Well I have faith that this team is better than our record shows and still believe that we can win even with the lineup we have. But I am getting tired of fighting for last playoff position every year.

  4. #4 Mats Naslund says:
    December 7, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I have to say I disagree that Wisniewski would have signed for less to play in Montreal. Playing hockey in Ohio means that Wisniewski keeps FAR more of his money. I worked it out earlier in the year that Montreal would have had to pay him $1M more in actual salary to compensate how much tax Wisniewski would pay. If anything, Montreal is disadvantaged in comparison when dealing with free agents.

    Still, Markov – for less money and a shorter term (3 years versus 6 for Wisniewski) is a far more reasonable deal to make – especially given how badly Wisniewski plays in his end.

    Yes his shot would help the powerplay – but there were times last season when Wisnieski was 3rd pairing on defense and made up his minutes on the powerplay.

    Compare that with Markov who plays all situations as a top pair D.

    Its hard to be reasonable about the situation because the Habs are losing and Markov is nowhere to be found. I’m as frustrated as anyone that we seem to be giving away points, and I question MANY of Gauthier’s decisions – except this one. Yes Wisniewski is a good player. But signing Markov for 3 years is something that just about EVERY GM in the league would have done if given the opportunity.

  5. #5 Avatar37 says:
    December 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Senet – I have seen no evidence that Wisniewski would have taken any “hometown” discount, he was looking for a big contract and was going to take the highest offer. He signed in exactly the range I originally predicted he would. I’ve also offered up a strategy where Gauthier could have signed both Markov and Wisniewski. He instead targeted Cole and Campoli.

    Now, in all fairness, there was no way to predict that Campoli would get injured during his first game with us and be injured for so long. Without being able to gauge how Campoli’s contributions would have filled the hole left by Wisniewski, we’re stuck in a situation where JM is trying to use Plekanec at the point, and that strategy simply does not work. Plekanec needs to focus on his faceoffs and being a forward, and that leaves Subban, Weber, and Diaz at the point for PPs, and I’m sure Emelin could fill in that fourth spot.

    However, if I had been PG, I would have found a way to move Spacek, move Gomez, and sign Cole, Markov, and Wisniewski. Wisniewski would have been insurance on Markov. If Markov comes back, we suddenly have Wisniewski, Markov, Subban, and Diaz/Weber for PPs, which is a hell of a combination at the blue line. If Markov doesn’t come back, then we can free his salary up and fill in some other gap, and we’d still have had Wisniewski.

    I still believe signing Markov was the right move. The guy is one of, if not THE, premiere all around defensemen in the entire world. You simply can’t afford to let talent like this walk out the door to another team, because there would have been another team that would have signed him, and had he come back healthy, then PG would *really* have looked bad, and everyone would *really* have been calling for his head.

    The team may be in a tough spot right now, but I believe Markov’s signing isn’t the problem, and I’ve listed what the problems are over in the shoutbox. I believe if we can find an appropriate coach for this group and get one bonafide heavyweight on the team, we’ll get the ship righted.

    I don’t think a stronger case can be made for the need for a heavyeight on the team than looking at what happened to Miller. Miller gets run over by Lucic and misses games due to injury, finally comes back, and in his first game back gets run over by Tootoo. Two games ago, we had two seperate players try and run Price over in the crease, and no response from the Habs. We need to protect out star talent in the most desperate way, and if JM and PG can’t see this, it’s time to replace them with capable hockey minds who understand the complete game of hockey and how it works.

  6. #6 Mats Naslund says:
    December 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Avatar – I agree with your hind-sight wishlist but I’m not convinced that there was any way that Gauthier could have moved either Spacek or Gomez.

    After last season, there is no way there was a team out there who needed Spacek. He’s on a 35+ contract which means if he’s placed in the AHL his contract stays on the NHL books. If he’s bought out he would cost the full salary against the cap. The only way his salary could come off of the books would be if he were traded – which would be impossible given that he’s slow, old, injury prone and expensive. As hard a contract to move as almost anyone.

    Anyone except Gomez of course.

    Next year there is a slim possibility of moving Gomez to a smaller market team who would have the benefit of a full cap hit with 1 year at 5M and another at 3M. Still, Gomez has been so terrible, you have to think that teams would rather spend their money in other areas despite the potential to “save” a few dollars in terms of the cap.

    This past off-season, with the terrible season Gomez had, and his huge contract there is simply nothing short of demotion to the AHL which could get him off of our books. Even a buyout would be fantastically expensive for years past his contract end date.

    The fact is, PG had a choice to make. There wasn’t enough room for both Markov and Wisniewski. And if people are upset about having an injured Markov on the team – talk to me in 5 years when Wisniewski is still making $6 million to play -15 defense (current stats through 19 games played).

    It sucks that Markov is out – but I think we frankly dodged a bullet – with all due respect to Wisniewski’s great year last season.

  7. #7 Avatar37 says:
    December 8, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Mats Naslund – It’s hard to say without actually being the GM. Maybe he did try and move them with no success. I know I would have tried bundling them with a draft pick to a team near the cap floor. I know this has worked for other teams shedding salary, I don’t know why it wouldn’t work for us. I know Spacek can’t be buried in the minors, but as far as I know, Gomez can be, and while we’d still be paying his salary, it wouldn’t count against the cap. With the emergence of Engvist and LeBlanc, Gomez has become superfluous. You’re right, a buyout is not an option as it would still saddle us with a huge weight against the cap for double the current remaining term.

    There was, however, enough room for Markov and Wisniewski, and I demonstrated how to do that in a prior post. It would have involved having moved Spacek, moved AK, or not signed Campoli and Cole. In other words, we could have signed Markov and Wisniewski, and if we also wanted to sign Cole, we would have had to move someone to free up the room.

    I, for one, am not upset at having signed Markov, it would have been foolish not to.

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