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Looking Ahead

  • First off, let me say that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the 2nd round of the playoffs – it truly is the best time of year, when every little play carries such weight and importance.

    Over the course of the next few weeks and months I want to look at the current situation facing the Montreal Canadiens, and what shape the squad may take next season. I’ll look at various players that may impact the team next year, and what constraints that management will have to deal with in order to put the best team possible on the ice.

    While it seems as though every offseason in Montreal is spent pondering whether the CH will be able to sign an impact forward, I really think the big story for the Habs will be on defense. The Habs have two defensemen signed for next season in the final year of their respective contracts – Jaroslav Spacek ($3.83M) and PK Subban ($875,000). That these are Montreal’s only signed defensemen is a lesson in contrast. Subban’s contract may be the best deal in the entire league. Spacek’s is clearly not. How Pierre Gauthier goes about handling the situation will play a huge role in determining what the make-up of the back end is next season.

    I’m going to leave PK Subban out of this. Clearly he is a top 2 defender who will anchor the defense for years to come. Nothing more needs to be said. Spacek, on the other hand, represents an enormous obstacle for Gauthier’s defensive plan.

    With Markov, Gorges, Wisniewski, Weber, Gill, Hamrlik, Sopel, Mara, and Picard all entering free agency, Pierre Gauthier has some big time decisions ahead. Given the bloated roster of defenders to choose from I can comfortably reason that Picard, Mara and Sopel are unlikely to be resigned given that they were all used as replacement solutions for players returning to action. Of the remaining defenders listed above – are there any that you would discard in favor of Spacek if given the chance? I wouldn’t choose one. Add to this the prospect of (potentially and finally) bringing  the rough and tumble Alexei Yemelin (26 pts, 117 PIMS in 56GMS in the KHL) over from Russia – and you have an incredibly difficult situation to navigate.

    Spacek’s contract is an albatross. I’d say it is more damaging to the Canadiens than Gomez’ – although I’m sure there are many who disagree. To me you simply cannot afford nearly $4M in capspace for a guy who could quite possibly end up being the #9 defender on your team’s potential depth chart of players with a shot at being re-signed.

    1. Markov 2. Subban. 3. Gorges 4. Wisniewski 5. Gill 6. Yemelin 7. Weber 8. Hamrlik 9. Spacek

    If the cap restrictions and contracts were thrown away there is no chance that Gauthier would continue to employ the slowing, aging Czech defender. Barring a surprise Spacek retirement ceremony this summer – PG has a problem on his hands.

    The Canadiens GM has a duty to put the best possible combination of defenders on the ice. Spacek is no where near that list – and PG will need to explore his options for accomplishing his goals. But what are his options?

    The first, and most effective (though highly unlikely) option would be trade. To accomplish this minor miracle, Gauthier would need to find a team that needs to add salary to achieve the mandatory cap floor. Do the Coyotes,  Islanders,  Thrashers, or Panthers need an expensive and increasingly diminished veteran presence on the blue line? The answer is no unless Gauthier can package a young Canadiens player to sweeten the pot. Still, there are very few teams who are looking to add $4M in cap hit.

    There are two other options that Pierre Gauthier could choose to explore. The first is one that makes very little sense – a buyout. A buyout of Spacek’s contract would accomplish very little – and cost a great deal. Spacek signed a three year contract with a cap hit of $3.83M contract lasting until the end of next season. Because of his age when the contract was signed (35+), Spacek’s cap hit would not diminish in the event of a buyout. The Habs simply do not have a buyout option for Spacek.

    The final option is to bury Spacek’s contract in the minors – forcing him to play out the final year of his deal riding a bus in Hamilton. It is the cut-throat way to do business in the NHL, and yet, there are mounting precedents throughout the league. Mike Commodore, Sheldon Souray, and Wade Redden are just a few examples of players who’ve been casualties of their own contracts. The question is whether or not the Molson’s will want to pay $4M next year to a guy in order to not play for the CH. I certainly have my preference – but its not my money.

    If I had my way, next year’s edition of defense would look something like:

    Markov- Subban


    Gorges – Gill

    Burying Spacek, and parting ways with Hamrlik would save the Canadiens $9.3M in capspace. The effect that that could have for the Canadiens roster is monumental. There would be money to re-sign all of our RFA’s and as many of our UFA’s as desired. With the savings of having so many young players on the roster, there may even be enough for a free-agent forward with si…. lets not get ahead of ourselves.

    This grand scheme relies on the Habs management doing something that while easy to do in theory – is hard to do in practice. However, with so many teams in the league choosing to go this route with bad contracts you wonder how the Habs could ignore the potential benefits. Spacek and Hamrlik have done an admirable job over the past few seasons, and yet most everyone can see that the game has started to catch up to them on both fronts.

    What do you guys think?

  1. #1 Senet1 says:
    May 4, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Mats I can’t find much wrong with what you are saying. There is one thing I would add and that would be if we cannot bet something for Weber I would make sure he is signed as a fourth liner. He seemed to be effective in that position in the PO and he gives us that added insurance in case of injury. I also would consider signing Mara, he can se signed for less than a Million probably more like $600,000 and would be a cheap replacement as a 7th defenceman. He did not play much but he seemed to be a different defenceman from the guy we had a year ago. More agressive and physical plus he played like he wanted to be here. Of course Spacek could be sent down to Hamilton and be recalled a number of times exposing him to waivers as many times as we are allowed to do. Spacek could be sent down as a defensive coach which may make it easier for him to accept it.

  2. #2 Senet1 says:
    May 4, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    I am not sure about Gil, he seemed to run out of gas this year in the playoffs. Is he slowing down. He did not seem as good after coming back from his injury or sickness? So I am not sure I am going to invest in any more than a one year contract I am inclined to consider Sopel also a shot blocker and like to play it a little rougher than Gil. I like Gil and what he has done for this team, I am just wondering if he still and enough in the tank. In fact we may want to look for a FA defenceman especially if he could be a top four.

  3. #3 Senet1 says:
    May 4, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    I do not have a warm an fuzzy feeling about Markov? To me he is a question mark, to serious injuries on that need in two years is bound to slow him down. Will he have the same desire to compete and how vulnerable is that knee?

  4. #4 Mats Naslund says:
    May 5, 2011 at 9:54 am

    You’re absolutely right about Markov Senet. Still, if any team is going to take a chance (and MANY will be interested), I would like it to be the Habs. People are amazed to see how badly both the Flyers and (to a lesser extent) the Bruins have struggled this season without their #1 defenders. Just imagine how good our defense would be with an effective Markov on defense. Its easy to forget that he was BY FAR our best player before his injuries. If there is a chance he can regain that form – the Habs need to take that chance. That said – have a contingency (Subban and Wiz). I say with both Markov and Gill the Habs need to take a year or two at a time approach. No three year mistakes like Spacek.

  5. #5 Mats Naslund says:
    May 5, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Mara and Sopel would both be good 7th defensemen if capspace allows. I think we’re still a year away from seeing Brendan Nash as a legit NHL possibility. Tinordi will be two years at least. Weber is clearly an asset – but with Subban and the possibility of Markov and Wisniewski coming back, I don’t see a spot for him on defense (given his lack of size). Maybe the best option is a trade.

  6. #6 Senet1 says:
    May 5, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Weber can also play fourth line and we a swing guy on defence when playing less physical teams. I agree if we can get something good for him them trade him but otherwise I sign him as my fourth line winger/swing defenceman second powerplay as well. That is a great asset to have. He proved he could play on the wing in the PO and also contributed on the PP. Based on that we would have to get a pretty good player in order to trade him.

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