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:
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?