Friday, June 17, 2011

A Day as Pierre Gauthier: Off-Season Game Plan

Every Friday, I will insert myself myself into the mind of Habs General Manager Pierre Gauthier and look at the approach I would take, were I in his shoes. For the first such installment, we’ll look at the Canadiens offseason game plan.

Where They Stand

As of today, based on players under contract, the Canadiens are looking at the following roster (note: the salary cap has not yet been set for 2011-12, but based on some conservative reports, we will estimate $62.2M):

Mike Cammalleri ($6.000m) / Tomas Plekanec ($5.000m) / Andrei Kostitsyn ($3.250m)
BLANK / Scott Gomez ($7.357m) / Brian Gionta ($5.000m)
Mathieu Darche ($0.700m) / Lars Eller ($1.270m) / Travis Moen ($1.500m)

P.K. Subban ($0.875m) / Hal Gill ($2.250m)
Alexei Yemelin ($0.984m) / Jaroslav Spacek ($3.833m)

Carey Price ($2.750m)

BUYOUTS: Georges Laraque ($0.500m)

CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $62,200,000; CAP PAYROLL: $41,270,509; BONUSES: $400,000
CAP SPACE (13-man roster): $20,929,491

Barring the trading of any of these players, we’d be looking at a little under $21M to find 4 forwards, 2 defensemen, a back-up goalie, and 2-3 press box fillers. No easy task given the goal is to field a better team than last year’s.

So here we are, June 17th, with the buyout period set to begin, and the draft a week away. What are the steps we take in preparing for opening night?

1) Montreal Canadiens trade Jaroslav Spacek to the Edmonton Oilers for Sheldon Souray

Reports have the Oilers ready to buy Souray out if they can’t find a taker by trade. This is where Montreal steps in.

Why Montreal Does it: Looking to contend this season, the Canadiens would love to retain James Wisniewski, but Spacek’s cap hit prohibits further spending on the blueline. Because he’s on a 35+ contract, the team cannot avoid the cap hit by sending Spacek to Hamilton or encouraging him to play in Europe. The only way to save the $3.833M is to trade him elsewhere. Spacek has worn out his welcome in Montreal, and should move on. Souray would be sent to Hamilton, taking his salary off the cap and providing an offensive boost to an AHL club that just lost two of its best scorers (Dustin Boyd and Nigel Dawes). As one of the league’s highest grossing teams, the Canadiens can afford to suck up such a high AHL salary for the ability to improve their NHL roster.

Why Edmonton Does it: Edmonton, on the other hand, has no concern of hitting the cap. In the NHL, Souray’s cap hit is $5.4M, but he has been playing for their AHL affiliate. His actual salary for next season, the last on his contract, is $4.5M, meaning by replacing him with Spacek, they would save more than $600K. Spacek, meanwhile, gives them a serviceable veteran d-man who has previously played in Edmonton to add to their group of young players, who also only has one year left on his deal.

Alternate Options if Rejected:
A) Montreal Canadiens trade Jaroslav Spacek to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Mike Commodore (assigned to Hamilton)
B) Montreal Canadiens trade Jaroslav Spacek and Benoit Pouliot to whoever will take them for a third round draft pick

2) Montreal Canadiens sign Andrei Markov to a 2-year, $10.5M deal

Before July 1st, Markov gives the Habs a small home-town discount, taking $500K less annually than his current contract in exchange for a second year of term. Both sides know that he has a lot to prove in terms of health and conditioning, so the deal is fair to both parties. Markov loves Montreal and shows a little gratitude for all the help he has received from the medical staff the past 2 seasons. For those even considering letting Markov walk, you’ve definitely forgotten how good he is when he’s healthy. We’re talking a potential top 5 or top 10 defenseman in the league. As big of a concern as the injuries are, the fact is, for the most part, they were freak situations. There’s no real reason not to expect Markov to put up a strong 70 or more games this year as a true #1 d-man anchoring the back end. Our best player of the past decade, Markov alone will be able to take this team to a whole ‘nother level.

Alternate Options if Rejected: Wait till the market opens, and attempt one of the following:
A) Montreal Canadiens sign Christian Ehrhoff to a 3-year, $16.5M deal
B) Montreal Canadiens sign Joni Pitkanen to a 3-year, $14.4M deal
C) Montreal Canadiens sign Roman Hamrlik to a 1-year, $3.5M deal

3) Montreal Canadiens sign James Wisniewski to a 3-year, $14.1M deal

With Spacek out of the picture, the Canadiens are free to use his cap space to give Wisniewski the raise he needs, here to a cap hit of $4.7M per year. This number seems fair to both sides, and locks Wisniewski up for the same term as most of the core (Gionta, Gomez, Cammalleri) to get another building block in place. If scoring is something the Habs lack, having all of Wisniewski, Subban, and Markov in the line-up will ensure some help from the blueline, not unlike Vancouver’s composition this past season. Wisniewski has in the past shown more of a physical side than what we saw in Montreal this past season, and it was likely not lost on him that he was playing for a free agent contract. With a 3-year deal in his pocket, he may feel liberated to take the body in a more consistent fashion without the constant threat of injury. While I believe Markov will play a full season, signing a second big-ticket d-man like Wisniewski is crucial just in case injuries strike the group again this year.

Alternate Options if Rejected: Wait till the market opens, and attempt one of the following:
A) Montreal Canadiens sign Kevin Bieksa to a 3-year, $15 M deal
B) Montreal Canadiens sign Tomas Kaberle to a 3-year, $15M deal
C) Montreal Canadiens sign Eric Brewer to a 2-year, $9M deal

4) Montreal Canadiens sign Jaromir Jagr to a 1-year, $4.5M deal

For those who saw the post of a couple of days ago, you’ll know that Jaromir Jagr is my number one forward UFA target. Some rumours had him willing to take as little as $2.5M or $3M to return to the NHL, but given that there are multiple teams in on the bidding, the Canadiens sweeten the pot to get him to sign. Even at age 39, Jagr is a superstar the likes of which the Habs haven’t seen in many years. He has repeatedly shown great chemistry with Tomas Plekanec on the international stage, most recently at this year’s World Championships. There is nothing to suggest that Jagr’s performance in Montreal would be any worse than the 70 points he put up in his final season with the Rangers, especially given that he is in better shape now than he was then. Adding an offensive threat of the sort would volt Montreal into true contender territory.

Alternate Options if Rejected: Wait till the market opens, and attempt one of the following:
A) Montreal Canadiens sign Erik Cole to a 2-year, $9.5 M deal
B) Montreal Canadiens sign Brooks Laich to a 3-year, $13.5M deal
C) Montreal Canadiens sign Ville Leino to a 3-year, $10.5M deal

5) Re-Sign RFAs

Josh Gorges – 4 years, $12M
Max Pacioretty – 2 years, $3.5M
David Desharnais – 1 year, $1M (one-way)
Ryan White – 2 years, $1.3M (one-way)
Yannick Weber – 1 year, $750K (one-way)
Benoit Pouliot – sign & trade for pick/prospect
Tom Pyatt – 1 year, $650K

6) Fill in Roster with a 4th Line Grinder and Back-Up Goalie via UFA

Options for a physical fourth liner with size, signed for 1 year between $700K and $950K: Michael Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Ben Eager
Options for a reliable back-up goaltender, signed for 1 year between $750K and $1.25M: Alex Auld, Ty Conklin, Mathieu Garon, Curtis McElhinney, Patrick Lalime

Putting the pieces together, the Canadiens would end up with a roster like the following:


Mike Cammalleri ($6.000m) / Tomas Plekanec ($5.000m) / Jaromir Jagr ($4.500m)
Max Pacioretty ($1.750m) / Scott Gomez ($7.357m) / Brian Gionta ($5.000m)
David Desharnais ($1.000m) / Lars Eller ($1.270m) / Andrei Kostitsyn ($3.250m)
Travis Moen ($1.500m) / Michael Rupp ($0.900m) / Ryan White ($0.850m)
Tom Pyatt ($0.650m) / Mathieu Darche ($0.700m)

Andrei Markov ($5.250m) / Josh Gorges ($3.000m)
Hal Gill ($2.250m) / P.K. Subban ($0.875m)
Alexei Yemelin ($0.984m) / James Wisniewski ($4.700m)
Yannick Weber ($0.750m)

Carey Price ($2.750m) / Alex Auld ($1.000m)

BUYOUTS: Georges Laraque ($0.500m)

CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $62,200,000; CAP PAYROLL: $61,787,176; BONUSES: $400,000
CAP SPACE (23-man roster): $412,824

With three quality offensive lines, a true rough & tumble fourth line, three strong defensive pairings, and Carey Price between the pipes, this line-up looks set to contend for the Eastern Conference title, and then ultimately a Stanley Cup. Moreover, this is a realistic line-up that doesn’t require, say, finding someone to take Scott Gomez in a trade and then signing Brad Richards. It will take a little work, and a little luck, but it is within Gauthier’s reach to achieve such a formation, and the club owes it to the fans to put the best team possible on the ice. For my money’s worth, this is the group I would love to see.


HABraCHadabra said...


Interesting post.
- The Spacek deals are intriguing, but I don't believe burying contracts fits Gauthier's (or Molson's)modus operandi;
- I'd be very surprised if Markov accepts less than his 5,75 unless he gets 3years+; Hamrlik at 3,75 is a bit pricy;
- why would Wiz accept a contract that short for that little (esp. if you think Kaberle is worth $5M)? I don't see him signing for less than $5M, unless he gets 5 years+...;
- Bieksa won't be available, Brewer probably not... too bad!;
- I prefer Konopka to Rupp b/c of his face-off prowess, but either leaves you with no right-handed center... WAS combo of Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley might be interesting;
- I don't think Desharnais can play wing on a regular basis in the NHL, because he doesn't have the speed to compensate for his size;
- Habs have to get a real backup G. Auld cannot cut it for 20-25 games. Garon would be great!

I wrote a series on the "Possess the Ghost" game on my blog ( Feel free to visit and comment!

Good job!

Rambling Johnny said...

Do you really think that if the Molson's were wiling to send bad money in the AHL Gomez would still be with the Habs?

Dan K. said...

@Rambling Johnny: I don't believe the organization would send the remaining $17M+ on Gomez's contract to the AHL, but I do believe Souray's 1 year of $4.5M would be possible.

I agree on both comments that this is a departure from Montreal's past moves, but if they want to commit to winning, finding a way to get Spacek's contract off the books is critical. Any of sending him to the AHL, assigning him to Europe, or having him retire all do not help on that front, as he's on a 35+ contract. So the only way to do it is to trade him. And the only way to trade him is for another unwanted salary.

Desharnais looked ok on the wing in short spurts last year. In Montreal, either he or Eller will have to adapt to that position, or one is likely to be traded by year's end.

I have no problem with Auld as a back-up. He IS a "real back-up". Garon would be good as well, but whatever the case may be, the Canadiens need a cheap option because whoever takes that position won't play more than 15 games.