Friday, July 29, 2011

Where We Stand - Habs Rumour Update

There has been lots of talk of late about what Pierre Gauthier is up to, which players are still available, and what may or may not happen. Is Gauthier "done"? What does it mean to be "done" anyway? Even if Gauthier is happy with his team, he will never stop looking to improve it, so at no point will he just give up and be "done."

Today, we look at some discussion of the past week+ to try to see what really is going on.

1) Trade Rumours with the Washington Capitals

With the Capitals in a precarious salary cap situation, it seems apparent they will have to make some kind of move before the season opens. It may be as simple as Tom Poti ending up on LTIR, but if George McPhee wants some breathing room, he will have to do something more significant. Initial rumours a little over a week ago had the club possibly shopping forward Alexander Semin. This would make some sense, since Semin isn't always in the organization's good books and has only one year remaining on his deal before becoming a UFA. Of course, because the Habs name is a major traffic-generator for "rumour sites," Semin was linked to Montreal in a deal that would include Andrei Kostitsyn (also a UFA next summer). First, from the Caps' perspective, while it would work to save a few bucks, the demand would be for the Canadiens to add in a significant prospect or draft pick. Once you've done that, the deal looks utterly unappealing to the Habs: on a non-physical team, lead the guy who led the club in hits, and acquire a similar, more offensively gifted but perhaps even more enigmatic Russian forward coming off his worst season since 2007-08. Not happening.

So, once it seemed like Habs fans were not buying into this, the sites switched targets: now forward Nicklas Backstrom, under contract until the year 2020, was to be moved, with the Canadiens again offering up Kostitsyn as part of a package. Backstrom may have just completed the worst season of his career, but he is still a star player. But hold on a second. The Caps are far from deep in offensive centers, and Backstrom is part of their young core (hence the lengthy deal). Until the day Scott Gomez is dealt, the Habs are NOT in the market for a long-term top 6 pivot, and that won't be until next off-season at the earliest (and no, Washington wouldn't take Gomez back in the deal, since the whole purpose was to save cap room). So even if Backstrom were inexplicably available, there isn't a fit here, especially given the organization's seeming hatred of over-the-top long contracts like the one he has.

If you want to work out a deal with Washington, look at Jeff Schultz as a more realistic potential acquisition. A tough defensive defenseman who is signed for 3 more seasons at $2.75M a year.

2) The Josh Gorges Situation

Habs fans were split over the signing of Josh Gorges last Friday night. While happy a deal got done pre-arbitration, and accepting of the fair salary, concerned over the 1-year term that means he could be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Does this mean he's not in Pierre Gauthier's plans? I don't think so. He has stated he loves playing in Montreal and wants to win a Stanley Cup here, and if the team will have him back, he'll certainly sign at fair market value. Which, for a player like him, shouldn't be more than $1M or more per season than his present deal (worst case scenario) - hardly the end of the world for the club's cap situation, even with P.K. Subban and Carey Price to sign next off-season. But there a strong UFA classes coming up in the next few years (which we'll look at next week), and Gauthier has left himself added flexibility with a short-term contract. Gorges is a great guy on and off the ice, a heart-and-soul leader type who gives his 110% on a nightly basis, and the kind of player you can win with. But his skill set is limited, and it's not to say he couldn't eventually be upgraded to a more complete player. A one year deal lets the team see how he performs after a 7-years-in-the-making major surgery, as well as to assess the progress of guys like Alexei Yemelin, Yannick Weber, and Rafael Diaz and where they fit in the long-term plans.

3) The New York Islanders (and The Salary Cap Floor)

The salary cap floor was set at $48.3M for this season, and as of today, 4 teams are projected to have payrolls below this number. The Nashville Predators are furthest at $7M away, but they still have Shea Weber to sign, so he will eat most of that difference on a long-term deal, and the club will then add a 7th defenseman to make up the rest. The Colorado Avalanche are a little under $3M to the floor, but if newly signed Gabriel Landeskog makes the team with his $3.575M cap hit, the issue is solved. The Phoenix Coyotes are just about $500K away with a full roster under contract, but Mikkel Boedker and Kyle Turris remain unsigned, so once they take the places of lower salaried forwards, there should be no issues.

That leaves the much-talked about New York Islanders, who stand about $6M from the floor, but still need to add 3 forwards and perhaps a third goaltender if there isn't much confidence in Al Montoya. If we assume Nino Niederreiter will make the team, that cuts the requirements in half, which might be filled on RFAs alone like Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau. But if that's still not enough, the team is apparently in talks with Alexei Yashin about an NHL return, and/or may offer a one year deal to Marty Turco who is still looking for work. So NO, the Islanders do NOT need Scott Gomez or Jaroslav Spacek, so STOP DREAMING that they will take one of these burden salaries of Montreal's hands. All times should be cap compliant by opening night without too much more difficulty at this point.

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