Friday, August 5, 2011

A Day as Pierre Gauthier: Thinking Long-Term

Is Pierre Gauthier done for the summer? Aside from adding a needed depth defenseman for the Hamilton Bulldogs, it looks like the present group of signed players MAY be the team with which the Habs start the season. And if this is the case, Habs fans shouldn't panic. The team has a good enough group to start out strong, and should eventually look to fill holes as we get closer to the trade deadline.

But for today, let's think much longer term than this. As a G.M., Gauthier's job goes far beyond preparing for this season. He must have a plan that looks ahead, ensuring the club will be competitive for years to come. Thanks to, let's start by looking at the contracts the Canadiens have in place.



What this tells us is that:

1) Gauthier has cap space to work with in the immediate future
2) A "core" is locked up till at least the summer of 2014
3) Next summer, the biggest priorities will be signing RFAs Carey Price and P.K. Subban long-term

How big of a concern is it that Montreal has big dollar players locked up for the next few seasons? It certainly didn't matter much this summer where the UFA crop was average at best. But the long-term plan must not only consider the team's own players (and prospects of course), but also who may become available in years future.

Of course, we can never be certain exactly who will hit the market. The further ahead we look, the less predictable things become. Most UFA classes look tantalizing a year+ ahead of time, and are whittled down with re-signings well before the July 1st date.

But for fun, let's peek ahead. By the time all is said and done, next summer's unrestricted free agents may not be much more appealing than this year's around the NHL. But as of today, here's a look at a Top 25 names of players who will still be 36 and under come July 1, 2012 and are pending UFAs. We've excluded goaltenders from all UFA lists in this piece as we are making the assumption that Carey Price will be the Habs' starter for the foreseeable future.

Next Summer (2012) UFA Class (Age at UFA) - Top 25

Semin, Alexander (28)
Smyth, Ryan (36)
Doan, Shane (35)
Penner, Dustin (29)
Hemsky, Ales (28)
Boyes, Brad (30)
Avery, Sean (32)
Umberger, R.J. (30) (re-signed 21/09/11)
Kunitz, Chris (32)
Stoll, Jarret (30)
Parise, Zach (27)
Jokinen, Olli (33)
Grabovski, Mikhail (28)
Kostitsyn, Andrei (27)
Huselius, Kristian (33)

Liles, John-Michael (31)
Wideman, Dennis (29)
Kubina, Pavel (35)
Beauchemin, Francois (32)
Stuart, Brad (32)
Suter, Ryan (27)
Carle, Matt (27)
Coburn, Brayden (27)
Kronwall, Niklas (31)
Gorges, Josh (27)

Who might the Habs have an eye on hoping he hits the market? Well I think Josh Gorges will be retained well before that day, but if the team doesn't feel prospects like Jarred Tinordi, Rafael Diaz, or others will be set, they may seek to bring in a replacement for Roman Hamrlik; something which wasn't done this summer. Here, names like Ryan Suter, Pavel Kubina, Brad Stuart, and Niklas Kronwall would be terrific additions to bring veteran presence once Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek are released back into the wild.

There won't be a real need for an offensive forward, though depending on how this season shakes out and the player of younger forwards on the team, a replacement for Andrei Kostitsyn on a third line might be looked at. Many are penciling Aaron Palushaj into his spot, but he has yet to prove that he will be a consistent NHL player (some might suggest nor has Kostitsyn, but he IS an established 20+goal winger). Depending on the cap hit, R.J. Umberger (who can play both center and wing) or Chris Kunitz could be great fits in that role, replacing the lost size and toughness. Certainly a team with Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, and one of those two in the top 6 or 9 couldn't be considered "small and soft."

Let's take one more leap ahead. Not knowing what the Canadiens will look like at all two years from now, let's see the possibilities of who might be available to them on July 1, 2013 (again, 36 and under only, and no goaltenders).

2013 UFA Class (Age at UFA) - Top 40

Crosby, Sidney (25)
Getzlaf, Ryan (28)
Perry, Corey (28)
Iginla, Jarome (36)
Roy, Derek (30)
Staal, Jordan (24)
Morrow, Brenden (34)
Burrows, Alexandre (32)
Clowe, Ryan (30)
Horton, Nathan (28)
Zajac, Travis (28)
Weiss, Stephen (30)
Filppula, Valtteri (29)
Gagne, Simon (33)
Fisher, Mike (33)
Hartnell, Scott (31)
Bouchard, Pierre-Marc (29)
Ribeiro, Mike (33)
Connolly, Tim (32)
McDonald, Andy (35)
Lupul, Joffrey (29)
Brouwer, Troy (27)
Neil, Chris (34)
Cleary, Daniel (34)
MacArthur, Clarke (28)
Armstrong, Colby (30)

Visnovsky, Lubomir (36)
Edler, Alexander (27)
Enstrom, Tobias (28)
Whitney, Ryan (30)
Regehr, Robyn (33)
Vlasic, Marc-Edouard (26)
Hainsey, Ron (32)
Streit, Mark (35)
Zidlicky, Marek (36)
Scuderi, Rob (34)
Leopold, Jordan (32)
Lydman, Toni (35)
White, Ian (29)
Smid, Ladislav (27)

I'll give you a minute to stop drooling and pick your jaw up off the floor. Even if only 1 out of every 3 names on this list makes it to free agency without re-signing, that's 13 top notch players. Referring back to our list of Habs contracts at the top, during this off-season, we'll still basically already have the first two lines under contract. Meaning if Sidney Crosby wants to play for his boyhood favourite team, or if Gauthier can correct a draft day mistake of passing on Ryan Getzlaf, he's likely to have to find a taker for Scott Gomez first. And this summer would seem to be the time to be rid of Scottie's deal, as while there aren't too many centers on the UFA market in 2012, 2013 offers Crosby, Getzlaf, Derek Roy, Travis Zajac, Valtteri Filppula, and more. Plus, Gomer will have just 1 year left under contract, and be due far less in actual cash for that last year, likely making him quite moveable to a team well under the salary cap.

If you're wondering... the odds that Sidney Crosby signs with the Canadiens that summer? Worse than the chance he can't return to the ice this season and decides to retire. That is to say: not happening.

But what if we're stuck with Gomez's deal. An aging Jarome Iginla could make a great linemate for him on a one year deal. Or if neither Kunitz nor Umberger is signed next summer, what about Brendan Morrow in 2013? Want someone younger? There are budding power forwards in Ryan Clowe and Troy Brouwer. There is plenty of offense from the back end available for teams looking to fix a wonky powerplay, but with a stacked puckmover pipeline like Montreal has, the team may just be looking for some defensive help. In this case, an older player like Robyn Regehr, Rob Scuderi, or Toni Lydman might be a short-term fix. It's early to determine how coveted Ladislav Smid will be by then as he still has much to prove in his game, but he could be a good younger option, along with Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Throughout the next 2 summers, Montreal has the safety net of Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, Andrei Markov, and Brian Gionta under contract already as a base to build on. But what about when they'll no longer be around? As of today, only Tomas Plekanec and Erik Cole are signed for the 2014-15 season, so while very far away, depending on how things go, we may see turnover similar to the summer of 2009. Fortunately for Mr. Gauthier (assuming he's still in charge at that time), the Canadiens aren't the only ones in this predicament. Here's a look at an enormously talented group of guys that could be available that summer.

2014 UFA Class (Age at UFA) - Top 40

Malkin, Evgeni (27)
Sedin, Henrik (33)
Sedin, Daniel (33)
Datsyuk, Pavel (36)
Stastny, Paul (28)
Vanek, Thomas (30)
Thornton, Joe (35)
Marleau, Patrick (34)
Brown, Dustin (29)
Heatley, Dany (33)
Cammalleri, Mike (32)
Gaborik, Marian (32)
Bergeron, Patrice (29)
Kessel, Phil (27)
Gionta, Brian (35)
Legwand, David (33)
Michalek, Milan (29)
Callahan, Ryan (29)
Pavelski, Joe (30)
Bolland, Dave (28)
Moulson, Matt (30)
Setoguchi, Devin (27)
Pominville, Jason (31)
Gomez, Scott (34)
Steen, Alexander (30)

Letang, Kristopher (27)
Bouwmeester, Jay (30)
Phaneuf, Dion (29)
Markov, Andrei (35)
Pitkanen, Joni (30)
Kaberle, Tomas (36)
Gilbert, Tom (31)
Meszaros, Andrej (28)
Orpik, Brooks (33)
Hjalmarsson, Niklas (27)
Tallinder, Henrik (35)
Seidenberg, Dennis (33)
Komisarek, Mike (32)
Girardi, Dan (30)
Ericsson, Jonathan (30)
Phillips, Chris (36)

Cammalleri, Gionta, Gomez, and Markov walk out the door? Tough one, but what if Paul Stastny, Thomas Vanek, Devin Setoguchi, and Kris Letang come in to replace them? Needless to say, the summer of 2014 is shaping up to be an exciting one for all hockey fans.

But for now, we'll put away our crystal balls and just look forward to being a little more than a month away from rookie and training camp. If this article scared you about the Canadiens' future, keep in mind they aren't alone in dealing with players scheduled to hit the market. Look at the Pittsburgh Penguins. 2013 sees Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal as pending free agents, while in 2014 it will be Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang's turns. Over the same time period, the Leafs will have to deal with Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek, Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, John-Michael Liles, and Colby Armstrong. Nothing to worry about!

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