Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Kink in the Plan

Whatever your thoughts of Pierre Gauthier's moves (or lack thereof) on deadline day, the always tight-lipped Habs general manager gave fans a little glimpse of his plan for the team yesterday. Whether he'll be the one ultimately executing the next phases of it or not, it is clear that he has goals to increase the overall size of the team to compensate for its smaller players, and that inconsistent play like that of Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn simply won't cut it.

These two principles sounds great in theory. They sound like parts of a recipe for turning your Montreal Canadiens into contenders once again. But while last night's Habs loss to the Lightning, combined with a Leafs loss, Caps and Canes wins, and a point for the Islanders fit absolutely perfectly into my personal Tanking desires, there appear to be a few holes or kinks in the team's current plan to turn their fortunes around.

A top 3 pick in this June's NHL Entry Draft will be a nice reward for surviving a putrid season of horrendous underachievement. But following moves this season that rid the team of the disappointing Cammalleri and Kostitsyn, even after adding a potential franchise forward through the draft, there remain problems that won't be easy to solve in the short term. While their play wasn't up to par, both Cammalleri and Kostitsyn were supposed to have important roles on the team; one as a premiere goal-scoring top 6 winger, and the other as a skilled and tough secondary scorer capable of potting 20+. While I appreciate what Rene Bourque can bring to the table, he certainly doesn't replace Cammalleri's contribution, and I'm doubting at this point that he can replace Kostitsyn's goals either.

So let's take a look at where the Canadiens stand right now. I'll even go ahead and assume the team manages to retain Travis Moen's services before he hits the open market on July 1st, and take the optimistic liberty of assuming the Habs will be able to perform some type of amnesty buyout to rid themselves of Scott Gomez's contract with the new CBA.


Rene Bourque ($3.333m) / Tomas Plekanec ($5.000m) / Brian Gionta ($5.000m)
Max Pacioretty ($1.625m) / David Desharnais ($0.850m) / Erik Cole ($4.500m)
Travis Moen ($1.850m) / Lars Eller ($1.300m) / Louis Leblanc ($1.170m)
Mike Blunden ($0.615m) / Ryan White ($0.625m) / Blake Geoffrion ($0.800m)
Andreas Engqvist ($0.700m)

Andrei Markov ($5.750m) / Josh Gorges ($3.900m)
Alexei Emelin ($2.500m) / P.K. Subban ($3.000m)
Tomas Kaberle ($4.250m) / Raphael Diaz ($2.000m)
Yannick Weber ($0.850m)

Carey Price ($6.500m) / Peter Budaj ($1.150m)

CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $57,268,333; BONUSES: $300,000
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $7,031,667

As is generally the case with a team currently sitting in last place in their conference, there are many, many problems here we can go over. I've given much attention to the need for a big, star, top 6 center, and that remains a hole on the roster. I'd say that finding such a player remains a priority if only because those types are difficult to add since they rarely become available.

But there's more. The third and fourth lines are very weak, due in part to Lars Eller's stunted offensive development and general inexperience of the group. I would love to see a team that could roll three offensive lines, and then feature Travis Moen and Ryan White flanking a big and tough center on the fourth unit, but the team seems far from achieving anything of the sort with bigger fish to fry first.

One of these big fish is the top 6 forward group. The Canadiens had seemingly gotten to a point where they no longer needed to rely on Andrei Kostitsyn for top 6 offense due to their forward depth. Having to insert a guy like Rene Bourque into the top 6, then, is a step backwards. Will Brian Gionta get back to his near-30 goal production, or will he play like he did prior to his injuries this season? Can pint-sized David Desharnais repeat this year's production over the long haul? Will he always need twin towers on either side of him in the team's top forwards, Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole? If so, that certainly handicaps line juggling flexibility. And what of Tomas Plekanec - is this poor season just an outlier? Pacioretty and Cole are pieces for a winning team, and Plekanec can be a solid 2nd line center on a championship team, but that still leaves three slots needing some kind of possible upgrade or change.

In short, to fix the forward group quickly, you would need to add 1-2 top 6 wingers, and ideally upgrade the center position. That's a tall order to fill in one summer, especially with a huge lack of talent available on the free agent market. Some of the few names to consider include Zach Parise, Jiri Hudler, and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, but there isn't much else, and even those 3 are each 6'0" or shorter. Plus with the shallow market, each of these guys is sure to get an overpayment as a UFA. We can conclude, then, that it is going to take some awfully creative work for Gauthier or whoever is GM to "fix" the team's forward group prior to the 2012-13 season, even if one problem could be solved via the draft (more on that tomorrow).

And then there's the defense, perhaps the team's biggest Achilles heel this season. If we assume that Andrei Markov will be back and will play like a top pairing defender, then that obviously helps the situation, giving the team two competent pairings. But there is still a need to add a top 4 guy on defense, and ideally one who could pick up the slack if Markov were to get hurt again (think Roman Hamrlik of a few seasons ago). A problem is that much of this "new guy"'s future cap hit is presently being made by Tomas Kaberle, a player not trustworthy enough to take on the role. The hope would be that with Markov and P.K. Subban on the top PP unit next season, the need for Kaberle would disappear and the team would find a way to move him. Taking a run at possible UFA Ryan Suter this summer would cure much of what ails the team's back end, but there are lesser money options who could also be signed to help the situation, such as Dennis Wideman, Brad Stuart, or Bryan Allen. A key will be that if Suter isn't the guy (meaning the player signed isn't part of a very long-term plan), then the Habs should be looking to get someone on a short-term deal. There are an incredible amount of defensive prospects who should be ready to make the leap in the next 1-3 years, so the team will eventually need to find room (though there is no need to rush anyone).

So what does this all mean? I'm not suggesting that you start licking your chops at the prospect of taking Nathan MacKinnon first overall in 2013, but there is much work to do for whoever will be managing the team into the summer and next season. Some unpopular decisions will have to be made; for one I could foresee the trading of Lars Eller before he reaches his full potential for a player to fill a top 6 wing slot. But once the team properly identifies a core and its needs around it, we should start to see some real progress.


Mark said...

Not sure why you think that Bourque can't replace Kostisyn's goals. He already has more of a proven track record than Kostisyn and has scored more that him this year. Do not confuse percieved potential with actual results. If we are looking for Borque to fill Kostisyn's skates then that shouldn't be much of an issue, those are tiny little skates.

Anonymous said...


Agreed for the most part. I'm beginniong to think we might be looking at a 2 year tank. McKinnon? Doubt it.

Let's draft 1-4 this year. The pick starts full time in 13-14. And is effective.

Let's draft 1-4 next year, the pick starts full time in 14-15. And is effective.

And Let'hope one of those 2 picks is a very high grade Center.

Combined with the up and coming very good D prospects, and some interesting F like Gallagher, and I could see us top 5 in conference in 14-15, within the Price window.

It is all about the no. one center. If above scenario does not happen, I am more and more convinced that missing Giroux absolutely killed us, maybe for 6 years or more.

I think the entire NHL has realized that true no. one centers are very very rare. We may have to keep tanking until we get one.

And I'm more and more concerned about what I hear on Grigs.What shit luck to finally tank, and not have any truly can't miss big centers 1-4! Fack!


Anonymous said...

Bourque replaces AK on the 3rd line and the money saved moving AK and Cammy will be used on a top 6 forward to replace Cammys production.

Anonymous said...

I would send Kaberle to europe like chicago did with Huet. that free's up 4.25 mil.Why would you want to break up the DD line? Gio is going to play with plec and quite possibly Bourque. Start them together in training camp to develop the chemistry. Eller should center the third line with Moen if he's still here with LL or Geoffrion. White can also play center between Blunden, Staubitz

Anonymous said...

If the habs pick up a center in the draft these kids are so good now they can step right into the lineup.Plenty of examples of that these days.

Dan K. said...

@Mark: It's not impossible that Bourque could replace Kostitsyn's goals, though I maintain doubt. The bigger concern is that Kostitsyn had become a third liner in Montreal, and right now Bourque slots on to the 2nd line. The bigger concern is that loss of scoring depth.

@Anonymous1: I'm also afraid the "tank" may extend beyond this season given the lack of solutions to the team's ailments on the UFA market this summer. I also doubt finishing last next season to draft MacKinnon - that comment was more tongue-in-cheek. While there is no can't miss prospect there for us this year, it is hard to deny the potential of a Grigorenko or Galchenyuk. Let's remain hopeful on them!

@Anonymous2: I certainly hope that is the case, but suggesting that money automatically buys quality players is a fallacy. The UFA market is quite bare this summer, so adding a premiere scorer won't be easy.

@Anonymous3: I would hope the team finds a creative way to get rid of Kaberle. Taking on his contract was a horrendous move. Your lines are very logical, but I don't see that team as better than this year's (Markov being the only real addition, and I don't know that he's enough to get back into the playoffs).

@Anonymous4: Unfortunately this year's class doesn't seem especially NHL-ready after Yakupov. It's not impossible that Grigorenko or even Galchenyuk impresses enough to start the season in Montreal, but don't think it's a given that they can be top 6 players immediately.