What the Habs should do this summer

It’s been a few weeks now since the Montreal Canadiens were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This is David Clarkson. He’s going to want big money as a free agent, and the Habs would be better off to not offer it to him.

And in that time, there’s been a lot of knee-jerk reaction as to what the Habs should do this summer.

But I can sum it up in pretty much one word: nothing.

Or at most, not much.

The more I think about, the more I think the Habs don’t need to make a lot of big moves. Just some minor tweaks to their third/fourth lines.

The key reason is to prepare for the summer of 2014.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we need to look at what the Habs need to deal with this summer.

The team’s free agents:

Most of them have to walk. Michael Ryder will cost too much money to keep. Colby Armstrong doesn’t bring anything to the table (seriously: name one thing he does better than anyone else on this team). Petteri Nokelainen doesn’t play, even when he’s not injured. Jeff Halpern is a nice guy to have, but there’s no room on the team. I like Yannick Weber, but he seems to be the odd-man out on the blue line.

That leaves us with three guys: Mike Blunden, Ryan White and Davis Drewiske. I would re-sign all three, as they are good role/depths players, although Blunden and Drewiske would probably start the season in the minors.

Other team’s free agents

Do not sign any of them. We don’t need to overpay for a Jarome Iginla, a Patrick Elias or a Mike Ribeiro. We don’t need oft-injured guys like Andy McDonald or Tim Connolly. We don’t need older guys like Teemu Selanne or Jaromir Jagr. We don’t need streaky players like David Clarkson or Ryane Clowe that will be given too much money.

That’s because if the Habs are re-building, they should be giving ice time to the young players. It’s to no one’s benefit to sign a guy like Jagr to a one-year deal and then have Alex Galchenyuk play 12 minutes a game because he can’t get on the top two lines. Play guys like Eller, Galch and Gallgher a ton. Let them learn, even if they make mistakes.

Truthfully, there’s only three guys I would be looking at this off-season that are free agents, and even then, I’m not sold on them:

Pierre-Marc Bouchard: Still young enough that if he can stay healthy, he can make an impact scoring-wise. Because of his injury history, he shouldn’t be that expensive. And he’d be a great third-liner.

Nathan Horton: Still a young guy (only 27 years old). He can play strong defence, has a strong presence, can hit, and score. Great third liner that can play second or even first-line minutes if there are injuries.

Raffi Torres: Fourth-liner who can hit, annoy, and won’t back down from anybody.

I also wouldn’t mind Matt Cullen, but the team has too many centres as it is.

Do not use the amnesty buyout on Kaberle

Yes, you read that right. The Habs would be making a big mistake if they used their final amnesty buyout on Tomas Kaberle (they already used one of Scott Gomez earlier this year).

Instead, the Habs should use a regular buyout on the former all-star defenceman.

Kaberle is only signed for one more year. Why waste an amnesty buyout on him? Instead, use a regular buyout, and then the Habs will have a cap hit of $1.25 million for each of the next two years. That’s not a lot of money, and it’s a savings of $3 million next season.

Use the amnesty buyout on Moen

Travis Moen is a fine fourth-liner. He’s making $1.85 million a year to pretty much do nothing. He played 45 games (ninth on the team), and averaged 11:39 of ice time a game (24th). He had two goals (16th), four assists (17th) and six points (18th).

Sorry Travis Moen, but it’s time you left Montreal.

But maybe he’s not there for his offence, you say. Well, his -4 was 28th on the team (out of 29 players). He took 10 faceoffs (13th), threw 82 hits (fourth), blocked 22 shots (12th), and averaged  2:14 of shorthanded ice time a game (fifth, but the highest for a forward that was with the team all year).

So he does one thing well: hit. I don’t include the shorthanded time on ice because the Habs finished 23rd in penalty killing. If he did that well, the Habs would be higher on the list.

For that, we’re paying almost $2 million a year for the next three years? The team would be better served to have a guy make minimum salary and play that exact same role. Or pay someone that same amount that does the same. Look at Chris Neil, for example. He makes $2 million a year, scores more, hits more, fights more, etc.

I don’t think anyone would want to trade for Moen, so the only way to get rid of him is to buy him out.

So let’s use the amnesty buyout on Moen, and a regular buyout on Kaberle. That frees up two roster spots and saves $5 million a year.

Trade for Ott

I’d be willing to give up our second round pick and a prospect like Louis Leblanc for Ott. Ott is what the Habs need: Hits, agitator, decent enough offensively for what he does, signed for one more year, etc.

Imagine a line of Prust, Ott and White, especially come playoff time.

I have no idea if Ott is available. He’s a free agent next summer, and the Sabres seem to be going through a rebuild after a disastrous season. Maybe he wants out if that is the case.

But if he is available, the Habs need to make a move for him.

Wait until 2014

This is the key part of my whole article. The summer of 2014 is going to be a crazy year for free agents. Even if the cap goes back up $5 million, a lot of teams will be crazy close to the cap.

I’d say wait a year, let our young guns (Galch, Eller, Gallagher, etc.) play a lot of minutes, and then next year make a big splash. But let’s not handcuff ourselves into a big contract for a Clarkson. Let Gionta walk, and see if we can’t get a big name next year.

Look at some of the names available:

Forwards: Malkin, Heatley, Gaborik, Vanek, Thornton, Marleau, Datsyuk, Stastny, D. Sedin, H. Sedin, Kessel, Bergeron, Michalek,
Pavelski, Brown, Moulson, Setoguchi

Dmen: Bouwmeester, Boyle, Phaneuf, Pitkanen, Letang

Goalies: Lundqvist, Miller, Kipper, Brodeur, Hiller, Halak, Crawford, Elliott

Oh yeah, those are just unrestricted free agents.

Restricted free agents include Giroux, RNH, Schultz, Landeskog, Duchene, Couture, Ennis, Del Zotto, Schenn, Ellis, Silvferberg, Gardiner, Faulk, Elliott, plus a whole bunch of other young guys.

I don’t think we could get Malkin, but a Thornton? Marleau? Gaborik? Vanek? Kessel? Bergeron? Pavelski? Brown?

Could the Sharks, for example, afford to re-sign Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Boyle and Couture? Couture and Pavelski will get huge pay raises. Thornton, Marleau and Boyle probably won’t make a lot less than what they are currently making. They’re going to lose at least one of them.

Can Pittsburgh afford to re-sign Malkin and Letang, considering Pittsburgh is already paying Crosby $8.7 million, and still have a balanced roster?

Some of these guys are going to hit the market. The Habs should be planning for it. Sign a big name free-agent who has a history of success, but we need to wait a year.

If we sign a guy like David Clarkson to a long-term, big-money contract, we’re handcuffing ourselves to what we can do.

Be active in the trade market if young guys are available

This is an either/or for me. But I think the next time the Habs make a trade, it should be for a good young player that slide into the lineup. No more trading for older guys. If the team is building for the future, they need to build all around.

For example, Alex Burmistrov wants out of Winnipeg. Now, many may look at his stats and think he’s no good. But he’s been absolutely buried in Winnipeg, for some odd reason. The former first round draft pick is only 21 years old. I wouldn’t give up the farm for him (actually, considering the Habs farm team is pretty brutal, I probably would), but he could be a guy who is in need of a major change of scenery.

Think Kyle Turris. Buried in Phoenix, the former first-round pick demanded a trade. The Sens traded David Rundblad and a second round pick for him. Turris has since turned into a pretty good second-line centre.

You get the idea. I don’t think the Habs should be making trades for guys like Ray Whitney. But a young player? Why not? It would be worth the risk.

As it stands, the Habs’ prospect pipeline is pretty barren. The Hamilton Bulldogs aren’t that good, and no one is really stepping up. Most of the young guns the Habs do have either aren’t ready for the NHL. So if the Habs can deal for a young player who can step right into the lineup, all the better.

Conclusion

As mentioned, the Habs need to keep building around their players. If the team needs to go through more growing pains because of it, so be it. But the organization would be much better off by waiting a year before making big moves.

In the meantime, the Habs need to play their young guys. Let get them get their experience. The Habs aren’t going to be Stanley Cup contenders, but if they play their cards right, there’s no reason to think they won’t be in three or four years.

And as I said, there’s no need to do a lot this summer. Patience is key for this team.

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