This NHL postseason taught us a lot of things, and the Montreal Canadiens were the teachers for most it.
They showed you don’t need to build a team for the regular season, but for the playoffs. They showed that a really good goalie can steal a playoff series. And they showed that an average team has a shot against powerhouses if they have players who willing to sacrifice their bodies to block shots.
Unfortunately, they also showed that they are an average team, and don’t look to get much better in the future.
While they’re strong in nets and on defence, their offence doesn’t show a lot of signs of getting better. The young forwards look to be career third- and fourth-liners. Their two best young offensive players (a set of brothers) look to have played their last games with Montreal.
So while the playoffs gave us hope, there is still a lot of work to be done. If Mike Cammalleri didn’t score, then odds were the Habs weren’t going to win. They have no scoring depth, and need a couple more proven playoff performers to be able to make a serious run in the postseason.
They also need a different system. They can’t expect to get outshot, outchanced and outhit and still win four series. It just doesn’t work like that. It tires out a team, its defence and its goaltender.
Now, because of Montreal’s play this postseason, they get the 27th pick in the 2010 entry draft, so if they want to remain competitive, they need to make some moves. Remember, they had a brutal regular season, and lost its last three regular season games to non-playoff teams, even though they needed to win to make the playoffs.
So here are some things I think Montreal needs to do this summer. Now, it may sound like I’m blowing up the team, but I’m not. I’m keeping most of the core players. But there are some drastic changes that need to happen.
So here’s what I would do:
Trade Andrei Markov
Some may call this crazy, but it actually makes sense on so many levels.
First off is the fact he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer. This means teams can take a chance on him, and if he doesn’t work out, it’s no big deal for them. His cap hit is a manageable $5.75 million, which is great for a team looking for a #1 defenceman. Plus, he’s still a workhorse, playing huge minutes, manning the powerplay and killing penalties. In short, he can do it all.
So why get rid of him?
It’s simple. It’s like we mentioned above. He’s a free agent next year, and will be worth a lot this summer if the Habs want to trade him. They’ll never get more for him than they will now. Once the season starts, it will be harder to trade him because of cap space issues. But trade him early enough in the summer, and teams have plenty of space to take on his contract before signing other players. Also, Habs fans and players would be better off learning to live without Markov at the start of training camp than halfway through the season.
He’s also 31 years old (turning 32 this year), and has started to get hit by injuries. Sure, they’re freak injuries, but he missed the playoffs last year, got injured at the start of this season, and went down again in the first game of the second round. It’s got to be a concern.
Another reason is his salary. While it’s great for a top-tier defenceman, the Habs are going to have cap issues, so it’s better to deal with that now. Next summer, Markov will probably want something around $6.5 million, and the Habs wouldn’t be able to afford to keep him. Plus, this will probably be his last big contract, and will want big money.
He doesn’t want to be captain. While it’s great that he can admit he doesn’t feel comfortable in that role, I think I would rather have someone who can lead on the ice.
The final reason is that PK Subban is ready to join the team. He’ll eat up the minutes, kill penalties and play the point on the powerplay.
By trading Markov, the team can get prospects, draft picks, and possibly a good second-line player. Imagine if the team trades him to Colorado, who is in need of a top defenceman. The Avalanche have plenty of good prospects and young players. Imagine if Markov was traded for a package that includes Chris Stewart (a big youngster who had 28 goals and 64 points in his second full season). That’s not a bad return for a guy who may walk next summer.
Get rid of the Kostitsyn brothers
Andrei Kostitsyn especially. The guy has a tendency to play a few bad games, and then have an amazing game. Then he goes back to playing with no heart or passion.
Or, he’ll play a bad game, but then he’ll have one shift that shows he could be one of the most talented players on the team. It makes him frustrating to watch.
Sound familiar? All that’s missing are the words “The enigmatic.” You could substitute Alexei Kovalev’s name in there for any point of his career.
I think Kovalev rubbed off on the young players in a negative way when he was a Hab. Too many of youngsters started to float around and feel like they didn’t have to give it their all shift after shift after shift. That culture is now changing, though, and it’s time to finish it. Get rid of Andrei.
Sergei may be a different story. Although he took some heat for not practicing with his other teammates who were scratches during the second round, Sergei may still have a salvageable career in Montreal. He’s an offensive threat, and stronger defensively than his brother.
Besides being a restricted free agent, Sergei seemed to change once he was sent to the AHL earlier this year, and maybe he’ll be a better player if the team sends him another message of his brother being traded. But if not, then it’s time to cut ties with both of them.
The two of them are still young enough and talented enough that the Habs could get back a half-decent prospect or draft pick.
Don’t be afraid to let Plekanec walk
Tomas Plekanec had a great season this year. He led the team in points, was the key faceoff guy, and was responsible defensively. And he’ll probably want something among the lines of $5.5 million per season.
That said, unless he’s willing to sign a contract for a max of $3.5 million a year, the Habs need to let him walk. If the Habs overpay him, it would create another contract on the team that would be hard to trade once he starts to slip. Sure, that may not be the popular opinion, but it’s something that needs to be done.
Here’s four reasons why:
1) Plekanec is a streaky player. His season point totals since the lockout goes like this: 29, 47, 69, 39, and 70. Is that worth $5.5 million a year for four years? No, it’s not.
2) He was only 49 per cent faceoff winning percentage in the regular season (key faceoff guy, but loses the majority of his draws). That number plummeted to 47.1% in the playoffs. Not good for a #1 centre.
3) He’s not a great shootout guy. Only one for six in 2009-2010 and two for 13 in his career. Heck, Pierre Dagenais has two shootout goals for the Habs, and he only played 32 games in the shootout era. Winning shootouts gets you playoff spots, and a guy wanting a lot of money needs to be able to come through in the clutch.
and most importantly, 4) his size. He’s not a big guy (only 5′ 11, 190 pounds, which makes him big on the Habs, but not against other teams). The Habs have plenty of undersized players, and they don’t need to worry about keeping another one.
And this doesn’t take into his poor playoff performance. Sure, 11 points sounds good, but only four of those points were goals, and seven of those points came in the first six games against Washington. In his last 13 playoff games, he had zero goals and four assists. Yet his linemate, Michael Cammalleri, had eight goals in those 13 games. So Cammy was getting the points without his playmaking centreman setting him up. Not good.
When you look at other players that finished with around 70 points this season, this is what you get: Eric Staal, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Vincent Lecavallier. Yes, they all make more than $6 million, but for them, 70 points is a down year, not a career high.
In actuality, Plekanec should be making around what Derek Roy (69 points), Nik Antropov (67 points) and Alexandre Burrows (67 points) make: between $2 and $4 million a year.
So if Plekanec won’t take a cheap hometown discount, it would be better to let him go.
Trade Carey Price
I think Price should have been the future of this franchise, but that ship has sailed now. There’s no way the Habs can afford to keep both Price and Halak next year. And with the postseason that Halak had, more people will want to keep him. And that’s understandable. Wrong, but understandable.
If the Habs were to keep Price over Halak and not do well next year, that would create way too much pressure on Price and lead to a fan revolt.
So Price should be traded, where in a few years, he’ll be one of the top goalies in the league. Price is still young enough with a pedigree good enough that he would command a solid package in return. Maybe picks or prospects, or a decent second-line player.
There are still some teams out there that need a good young goalie. Philly is still in need of a top goalie after the Ray Emery experiment failed (I don’t think they’ll trust their franchise long-term to either Brian Boucher or Michael Leighton). Lightning haven’t had a good goalie since 2004. The Sharks could be losing Evgeni Nabakov to free agency this summer and will need someone to replace him. The Blues need to decide whether to sign Chris Mason or go with Ty Conklin in net.
I think Tampa and St. Louis would be the frontrunners. Any team with youth up front knows they are a few years away from being great, and having a young goalie that can grow up with the rest of the team would be a good thing.
Name a captain
This past season was the first time the Habs have ever gone without a captain. And many people didn’t like it.
Sure, a leader doesn’t actually need a C on his chest to lead, but it’s more for the fans. They want to be able to root for someone, or know that there’s someone that is going to be there for the team, and come through when most needed. It’s easier for the fans to be able to pick someone out that will answer the bell for the club.
I understand why they didn’t name a captain this past year. Markov didn’t want it, and the team had gone through such an overhaul that it was better to wait.
But the time has come now for someone to step forward, and really, it’s the easiest decision of the summer.
It’s gotta be Mike Cammalleri.
There’s the numbers that back this up. He’s the most dangerous man on the ice for the Habs. He’s the only player on the roster one figures could pot 50 goals next year. He had a great playoffs. He’s signed for a few more seasons (which means he’s less likely to leave), and he never gives up on the ice.
But it’s not just the numbers. More than any other player last year, he seemed to understand the history of the team and respect it. If there was something to do with the Habs 100th anniversary, he did it. If someone from the past came to the locker room, he seemed to genuinely be excited about it.
In short, he is proud to be a Montreal Canadien.
He also bought tickets for military troops and their families as a way to say thank you for serving our country.
He’s the team’s leader, on and off the ice, and should be made captain because of it.
Resign Dominic Moore
Showed a lot of fire in the playoffs, and works hard every shift. Scores timely goals. Can be a great third-liner, or a half-decent second liner. He can kill penalties, score the odd goal, and is good on faceoffs. If we can resign him for about $1 million or less (which should be doable, since he’s only making $1.1 million now), we should.
Resign Glen Metropolit
He had a career year with 16 goals, 10 of which came on the powerplay. A hard worker, he isn’t scared to go to the front of the net, will battle through injuries, and is a presence on the ice. Because of his career year, he may want a salary increase from the $1 million he made last season. He’s 36 years old, so if we can sign him for about $1.25 million, I think we should. If he wants $1.5 million or higher though, we need to let him walk.
Resign Benoit Pouliot
I still think Minnesota got the better of the deal when the Canadiens traded Gui Latendresse for Pouliot, but Pouliot was a nice surprise. He scored 15 goals in 39 games for the Habs, after scoring only nine in 65 games for the Wild. Unfortunately, he’s a streaky player. He scored only one goal in the last 14 games of the regular season, and zero in 18 playoff games (with only two assists), despite spending a good amount of time on the second line and on the powerplay. I do like his speed, his work ethic and the fact he’s only 23 years old, which means he has lots of time to get better. I say we sign him to a two-year contract for about $1 million a year (a small increase from the $800,000 he currently makes), and see what he can do the next few years. If he’s able to be more consistent, that’s great. But if he doesn’t, then he doesn’t cost a lot and he’s gone in a couple of years.
Resign Maxim Lapierre
A poor man’s Claude Lemieux, he gets better in the playoffs. Not scared to be an agitator, will bump the other team’s goalies, and generally try to get the other team off their game. Yes, he had a bad season, but last summer people were considering him as captain material. That sort of stuff just doesn’t disappear. Another hard-worker, and a great third-liner for a team that is short of players wanting to mix it up. I wouldn’t mind if he was signed to a three-year deal for about $1.5 million a season, especially after the playoffs he just had.
Let Marc-Andre Bergeron walk
Last November, I wrote a letter to Marc-Andre Bergeron, asking him to leave the Habs because he wasn’t performing. He doesn’t like to hit, doesn’t like to be hit, and he actually seems to forget there’s a d in defence. He ended up scoring 13 goals, had 21 assists and was a -7 (that dropped to a league worst -12 in the playoffs). There’s probably a reason he’s played on four teams in the last three years, and wasn’t signed last summer until the Habs needed someone to replace Markov. His salary cap of $750,000 is impressive though, but in the end, I think it’s same thing as Markov. The Habs need to let Subban lead this team, and they’re actually deep at this position (with Hamrlik, Spacek, Gorges, O’Byrne and Gill, not to mention youngsters like Subban). Plus, I think there’s a couple a half-decent free agents that can take his place pretty easily.
Trade for Dustin Byfuglien
Yes, I know, easier said than done, especially after the playoffs he just had. But Chicago is going to have a hard time meeting the cap (they’re already at the cap limit for next season, and still need to sign Antti Niemi, John Madden, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Adam Burish, and about five other guys, or sign players to take their place). Byfuglien and Brent Seabrook are free agents next summer, and I think Chicago will want to hold on to Seabrook. That means Byfuglien could be available if the Blackhawks want to clear up space.
The guy is scrappy, can score (three straight seasons with 15 to 20 goals), can play as a defenceman if needed, can bother the other team and is a big strong body. I think he’d be great for the Montreal powerplay (just screen the other goalie) and makes $3 million next season.
I think the Blackhawks won’t trade Byfuglien for cheap, but the Habs need to make an effort to get a big body.
(P.S.- I originally wrote this part after the first round, when Byfuglien had zero playoff points because he was playing as a defenceman. His playing great upped the price, but I still think the Habs need someone like him.)
(P.P.S. – This is what I wrote on Dennis Kane’s Montreal Canadiens blog last week: “Maybe, just maybe, we could convince them to trade Campbell and Byfuglien for Markov and the Kostitsyns (with a draft pick or prospect thrown in). They save money (Markov is a free agent next summer, so they could use that money to resign Seabrook), and get speedy youth, and get rid of Campbell’s contract. We get a younger, more expensive and more skilled version of Markov, and the powerhouse we need. Could be a win-win.” I now think the Habs would have to add more to the deal, but if the Blackhawks want to get rid of Campbell, they’ll have to add something else to the deal)
So let’s just say the Habs listen to me, and make all the moves I’ve outlined above. That means they’ll have about $10 million in salary cap space to play with (about $3.5 million extra if Plekanec doesn’t sign). They’ll also buy out Georges Laraque this summer, which will save them a little but more money as well. That’s quite a bit to make a move this summer in the free agency market. And despite what you may read elsewhere, there’s a good crop of players that could help the Habs.
Remember, most of the Habs core will be staying here (Gionta, Gomez, Cammalleri, etc.), so there’s no need to make drastic moves. All they need to do is get some complimentary players. Here’s the top 10 players that could help the Canadiens (and no, I don’t think we need to sign all of them, just a couple of them):
Ilya Kovalchuk: A bit more than a complimentary player, but the only true top-tier free agent out there, and I would like to see a 50-goal scorer in Montreal before the Canadiens celebrate their 200th season. But at the same time, the Habs don’t need to go overboard. If they make a pitch for him, make it a long-term deal similar to what Marian Hossa got, where the salary at the end of the contract is low to keep the cap hit down.
He just turned 27, but here’s the key. Unlike a lot of 50-goal scorers, Kovalchuk doesn’t need a lot of help to succeed. He doesn’t need an Adam Oates-type player to get him the puck. After all, he’s not Dany Heatley. He carried the Atlanta Thrashers team on his back with little help for years. He made Todd White get 73 points two seasons ago.
Only one time in his eight-year career has he scored less than 38 goals, and that was his rookie season when he got 29. The guy is money, and imagine him playing with someone like Gionta and Gomez, leaving Cammalleri on the second line as another scoring threat. That would be great.
Now, odds are this won’t happen. But the Habs need to make a pitch. Offer him a 12-year deal where he gets $9 to $10 million a year the first year, and close to $1 million a year near the end. Make the cap hit around $6-$7 million a year. And since everyone else will be making Kovalchuk the same type of offer, the Canadiens need to show him why Montreal is the place to be. Show him the fact the Habs have a system, that they can upset top teams in the playoffs, that Montreal is a great city to live in and the history is amazing. Appeal to his sense of playing in front of a rabid fan base (which would be a change after all those years of playing in Atlanta, followed by a few months in New Jersey).
Do what we can, but give it our best effort to sign this guy.
Paul Kariya: Failing Kovalchuk, there’s a lot of guys who can help fill out the second and third lines that could be signed for a good price. Kariya had an off-year, and still finished with 43 points, which would have had him fifth on the Habs scoring list this year. Kariya is a leader, and you can’t have too many quality guys. Won’t make anywhere near the $6 million a year he has been recently, but $3 to $3.5 million is doable, especially if he can score and get 50-60 points.
Ray Whitney: A consistent 20-goal scorer, strong skater, could teach some of the younger players what it takes to win. Has a Stanley Cup ring, and as these playoffs have shown with Hal Gill, that means a lot more than most people think. Could sign him for about $2 to $2.5 million.
Rob Blake: If the Sharks had won the cup, I could see him retiring. Would be a good leader to have on defence, and would be a calming influence. Gets nastier in the playoffs, and isn’t scared to clear the way in front of the net. Will probably be signed for $3 million.
Matt Cullen: Will be the most sought-after character guys in the free agent market. Will probably sign for about $3 million, and will want at least a three-year deal. He’s consistent, plays the powerplay, is a great penalty killer, and led the Sens in the playoffs this year.
John Madden: One of those third or fourth line guys that steps it up in the playoffs. Chicago won’t be able to resign him, so look for him to change teams. Maybe $2 million a year for one of the best shadowers in the league.
Teemu Selanne: He’ll probably retire, but I included him just in case. Even in old age, can still score a ton. Will probably cost about $4 million to sign though.
Bill Guerin: Another veteran. Just look what he did for the Penguins. Despite his age, he still plays the top line and on the powerplay, and is great come playoff time. He also scores about 20 goals a season, and his cap hit will be about $2 million.
Derek Boogaard: Yes, let the laughter out now, but I think the Habs need to get tougher, and not all of your guys need to be scoring machines. There’s a reason Boogaard is well-loved in Minnesota, and it’s not just the fighting. The guy knows how to hit, and hit often. And with his size, it hurts. He doesn’t score because he doesn’t need to (and the fact he only shoots the puck about once every four games helps that stat). I’d rather have Boogaard on the bench playing about six minutes a game than Matthew Darche sitting on the bench and not playing at all. Sign him for $1.5 million, and let him protect the smaller players.
Kurtis Foster: One of the most underated defencemen out there. Had nine goals and 48 points last year. Yes, that was well above his career high of 28 points, but he would be a nice fourth or fifth dman. Plus, he could probably be signed for about $800,000 (he made only $600,000 last season).
Do not sign
Under any circumstances, do not sign the following players: Andy Sutton (goes out of his way to make a big hit, leaving himself out of position), Matthew Lombardi (will want too much after a surprising year in Phoenix), Patrick Marleau (too expensive), Olli Jokinen (not a good leader, not consistent, has been traded three times in three years), Alexander Frolov (will want too much money), Joe Corvo (too much like Marc-Andre Bergeron), and Anton Volchenkov (will want too much money to block shots and not do anything else).
So under my plan, our lineup next season could look like this (not including any players we might get from trading Markov or the Kostitsyn brothers):
Boogaard-Moen-Metropolit (not including a trade to get Byfuglien)
O’Byrne-Gill (with Blake in there somewhere)
Cheap backup to be named later
That team could compete, would be better than the team we just iced, would work hard, and would actually be under the cap by about $5 million, in case we want to make a deadline deal.
Will it happen? Probably not. But it’s fun to dream.