Now that the playoffs are over for the Canadiens, it’s time to look at what went wrong for the Montreal Canadiens, and what they can do to fix it for next season.
Their main problems is they have no depth at forward, and are way too close to the salary cap limit.
The Habs lost three games in the playoffs to the Bruins, mostly because of lack of depth. If Mike Cammalleri wasn’t on the ice, you knew the Habs weren’t scoring, especially in overtime. When you compare the two teams, the Bruins depth shows the B’s should have won in five games.
After the series was over, I felt bad for five players on the Canadiens:
Mike Cammalleri – I understand some people love Tomas Plekanec. And he did a great job shutting down the Bruins top line. But Cammy needs to play with someone who can get him the puck. His line should be concentrating with scoring, not stopping the other team’s top line.
Brian Gionta – He played the whole series with Scott Gomez and Travis Moen on his line. No wonder he had trouble scoring.
Hal Gill and PK Subban – The Habs two best defencemen, they played a ton of minutes.
Carey Price – He played awesome, and was the reason the Habs went seven games. But like I mentioned, there wasn’t much help in front of him.
So what should the Habs do to improve this team? I’m glad you asked.
Buy out Scott Gomez. Gomez scored seven goals this season, for a cost of $1,051,020 per goal. That was third worst among forwards, behind only Sean Avery and Todd Marchant. Gomez is signed for three more years for a cap hit of $7,357,143. That’s way too much for what he brings to the team. I don’t actually know what he brings, but he’s being paid too much for it. According to CapGeek.com, the cap hit to buy our Scott Gomez would actually be good for next season. It would only be in the 2013-24 season it would be a problem.
Scott Gomez buyout from CapGeek.com
- 2011-12: $1,801,587
- 2012-13: $3,801,587
- 2013-14: $4,801,587
- 2014-15: $1,944,444
- 2015-16: $1,944,444
- 2016-17: $1,944,444
That’s pretty good. The Habs would save a ton of cap space next year, and even in that third year of the buyout, they would save $2.5 million in cap space. But it would be worth to free up the cash, the ice time and the albatross around Gionta’s neck.
Let Roman Hamrlik walk. The Habs will probably try to re-sign him, but it’s time for him to move on. I think the Subban-Gill pairing has shown what this team needs to do on defence. Have a young guy with legs teamed up with an older defensive veteran.
But Hamrlik wants to be that young guy. He pinches in offensively way too much (especially considering he hasn’t scored more than seven goals in a season since the 2002-03 season, and never more than six goals in a season with the Habs). By pinching in, he gets caught up ice and it leads to way too many scoring chances on Price. He won’t get anywhere near the $5.5 million he’s been making the past four seasons, and it shouldn’t be in Montreal.
Don’t let Travis Moen play on top two lines. Look, I like Travis Moen. I like his grit, the way he’ll stick up for teammates, the way he plays the game. But I don’t like the fact he’s on the top two lines for much of the season. He’s not a goal scorer, and can’t see people up. Let him play on the third line, give him 10 to 12 minutes a game of ice time, and let him bang bodies out there. But don’t put him on the top two lines and then wonder why the Habs have trouble scoring.
By the way, an interesting stat about Moen? He’s never had a season where he wasn’t a negative in the plus/minus category.
Trade Jaroslav Spacek, or convince him to retire. This won’t happen, but should. Spacek is one of only two Habs defencemen signed for next season (PK Subban being the other). But Spacek was on the ice a lot during the Bruins series, and he was on the ice for the majority of goals scored against the Habs. At one point, he has on the ice for five of eight goals against. He’s a lot like Hamrlik. He’s slowed up. His injuries are a concern. He’s not very offensive anymore, and his defence isn’t very good.
So the Habs need to get rid of him. I don’t think they should buy him out, since they should buy out Gomez instead. And I don’t think there’s anyone that would want to trade for him. So the Habs need to convince him it’s time to hang up the skates. Maybe give him a job scouting, or something like that. But he should never be allowed to step on the ice for the Canadiens again, unless it’s some sort of alumni charity game.
Don’t re-sign James Wisniewski. Wiz is 27 years old, and never had more than 30 points before this season.The Habs have to re-sign Gill, Hamrlik, Markov, Sopel, Gorges, Weber, Mara and Picard this season, and Subban next summer. I don’t know if Wiz fits into the Habs long-term plans. I think of that group, they try to keep Subban, Markov, Gill, Gorges, Weber and Spacek (who is still signed for another season). And then maybe someone like Picard or someone from the AHL for the seventh defencemen.
Gorges and Subban will get raises. Markov will get a small decrease. Gill and Weber about the same. Any extra cash they have needs to go toward a top-six forward. Wiz will want about $5 million a year for four years, and the Habs have a history of letting big-name players go (think Souray and Streit). That is too much for the Habs, and too much for a defenceman that didn’t have his breakout year until the age of 27. Odds are, he won’t repeat this season.
Be smart when it comes to our own forward free agents. Besides the defence, the Habs have a bunch of free agents up front. They need to re-sign Andrei Kostitsyn, Benoit Pouliot, Max Pacioretty, Ryan White, Jeff Halpern, David Desharnais, Tom Pyatt and Mathieu Darche. Throw in the defence, and that’s a lot of cash they need to spend (they have about $25 million in cap space, if they keep Spacek and Gomez).
I would keep everyone in that group except for Kostitsyn. He needs to go. Since he’s a restricted free agent, the Habs could get something for him, whether it be another team making an offer sheet, or through a trade.
Side note: Kostitsyn was drafted 10th overall in 2003. Picked at #11? Jeff Carter. Also available in that round? Zach Parise (17th), Ryan Getzlaf (19th), Brent Burns (20th), Ryan Kesler (23rd), Mike Richards (24th) and Corey Perry (28th). Sports Illustrated’s 2003 mock draft had the Habs takes Parise 10th overall. An updated mock draft by SI had the Habs taking Getzlaf. And yet we got Kostitsyn. Sigh.
I’d like to see Louis Leblanc make this team, but I think he’s at least two years away from joining the big club. I would say he needs to spend at least a year in the AHL before joining the Habs. In fact, Habs and Habs fans need to be smart, and not want to rush up prospects if they’re not ready, such as Leblanc or Jarred Tinordi.
Sign some cheap free agents that can help on the second line. There’s no way the Habs are going to be able to afford someone like Brad Richards. But what about someone like Simon Gagne? Could he be signed for about $3.5 million a season? Yes, I understand he’s injured quite often, and he’ll probably end up getting overpaid after his finish to the season (and as Tampa gets further into the playoffs). But if he can stay healthy, he could be a point-per-game player for the Habs. His speed suits the Habs system well. But I think he’ll want too much money.
Tim Connolly could be another interesting player, but I don’t think he would fit in with the Canadiens. Teemu Selanne will be great, but there’s no way he’d ever leave Anaheim if he retires. Alexander Frolov is on his way to the KHL, where he’ll make the most money.
The last, and really only, good option for the Habs is Tomas Fleischmann. He’s still young enough to make a good impact, shouldn’t cost that much money (maybe $3 to $3.5 million), and could be a good fit for the Habs.
Do not get Alexei Kovalev again. No one has really mentioned it yet. It hasn’t come up in media reports. It probably has to do with the fact that most people aren’t looking ahead to the free agent crop yet. But there are a silly Habs fans out there. They protested when Kovalev wasn’t re-signed a couple of years ago. They will point to his interview after he signed with the Ottawa Senators, where he said he wanted to retire as a Montreal Canadien. They’ll call him the most talented player in the league when he wants to be.
But the problem is he doesn’t want to be for more than 10 games a season anymore. He’s not the same type of player he was five years. Back then, he was talented, could score and helped teammates, but was also seen as moody and enigmatic. Now he’s just moody and enigmatic. If there’s anything that will destroy the Habs season next year, it will be signing Kovalev.
Get a new system. Or better yet, a new coach. Look, I understand the Habs had a ton of success last year in the playoffs using Jacques Martin’s system. Grab a lead, play defensive hockey and don’t let the other team score. While that worked in the pre-lockout NHL, it just doesn’t measure up today. The game is too fast, and it actually takes the Habs out of the game. Playing defensive hockey with a one-goal lead, consistently chipping the puck out of the zone and not playing offence ends up costing the Habs. When the other team scores, the Habs are out of the game. It’s hard to switch to an offensive mode when you’ve spent 15 minutes playing defence. The other team has all the momentum, and the Habs are stuck.
So the system needs to change. And if Martin won’t change it, then he needs to go.
However, that new coach can not be Kirk Muller. Muller is an assistant, and those guys are usually loved by hockey players. When an assistant coach becomes the head coach of the same team, he usually struggles. It’s hard for him to become the bad guy. If Muller is to become a head coach, he needs to go elsewhere to do it.
Need to get better faceoff guys. Both Plekanec (43.3% during the playoffs) and Gomez (40.7%) just aren’t good enough. In Game 7, Pleks was 6 for 30 for a winning percentage of 20% (only 10% in the defensive zone, and 0 for 8 in the neutral zone).
Zenon Konopka would be a good one. He was fourth in the league in face-off winning percentage. Plus, he’s a tough guy, so he’d be good to have in the lineup against teams like the Bruins and Flyers. Now, he’d have to curb his playing style, as Martin (if he’s still here) hates guys who drop the gloves. And Martin would have to not be afraid to use him in defensive zone faceoffs. But he’s an unrestricted free agent, so he can probably be signed for $1 million or less. And it’s never a bad idea to have a tough player on the team.
Conclusion: So when all is said and done, what does this team look like? This would be the lines in my world.
Tomas Plekanec-Mike Cammalleri-David Desharnais
Brian Gionta-Max Pacioretty-Tomas Fleischmann
Jeff Halpern-Mathieu Darche-Benoit Pouliot
Zenon Konopka -Ryan White-Lars Eller
Healthy scratches: Tom Pyatt, Travis Moen, Nigel Dawes
Andrei Markov-Josh Gorges
Hal Gill-PK Subban
Yannick Weber-Alexandre Picard
Healthy scratches: Mathieu Carle
Not a huge improvement over this year’s team, but there’s a bit more depth for scoring, more toughness, better faceoff ability and a bit of a salary relief. It also builds a good solid core of defence for the future, and gets rid of the dead weight that the Habs don’t need anymore (Spacek, Hamrlik, Gomez and Kostitsyn, to name a few).