Normally I wait until the end of the Montreal Canadiens’ playoff run before I make a post like this, but this year there’s no point in delaying.
They’re already out of the playoffs, they have no secondary scoring, they need a new coach, a new general manager, etc.
So I thought I would get a jumpstart on this post.
Here are 14 things I would do to improve the Habs this summer if I were the general manager.
Bye bye to Scott Gomez
Find someway to get rid of Scott Gomez. The first thing I would need to do is find a way to clear cap space. According to this HabsWorld article, it may not be possible to buy him out.
“Gomez is currently on the injured reserve list with a concussion … The fact is that concussions are difficult to recover from quickly, and have a very open ended timetable when it comes to a return date … Why this is pertinent is due to the possibility that Gomez may not recover before the end of this season, which has only 6 games remaining at this time. If he does not, then due to a clause in the current CBA, any injured player cannot be bought out from their contract. The Habs would be stuck with him, and vice versa.”
So we bury him in the minors. Or send him to another team for a sixth-round pick in 2025. Or something. But there’s no way Gomez can ever play another game in a Habs uniform.
In the past three seasons with the Habs, he’s made $21 million. He’s scored 21 goals. He’s accumulated 108 points. And he’s a minus -23. Unless he gets 80 points next year, the fans will be on him, and he’ll be a distraction.
Hopefully a team that needs help getting to the cap floor can take him on. If not, it’s Hamilton or bust.
Get rid of Brad Staubitz
A lot of people think we need to get tougher. More big bodies they say. Someone who can fight, they yell. Someone who can change the momentum of a game, they scream.
Staubitz can sure do that. Unfortunately, it’s for the other team.
Staubitz has developed this stupid habit of fighting the other team when the Habs are ahead and have the momentum. The other guy wins the fight, the opposing team gets all the momentum and it ends up costing the Habs.
Case in point. The Habs were playing the Ottawa Senators not too long ago, and were up 1-0. Chris Neil challenges Staubitz to a fight, and wins pretty handily. The Sens turn it on, the Habs have eight shots for the rest of the game and lose in overtime.
This year, we need the losses, so it’s not as bad. But what happens when the team is winning, or needs wins to make the playoffs?
He’s a liability, and we don’t need him on the ice.
Get rid of Tomas Plekanec
This is more of a salary dump than anything. I think Plekanec is overrated, and have mentioned it many times here before. He’s no good in the shootout. He’s horrible at faceoffs. He doesn’t make his teammates better.
I like Pleks, don’t get me wrong, but he gets paid too much for what he does.
Time for him to go.
(Note: I plan on doing a more extensive post on Plekanec and whether he is worth the salary within the next couple of weeks, hence why this is so short).
Let Rene Bourque go
Here’s the thing. People want to love Rene Bourque because he’s a big body. But just because you’re a big body doesn’t mean you use it to hit people.
This year, he’s seem uninterested in playing. There’s no effort on many nights. And he’s making too much for such an uninspiring effort.
It’s been a short ride, but time for Bourque to go. There must be a team somewhere that thinks they can still get a good player out of him.
Plus, there’s a lot of people that need to be re-signed on Montreal, and the cash needs to come from somewhere. They need to re-sign Lars Eller, Blake Geoffrion, PK Subban, Carey Price, Ryan White, Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz. Price, Subban and Eller should see their combined cap hit be about $13 million.
Because of that, some of the fat needs to be trimmed.
Let some other guys walk
Travis Moen. Chris Campoli. Petteri Nokelainen. Mike Blunden. Mathieu Darche. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.
One of the reasons why the Habs are so bad is the poor drafting record over the past 10 years. There’s a report out that uses a formula to figure out who is the best at drafting. Montreal came first.
The reason for that is the fact Montreal has drafted a lot of players that has eventually played a few games in the NHL.
But it fails to take into account that they haven’t drafted any superstar players, with the exception of Carey Price.
So the Habs need to make a splash at the draft. Depending on where they finish, they need to take either Nail Yakupov or Mikhail Grigorenko. They can’t make a mistake and draft a defenceman. If they fail to get a draft spot where they can land one of these two names, they need to trade up in the draft to do so.
Montreal needs offensive help. Their defence is fine, and they have some good prospects on the back end.
After this waste of a season, the Habs need to make a move. They need an impact player. It doesn’t matter if the guy can play next year. They need someone who can give fans hope for the future.
And they can’t blow this pick.
Do everything possible to sign Zach Parise.
Offer him a huge contract. Make him one of the highest paid players in the league. Give him a no trade clause (but only if absolutely necessary).
But whatever it takes, Parise needs to be a Hab next season, for several reasons.
He’s offensively-gifted. The Habs haven’t seen a forward as good as Parise at scoring goals since Brian Bellows. In his last five full seasons (he missed most of last year), he has scored at least 31 goals a year. He once scored 45 goals and 94 points.
He’s defensively-sound. He plays the penalty kill, and is always a shorthanded threat.
He’s scored eight shootout goals this year, bringing help to an area the Habs are lacking.
There’s not a lot on the market this summer. After Parise, the next best free agent forward is Alexander Semin. Then Shane Doan. Then P.A. Parenteau (who won’t make it to free agency). Then Brad Boyes. And so on.
Parise is clearly the best player on the market, and then things go quickly downhill. I don’t want to overpay Daymond Langkow or Jiri Hudler.
After this season, the Habs need a big move to get excited to about. A player who is a threat to score on every shift. And someone that makes his teammates better.
And after paying Gomez $7 million a year, Mike Cammalleri $6 million and Plekanec $5 million, it would be nice to pay a lot of money to an absolute superstar.
Sign Price long-term.
As mentioned before, there’s a lot of players the Habs need to re-sign this summer.
But the absolutely must is Carey Price. He needs to be signed to a six- or seven-year deal. He needs to be paid enough to make him feel like a superstar, but at a little bit of a discount.
No three-year deal, where he can become an unrestricted free agent at that point. Long-term. Big money.
Hire a coach
My mantra when it comes to hiring a coach can be summed up in five words: Experience matters, French does not.
This is the best way to sum it up. Imagine if Ken Hitchcock were available. He’s turned multiple teams around. He’s won a Stanley Cup. He’s about to win the Jack Adams trophy.
But if you think he’s not qualified because he doesn’t speak French, then that’s the wrong attitude.
But if you want to hire someone who has no NHL coaching experience, is a hothead and speaks French, then you need to have your head examined.
If I had a choice of the two, I’d take the first one. If the Quebec media doesn’t like it, then screw them. It’s about winning, not language politics.
Get rid of Tomas Kaberle.
Much like Gomez, Kaberle isn’t adding much to the Canadiens. He hasn’t improved the powerplay. He’s scared to shoot the puck, so teams know he’s going to pass it. He’s no solid defensively. He doesn’t hit.
In short, he brings nothing to the table except for a $4.25 million cap hit. I’m sure there must be one team out there that will decide they need a powerplay defenceman after they lose out of the Ryan Suter sweepstakes. Hopefully they’ll be silly enough to take Kaberle off our hands.
After the above move, change nothing else about the defence.
The Habs are actually pretty solid on the back end. They have Andrei Markov, PK Subban, Josh Gorges, Alexei Emelin and Yannick Weber. And Raphael Diaz is solid enough for a sixth defenceman. I don’t think Jarred Tinordi is ready yet to play in the NHL. There’s no need to go out and break the piggy back to get a guy like Ryan Suter. Maybe a Clayton Stoner if he can be gotten for cheap as a sixth/seventh defenceman.
But our defence has a good mix of offensive and defensive guys. There’s no need to mess with that. Let the younger guys play, and gain experience. This isn’t a team that will be competing for the Cup next year. It’ll take a couple of years. So let’s not rush into signing experienced free agents if it’s not needed.
Get someone who can score in the shootout
Alex Tanguay. Jarret Stoll. Radim Vrbata. Mike Ribeiro. What do these names have in common?
They led the league last year in shootout goals.
Vrbata actually tied for the league lead the year before that as well. He has a career shootout percentage of 43.8 per cent, which is sixth all-time in shootout goals. Brad Boyes is fifth all-time in goals, and a percentage at 46 per cent. Erik Christensen has a career percentage of 54.7, and is third for most goals all-time. Wojtek Wolski is 10th in goals all-time, and has 43.1 per cent shooting percentage. (Note: Career stats are for active players).
So how do the Habs fare? Brian Gionta has 20 goals. No one else is in double digits. Tomas Plekanec is a horrible 17.4 per cent (only four goals in 23 career attempts). Max Pacioretty is 20 per cent (3 for 15 all-time). Erik Cole is one-for-seven (14.3 per cent).
It can’t be hard to get a third liner that can be used in the shootout, can it?
By the way, Boyes and Christensen are unrestricted free agents this summer. Wolski is restricted.
Get someone who can win faceoffs
Once again, the Habs are brutal in this category. Only Petteri Nokelainen has taken more than 100 faceoffs and is better than 50 percent. Plekanec and David Desharnais, the only two players to take more than 700 faceoffs, are hovering around 49 per cent.
It’s just not acceptable. The Habs need to get someone they have confidence in.
In the last two minutes of a close game, if the fourth liner centre is the best in the dot, put him on the ice, and take him off when the puck leaves the zone. If he’s winning the majority of his faceoffs, then it should be more often than not.
Is there such a person available through free agency? I’m glad you asked. Yes there is. Zenon Konopka.
Sure, you may know him from the Ottawa Senators this year, and may not realize how good Konopka is. Truth be told, the Sens don’t really need him, as Jason Spezza has above 53 per cent winning percentage. Konopka has just under 400 faceoffs taken, but has won an amazing 58.9 per cent of them.
It’s not just a one-year thing. The year before, with the Islanders, Konopka took more than 1,000 faceoffs, and won 57.7 per cent.
Plus, Konopka can fight. He’s been in 18 fights this year (second in the league). He can take the place of Stabitz.
He’s an unrestricted free agent this year, and should get about $700,000. He’d be worth that easily.
Look at lower-tier free agents
This is one of the weakest free agent classes in quite a while. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a few gems available. Guys like Chris Kelly, Jarret Stoll and Brandon Yip are available. These guys aren’t going to make the Habs into a Cup contender, but they could give depth.
If I were general manager and managed to do some of the above moves, this is how the Habs lines would look going into next season (defence and goalies pretty much stay the same).
Erik Cole-David Desharnais-Max Pacioretty
Brian Gionta-Lars Eller-Zach Parise
Chris Kelly-Mikhail Grigorenko-Louis Leblanc
Blake Geoffrion-Zenon Konopka-Brad Boyes
Healthy scratch: Ryan White
I like the team. The youth are playing more minutes, and they’re playing with more proven players. There’s more depth. We have faceoff guys. We have shootout guys.
It would also be easier to mix the lineup if someone gets injured. If Cole goes down, then you could put Boyes, Kelly, Leblanc or Parise in his spot, depending on what the coach wants to do.
Guys like Boyes and Kelly wouldn’t be signed to long-term deals, so there would be roster space in a couple of years as more of our prospects develop.
Granted, it’s not the greatest lineup imaginable. But when you rebuild, you need to start small and work your way up.
The Habs need to stop this bad habit of overpaying moderate players. It’s causing cap headaches, and takes away roster move flexibility.
Anyways, that what I would do if I were the new Habs GM.