Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Montreal Canadiens - The World And Everything In It

Montreal Prolegomena - Hueting For Price?

In February of 2008, GM Bob Gainey made a trade that shocked the NHL - he sent veteran goaltender Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals for a 2nd round pick in 2009. Price followed up that trade by posting a .934 save percentage down the stretch for the Habs. He then proceeded to post a .901 save percentage in the playoffs which led to much criticism of Gainey - how could he pull out the rug from under his young goaltender? And how did he not even manage to get anything of use in return for the player who led the league in save percentage in 2005-06?

First of all, the above assumes an optimal use of goaltenders. That is, that the coach will automatically realize when his young goaltender is struggling. This may not be the case. Second, 'pulling the rug out' from under Price can be read another way - that Bob Gainey is making it emphatically clear that Carey Price is the goaltender of the Canadiens for the present and the future. Keeping Huet around as a safety blanket is an intriguing proposition, but could ultimately stunt Price - once the veteran is no longer around, will he feel comfortable? It may be best to yank that comfort out; Price now MUST play well, and he must succeed.

Gainey may have been guilty of looking to the past - Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden won Stanley Cups as rookies, why not Carey Price? However, he turned the pick he received for Huet into an asset for this year's team by dealing it for Mathieu Schneider. When your team makes the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, adding a guy who had 17 points in 23 games could not have hurt.

Montreal Cap Situation

Former Habs: Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay, and Mike Komisarek are four of the biggest names headed for unrestricted free agency. Given Kovalev's issues with Montreal, he is likely gone, although one never knows. Saku Koivu has been less-than-impressive - his injuries are perhaps catching up with him. Tanguay is the sort of player who signs for someone who absolutely doesn't need him and isn't any better with him. Komisarek is sure to be vastly overpaid by someone who sees a 6'6" defender who plays physical - the Habs will likely let him go.

Projected Lines 2009-10

?-?-A. Kostitsyn
S. Kostitsyn-Lapierre-Latendresse




The Montreal Canadiens should certainly explore trades this off-season, and it will be shocking if they don't complete any. Having been often rejected as a free agent destination - both Patrik Elias and Daniel Briere turned down more money from Montreal to sign where they did - the Canadiens have an excess of young talent and a ton of room under the salary cap. They can easily be a recepticle for overpriced contracts. Daniel Briere and Vincent Lecavalier are sure to be the two biggest names thought to be heading for Le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge - those names are somewhat unlikely, but someone like Simon Gagne is certainly a possibility. However, with a dearth of centers available in free agency, the Habs may be poised to add one via trade this off-season.

Free Agent Discussion

Money To Spend: 27.6 million
Spots to Fill: 5

The free agent discussion on Montreal can be so extensive that it's not going to be extensive at all. Montreal can sign anyone. They should get one of Havlat, Gaborik, or Hossa. They should nab one of Beauchemin, Spacek, Ohlund, Komisarek, or Oduya. They may have trouble filling the center spot - that's where the trade comes in. Mats Sundin is at least a remote possibility for Montreal if he plays in the NHL again.

Conclusion: Montreal is incredibly well set up to at least be a force in the playoffs next season. While the team broke down to end the season, it is a very young team, and a bounceback should be anticipated. The Habs should be able to replace what they are losing in free agents with fresh blood, and while it might take time to congeal, they've got what it takes to be a perennial playoff team for years to come.

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