Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Habs season review: Who stays, who goes?


With the Montreal Canadiens season behind us, I’m taking a quick look at the roster that concluded the season, and where their future lies with the club.

Before I begin though, I want to congratulate the Montreal Canadiens on a fantastic season. Nobody expected this team to even make the playoffs.

Yet beyond a complete blowup of the team, a new coach, new ownership, eventually a new GM and a mass of injuries, they did the impossible.

Down three games to one to the President’s trophy winner, they fought back and won. Down three games to two to the defending Stanley Cup Champions, they fought back and won. They battled in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final, but just couldn’t connect in the dying minutes.

Only the Eastern Conference winning Philadelphia Flyers and West-winning Chicago Blackhawks will finish with more games played this season. That’s nothing for the Canadiens to hang their heads over.

Bravo gentlemen on a fantastic season! My one regret is that it didn’t get to a sixth game for a chance to give a proper good-bye to the Bell Centre faithful. Just imagine the welcome at the home opener in October!

Now, keep in mind this is merely my own opinions on what could happen, as my name is not Pierre Gauthier. Nor do I get Pierre Gauthier’s salary

Unlike last season, where the Canadiens had 11 unrestricted free agents (UFA), there isn’t an overabundance of free agents this summer.

Players signed for 2010-11 are; Jaroslav Spacek, Mike Cammalleri, Ryan O’Byrne, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Travis Moen, Roman Hamrlik, Andrei Kostitsyn, Ben Maxwell (Hamilton), Hal Gill, P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Scott Gomez.

There are the two or three obvious players to focus on, and we know who they are, but here’s a quick breakdown of the full roster. Keep in mind again, that this is the roster that finished in Montreal and does not include those currently on the payroll on Hamilton (Subban and Maxwell are exceptions)

6. Jaroslav Spacek: Spacek may not have put up the offensive numbers he had in his last two years in Buffalo, but he is one of the Canadiens’ best all around defenders. Spacek is one of those “won’t quit” defenders and well worth just under $4 million per year. Contract Status: signed through 2011-12

13. Michael Cammalleri: Before he even set foot in the Bell Centre, Mike Cammalleri was already cast as a leader on the Canadiens. A great benefit in the dressing room, he seldom turned back questions from the media.

Offensively, he quickly silenced any critics, that felt he relied on Jarome Iginla the previous season in Calgary, scoring 25 goals in just 65 regular season games. Cammalleri then added another 13 in the playoffs.

The only problem is he can’t be expected to carry the offense alone, so ironically the Canadiens proabably do need a solid discount power forward to compliment him. Contract status: Signed through 2013-14

14. Tomas Plekanec: Easily the Canadiens best two-way forward in the regular season, Plekanec had a career year with 70 points in 82 games. His playoff performance was deemed less than spectacular, going pointless in the Eastern Final, which could affect contract negotiations in the off season.

With the Canadiens on a tight cap margin, and both goalies RFA, the team may not be willing to shell out the higher-end dollars the pending UFA may be seeking.

15. Glen Metropolit: Not a bad deal at $1 million a season. Metropolit scored a career-high 16 goals in the regular season with 10 coming on the power play and was an effective faceoff man that brought some depth. Another UFA, he could be let go with the eager young guns waiting in Hamilton, or if they can re-sign the younger Dominic Moore first.

17. Georges Laraque: Well he’s still on the payroll.

20. Ryan 'O’Byrne: After a great training camp, O’Byrne found himself on the injured list, and later took some personal time that limited him to 55 regular season games.

He had some double-digit playing times in the playoffs, but surprisingly saw bare-minimal time in the Eastern Final, playing in just the final three games.

Injured? Perhaps, but expect O’Byrne to fight for a top-four spot come training camp. Contract Status: Signed through 2010-11 (RFA)

21. Brian Gionta: Is he the next captain of the Montreal Canadiens? If there was a player who brought his game every night, it was Brian Gionta.

HockeyBuzz’s Steve Hindle tweeted Monday that Gionta had played a combined 80 games for the Canadiens and scored 35 goals (61 points). That total put him ahead of the 60 points he had the season before in New Jersey.

Though small in size, he is pound-for-pound the best forward on the roster. Contract Status: Signed through 2013-14 at $5 million per.

22. Paul Mara: An affordable $1.675 million, but despite battling injuries had a –16 rating in the regular season. A UFA come July, he’s never reached the numbers he had in Phoenix pre and post-lockout, so chances are he’ll be cut loose.

26. Josh Gorges: Remind me who the Canadiens traded to get this guy again. What a steal the BC native has been. If any defenseman needs to be signed to a contract extension, it is Josh Gorges. The 25-year-old literally will take a bullet for his team, and he’s got the puck  mark on his helmet to prove it.

The team will certainly get their $1.3 million worth from him next season. With Andrei Markov out until November, and a UFA at the end of his contract next season, Montreal needs to solidify their future on defence with this young man. Contract Status: Becomes a RFA after 2010-11

31. Carey Price: Once touted “The Franchise” just a year ago, it now comes into question. Price lost the starting job to Jaroslav Halak and had just one start in the playoffs.

With both goalies becoming RFAs in July, and Price’s stock value slipping, the Canadiens would clearly not get full value at this point in a trade involving Price though many who see it coming.

Price’s advantage is that he is only 22 and seems to understand his roll more at this point, as opposed to Halak who is more vocal on wanting to play. If the team can sign both goalies, they could move Price pre-deadline if he shows improvement. Price cites he is a team player and could be willing to take a lower paycheck, over a short term, and play it out.

32. Travis Moen: Here’s another one of the gritty leaders on the team. Moen had his best second-best point total this season, was willing to fit any roll on the club. He even found himself on the top-two scoring lines. Can’t go wrong bringing size and heart at $1.5 million Contract Status: Signed through 2011-12 (UFA)

40. Maxim Lapierre: Another RFA that will easily find himself with a new extension at a reasonable price back in Montreal. Lapierre has established himself as the team pest and is just getting better and better. More on Lapierre can be found on this recent post.

41. Jaroslav Halak:You think player-agent Adam Walsh isn’t seeing dolar signs right now?

Halak was brilliant in the playoffs and cannot be blamed for the five-game exit in the Eastern Conference,despite his human bowling ball exhibition in Game Five.

As with his afore-mentioned counterpart, the Canadiens seem likely to try and sign both goaltenders. It will clearly fall on how much team Walsh asks for his client or if any comparable offer sheets fall their way.

If any goalie were to be traded over the summer, Halak’s trade value could be at it’s peak. But to the Canadiens risk a deal and put all their future clearly on Carey Price?

This will be the off-season story to follow.

42. Dominic Moore: The Canadiens didn’t do much at the trade deadline, but picking up Dominic Moore before the Olympic break was a genius move by Pierre Gauthier. Another give-all forward, Moore fit well into coach Jacques Martin’s system. He will be another UFA in July, but signing him for up to $2 million gives the Canadiens a solid third line player.

44. Roman Hamrlik: When most of the Canadiens defensive corps went down early in the season, Roman Hamrlik was called on to step up at the blueline. He did just that, but by the playoffs showed signs of fatigue. Does he have enough for another season, with Markov already expected out until November?

Hamrlik’s age and contract makes him virtually unmovable, so expect him to be called on in a leadership roll yet again for the young defencemen. Contract Status: Signed through 2010-11 (UFA)

46. Andrei Kostitsyn: Granted he’s only 24 and missed 23 games primarily due to injury, but Kostitsyn’s performance in the playoffs was far beneath expectations. With one year left in his contract and little brother already in the coach’s doghouse, it would interesting to see how he responds next season. Contract Status: Signed through 2010-11 (RFA)

47. Marc-Andre Bergeron He’s got a booming shot, after that…It became clear why no teams picked him up before the start of the season. With the Canadiens desperate for help on the blue line (remember Jay Leach?)and the power play, they were left with little choice.

With the team again stricken with injuries on the blueline, the torch was passed to Bergeron. What a disaster that was as there were countless times, in the playoffs,where MAB bobbled the puck or gave up the offensive zone. Good-bye and good riddance!

52. Mathieu Darche: Another UFA forward who helped fill the void, Mathieu Darche’s days in Montreal are again numbered. With a crop of players 8-10 years younger, and a playoff game that saw him log zero ice-time, it’s just a formality come July 1.

57. Benoit Pouliot: Picked up in the Guillaume Latendresse deal in November, Pouliot played a bit of “Whatever you can do, I can do.” with Latendresse on his return from a wrist injury. Eventually that wore off, and come playoff time, he registered just two assists with 22 shots. A pending RFA, Pouliot should be re-signed at close to the league minimum.

61. Ben Maxwell: The 22-year-old had a great 2008-09 season with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He was called up as an injury replacement this spring and barring injuries on the big club, Hamilton is where he will be again come next season. Contract Status: Signed through 2010-11 (RFA)

74. Sergei Kostitsyn: Started the season in Martin’s doghouse, and ended it there. An RFA, do you really think the Canadiens are going to make him an offer, or that any other team takes him off their hands? He’ll tear it up in the KHL, maybe.

75. Hall Gill: So we’ve all figured out why Bob Gainey signed him now, right? Criticisms of being a slow moving pylon quickly vanished when he anchored the Canadiens defense in the first two rounds of the playoffs. His ability to move opponents from the net and sacrifice his body for a shot inspired most of his fellow rearguards. And he only costs $2.25 million. Contract status: Signed through 2010-11 (becomes UFA)

76. P.K. Subban: Fans got a sneak peak at the charismatic blueliner in this years playoffs. He’s got a 99% chance to crack the starting lineup come 2010-11.

Subban has the speed, he has the shot and he’s proven he has the hockey sense. His biggest flaw is getting overcommitted on the rush, which winds up in odd-man rushes the other way. He’ll likely get ample time on the PP and will compliment Markov once he returns in November. Contract Status: Signed through 2011-12 (becomes RFA)

79. Andrei Markov: “What if Markov had been closer to the boards on the Matt Cooke hit?”  Answer is, playing in the rest of the playoffs. We all saw what happened when he was injured in the first game of the season. Markov is the puck mover and heart of the Canadiens defence. With him out until possibly November, the remaining rearguards will have to step up and stay healthy.

Next question will be how he performs  after two serious injuries in less than seven months. A UFA after next season, all eyes will be watching to see how he responds.

91. Scott Gomez: One has to imagine what kind of a season Scott Gomez could have had with a healthy Brian Gionta. His offensive numbers were close to his previous season in New York, but unless there’s a dramatic spike, fans will be screaming for blood.

Granted Gomez is a warrior on the ice and showed that in the playoffs, scoring 14 points

Problem for many fans is that it’s hard to accept someone, with a current $8 million salary, who negated two Canadiens power plays in two successive Eastern Final games. They all remember what happened on the resulting Flyers man advantage. Contract Status: Signed through 2013-14

94. Tom Pyatt: Considered a minor player in the Scott Gomez deal, Tom Pyatt took advantage of his season call-ups, totaling 40 games, and quickly showed that he could be an effective defensive forward. The 23-year-old pending RFA carried that work ethic into the playoffs and will easily be signed to an extension in the off-season.

Team Salary sources: nhlnumbers.com

Game 5 Photo;Jim McIsaac (Getty Images)

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