FanPost

The Montreal Canadiens and the Future

The first thing you should know about me is that I’m not just some fan. I don’t mean to belittle the sleepless nights that I’m sure many Canadiens fans have endured over the past few years, but I consider myself more knowledgeable than the average supporter. I will not, for example, be proposing the Canadiens trade Tomas Plekanec and P.K. Subban for Claude Giroux. One things readers must know about me as a fan, however, is that the most devastating moment for me since I began avidly following the team and the league in 2003 was not seeing our playoff hopes go down the drain in the final game of 2007 against the hated Leafs, nor was it seeing Zdeno Chara bury Pacioretty into the stanchion, or even Nathan Horton sink the Habs in game 7 overtime this past Spring; for me, Gainey’s trade for Scott Gomez made angrier than anything ever has when it comes to hockey. This was partially because more than any other year, I had fervently followed the 2007 NHL draft, and was giddy at the prospect of Ryan McDonagh and P.K. Subban forming the Canadiens’ number one defensive pairing - matching defense with offense - for the next decade. It was also because I realized at the time what has become so incredibly clear since: a) Scott Gomez was never going to become close to a 90-point player again, b) His cap hit would make it impossible for this team to seriously contend for a cup for the next five years, and c) The trade would go down for all of these reasons as one of the worst in franchise history.

I’ve posted in various places before about the past, and you can see those posts, written in the summer of 2009, here: The New York Yankees of Hockey, A look back and forward, Why the Habs will not win for at least 5 more years, and A sense of optimism.

What will follow is a run-through of what I would do if I occupied the position of owner and in a sense GM of this team in the coming months and going forward. Much of what I will suggest may seem reactionary, but I assure you it has been thought out and it would be the direction I would take in trying to reform this team going into 2012-2013.

Task 1 – GM Search

We can argue individual deals ad nauseum, but the fact is, neither Bob Gainey nor Pierre Gauthier have done enough for this team to be retained going into next season. This Gainey/Gauthier era has had two chances to build this team into a contender, the first was supposed to peak in the Centennial Season and flopped, the second was supposed to at least gain steam this season, but has folded.

One of the themes I will keep coming back to is that of playing up the history and reputation of the Montreal Canadiens and the city of Montreal as a hockey market. When the Toronto Maple Leafs reached arguably the lowest of lows and were searching for a new face of the franchise, they didn’t hire a washed-up former GM, or a risky young inexperienced lawyer, they isolated the best General Managers in the NHL, and said, “We are the Toronto Maple Leafs. We get what we want.” They went after Brian Burke, at the time GM of the Anaheim Ducks, and lured him away by giving him the title of President and General Manager and convincing him that winning in Toronto would be greater than winning in Anaheim. This is a strategy that should – and I stress should because Montreal’s ownership and management has seemed incapable of doing anything of the type – if used correctly be able to lure a current successful general manager to Montreal. If you read my earlier posts (links above), I had originally suggested Steve Yzerman be offered the position before he accepted the job in Tampa. If I were the Canadiens this summer, I would do extensive research on player management, draft record, pro scouting, and isolate a few targets working in smaller markets, and attempt to lure them here. That could be somebody like Ray Shero, David Poile, or Doug Wilson (these are just examples, I haven’t done enough research to assert whether they are the best candidates).

For me, that would be the preferred approach. Should that fail, I would like to see a fresh mind take control. I would look in particular at Pierre McGuire – the argument for him is made by Mitch Melnick here, or I would go with an up-and-coming executive like (if he’s available) Jim Nill, Julien Brisebois, or Paul Fenton. This same approach could and should be used for finding a head coach.

Task 2 – Re-signing UFAs and RFAs

From this point on, I will be writing as if I were the GM. My philosophy as general manager of this team would be to use the team’s history, city, money flexibility, and fans - the only advantages this team has over most others - to bring the team to the top. Over the last few years, there has been a tendency for free agents (see Briere, Arnott, etc.) to avoid the city because of high taxes and the pressure that comes with playing here. The tax issue is unavoidable, but the fact this team can spend to the cap every year offsets it to an extent. In order to rebuild the team’s reputation to the fans, players, and the hockey world, you need to win, and you need to operate in a way that is respectful to the media and fans (meaning not like the CIA). As Ottawa showed last year, in a salary cap era, it isn’t difficult to turn a team around in one year. This is the route Montreal should take. We’ll start by discussing the pending UFA and RFA forwards.

Forwards

2011-12

2012-13

Term

Offer

Gomez

7.36

0

2

Minors

Plekanec

5

5

4

Gionta

5

5

2

Bourque

3.3

3.3

4

Pacioretty

1.625

1.625

1

Moen

1.5

UFA

0

Eller

1.27

1.27

1

1 yr, 1.27

Leblanc

1.17

1.17

2

Desharnais

0.85

0.85

1

Darche

0.7

0.7

1

1 yr, 0.7

White

0.625

0.625

1

1 yr, 0.625

Blunden

0.615

0.615

0

1 yr, 0.615

Nokelainen

0.55

RFA

0

Total:

29.565

20.155

To clarify, the bold numbers represent contracts that have already been signed. My first move would be to rid the team of Gomez. He’s clearly a great guy, but it’s time the mistake was rectified, whether it’s by using a possible buy-out clause in the new CBA or by burying his contract in the minors. Obviously, I would ensure he found out about it from the team rather than the twitter-sphere or the media. Hopefully, Eller, White, and Blunden would accept qualifying offers or short-term low-salary contracts. I would offer Darche another one-year offer at around $0.7 million to play largely penalty kill and 4th line. I would wait on signing Moen and Nokelainen to see how the market and the rest of the team played out.

Defense:

2011-12

2012-13

Term

Offer

Markov

5.75

5.75

2

Kaberle

4.25

4.25

2

Gorges

2.5

3.9

6

Campoli

1.75

UFA

0

Emelin

0.984

1.5

1

1 yr, 1.5m

Diaz

0.9

1

1

1 yr, 1m

Subban

0.875

4.5

2

2 yrs, 4.5m

Weber

0.85

0.85

1

Total:

17.859

21.75

On defense, a lot obviously depends on whether Markov can successfully return from injury. I presume that Emelin and Diaz would both agree to short/cheap contracts. As for Subban, a 2-year deal would allow the team to keep his RFA status, while a $4.5 million cap hit would be a reasonable and generous raise for the young defenseman.

Goalies:

2011-12

2012-13

Term

Offer

Price

2.75

7

7

7 yrs, 7m

Budaj

1.15

1.15

1

Total:

3.9

8.15

I don’t think Price will be signed to a contract for this much money considering his RFA status, but using the contract of Pekka Rinne (7 years, 7 million/year) as a very liberal estimate can’t hurt.

In terms of a Grand Total, that brings us to a $50.055 million cap hit for 2012-2013. The current NHL salary cap is approximately $62 million, and that number is expected to rise to possibly as high as $68 million.

Task 3 – Building the Team for NOW and LATER

This team may sit last in the Eastern conference, but considering the team’s success last year and the year before, combined with the improvement of players like Desharnais, Pacioretty, Eller, Emelin, and the addition of Cole, there are pieces in place for this team to improve fast. With at least $12 million in cap room going into next season, as GM this is where I would attempt to use the team’s legacy and the city to its advantage. Much as teams like the Kings, Leafs, Sabres, and Rangers went all-in for Brad Richards last season, I would make a serious play at two pending UFAs.

Perhaps the best comparison of the type of transformation I would lead this team through is to the 2007 Philadelphia Flyers. Coming off finishing last place in the Eastern conference, the Flyers traded a 1st round pick (which had been previously acquired in the Forsberg trade) back to Nashville for the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, whom they subsequently signed to six-year contracts. Building around young players Mike Richards and Jeff Carter the team then signed Daniel Briere to a long-term deal.

It’s hard to know what will happen with Ryan Suter in Nashville and Zach Parise in New Jersey. Both teams are intent on keeping their star UFAs, but internal budget and ownership issues may make this impossible. If the two DO re-sign, then I believe the Habs would be best served “retooling” for another year before pouncing on a stacked free-agent class of 2013. For the sake of argument though, let’s presume the two are available.

Early in June, I would trade for the rights to both players. Ideally, that would involve trading one of our 2nd round picks to each team, but it’s possible the price would be greater. Then, I would treat them like prize recruits for a college football team. I would have them talk to Cole, Pacioretty, and Gionta, three Americans who have admitted to growing to love the city. I would fly them both to the city together, teach them about the history of the team, convince them how great the team could be with them both in Montreal – although ideally avoiding the term “Dream Team” – and how much better winning in Montreal would be than winning anywhere else. Pierre McGuire and others have already stated that the two might be interested in signing in the same place to build a cup contender, why not here? I would throw the bank at them, offering contracts in the range of 8 years, $7.5 million per year (depending on the salary cap for next season). It may seem like a lot of money, and a great risk, but these are proven performers who are just entering their prime. Here is what the Canadiens top nine could potentially look like:

Parise

Plekanec

Gionta

Pacioretty

Desharnais

Cole

Bourque

Eller

Leblanc

If cap space was an issue, I would trade Bourque and try to recover a 2nd round pick, while giving that spot to Geoffrion or Moen. I know that Parise and Gionta are both small players, and eventually I could see the lines being balanced out more than they are as currently designed.

The top four defensemen could look like this:

Suter

Subban

Markov/Emelin

Gorges

Ultimately, I understand that this scenario is unlikely because New Jersey wants to keep Parise and Nashville wants to keep Suter, but this is a Plan A that I would institute as part of a vision to reverse the fortunes of this club, to make it a place where free agents want to play, and to make the Bell Centre not just the favorite NHL arena to play in, but one that opponents fear to visit. Plan B as I said earlier would involve a similar approach, but used next off-season.

The only other concern I can think of with this plan is cap space for the next few years, with players like Pacioretty, Desharnais, Eller, Emelin due for decent or big paydays. Although it will be tough, to resolve this I would suggest trading players like Gionta, Bourque, and Kaberle following next season, which – although veering dangerously into Blackhawks post-cup territory, would suffice to keep us around the $65 million range. At that point, the captaincy could be given to either Gorges or Parise, based on the state of the team at that point.

Part of this plan would also involve ensuring a steady stream of prospects to replace older players. The Redwings have always been outstanding at this, allowing their young players to develop in the minors, making mistakes there before they are ready to join the big club. Under this plan, Gallagher could in two years replace Gionta, Bournival could become the fourth line centre, a new prospect (Grigorenko?) could become a top-line centre, and Beaulieu, Tinordi, and Ellis could join the fold when they’re ready. It’s been a tough last decade for Canadiens fans, but this team isn’t as far away from glory as it may seem. With proper management and coaching, this team is only an off-season or two away from being a perennial cup contender.

Fanpost content is created by members of the community and is not published by the authors, editors, or manager of Eyes on the Prize.

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