Monday, 30 June 2014

My free agency shopping list for the Canadiens on Canada Day

So it's hard to tell how the NHL 'Free Agency Frenzy' will run tomorrow.  On the one hand, there was a five-day discussion period allowed for free agents, prior to the opening bell tomorrow at 12:00 hr EDST.  This will allow a lot of teams and players to have concluded handshake deals, and I would expect a tidal wave of deals being announced at the kickoff, and very soon after.

I would also expect a few teams to re-sign their own free agents early on, finding out that the one or two players they coveted and kept cap room free for are now signed elsewhere.  So let's say the Canadiens are in the Dan Boyle market, but find that he's signed a ludicrous contract offer with, oh heck, let's say the Rangers.  Marc Bergevin's team might swoop back in and sign Mike Weaver, who they'd backburnered while they were chasing the former Shark.

There will be two types of teams out there, some like the Bruins and the Flyers who are hard up against the salary cap, and won't be able to make offers, and bottom-feeders like the Sabres, the Panthers, Flames and Islanders, who are below the salary-floor and need to purchase big name players to get above the floor and reach compliance.  It will be interesting to see if some players value the chances of winning by accepting an offer from a contender, versus a much higher offer from a weak sister in an unenviable locale.

Since the teams with cap-room are rebuilding and looking long-term, and may not want to sewer their chance at the #1 draft choice next summer, is it possible that they are strategic in who they sign, maybe showering one or two forwards with cash, but refraining from picking up a goalie?  That way they'd have two more pieces in play, but the kind which would have little effect on the standings in the short-term.  Two or three seasons later, when their youth comes together, they'd have those assets already in-house.  I'm very interested to see how the Sabres spend all that money to reach the floor, and don't unintentionally get strong enough that they end up picking 10th overall.

So there might be a fierce bidding war for luxury items, who put on a show and sell tickets, but your solid defencemen, or an unspectacular Dave Bolland who helps you win, may not get a peep, the contenders who would be interested in their services having their hands tied financially, and not able to enter the fray.

There are also stories of interest to Canadiens fans.  Will Thomas Vanek go to the highest bidder, or to a contender?  Will he forego a higher offer to go to his preferred Minnesota, which has already told him that he'd have to accept a shorter 3 or 4-year deal, being leery of entering new long-term contracts after the deals for Zach Parisé, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville?

Where does Brian Gionta land?  Is it a foregone conclusion that he'll be in Buffalo, near his Rochester home?  That might not be a bad play for them, spend on a veteran who may not win you any extra games, but will keep the team on an even keel and help the coaches during the losing streaks, keep the youngsters focused and motivated, help their development.  And I don't know if that's being uncharitable for Brian.

Another point of interest is how many goalkeepers, suitable for backup duty, are available on the open market.  This should deflate the trade value of Peter Budaj and Dustin Tokarski enough that they're excluded from tiresome trade proposals to Winnipeg to pry Evander Kane out of the Jets' hands.

Will Saku Koivu get a contract offer right away, or will he have to wait a while?  Are Christian Erhoff, Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Ribeiro, Ilya Bryzgalov and Brad Richards going to get another massive contract, on the back of their lucrative buyout settlements?

My shopping list as Armchair GM of the Canadiens would be relatively limited.  With P.A. Parenteau in the fold now, we have a little more balance in our forward corps.  I don't expect us to nab one of the top free agents, but maybe we'll go bottom-feeding for a bargain like David Booth, who may not fit the character type that Marc Bergevin looks for, but could be a low-risk, low-price acquisition, and could contribute with his size, speed and offensive ability, if he stayed healthy.

I'd also like a replacement for George Parros, and maybe there's someone in the AHL like Steve MacIntyre who can fill this role, or maybe we acquire someone on the cheap from a team looking to dump salary.  We can't refuse to accept that the Bruins caused an arms race in our division, and we have to have the nuclear capability that the other teams do.

The main need would be for a rightie on defence.  Dan Boyle would be a great fit, on a two-year deal, and he wouldn't come cheap, but he could play on the right side of Andrei Markov or Alexei Emelin, and take the second wave of the powerplay to give P.K. a breather.  P.K. could learn a thing or two from Mr. Boyle as well, both in watching him play, and in conversation.  Failing that, we go even cheaper and sign, in descending order of preference, Tom Gilbert, Sami Salo, Anton Stralman,  or Stéphane Robidas.  Or Shane O'Brien's evil twin, the one with the real mean streak, and who shoots right.

Generally, I'll trust Marc Bergevin to be prudent, to not enter into any entangling alliances, like his ill-advised deal with Daniel Brière last summer.  I'd rather fold than to keep anteing up at the table, let other teams strangle themselves with cap and term.  I don't mind taking a step back in the standings next season if we let our kids play and develop, and open up some roster opportunities for the Bulldogs.

I don't think we're one or two players away from being contenders, we need to stay the course, keep stocking our farm system and think long-term, the Thomas Vanek beau risque of last April notwithstanding.


  1. Last paragraph- think long term. That has been happening for 20 years now, a new GM and a new 5 year plan. Screw the long term, get the pieces together that will contend for a Stanley Cup NOW, not 5 years from now. By then, Bergervin will probably be gone and the rebuilding cycle will continue. You have arguably the best goalie and best defenseman in the league, along with some young studs, all close to their primes, go for the Cup in the next couple of years, before the window closes.

    L Train

    1. I agree that to some degree, the future is now. Carey, P.K. and Max, their window is open now, we can't waste years to sit back. So yeah, we're not in the business of finishing low in the standings for a high draft pick, with the hope that in five years we'll be ready to go. By then our young veterans will be in their thirties.

      When I say long-term, I mean don't give up a five-year deal to a player who's really a patch job for a a couple of seasons, and then struggle with that anchor of a contract from then on. Long-term as in amass a deep prospect pool so that you're a contender year after year, as opposed to the 'go-for-it' mentality that reigned in the centennial season.

      I think the moves from yesterday are great moves, short-term and long-term. They address real needs immediately, but not at great cost or sacrifice. We shed salary, let some veterans go, got some pieces for free as UFA on short-term, tradable deals. There's an opportunity for new blood from the farm.

      So Marc Bergevin improved the team, patched holes in the roster, took care of one headache by dealing away a leftie d-man with a worrisome contract. Short-term improvement, without mortgaging the future. Great stuff.