Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Jeff Petry signs a 6 year, $33M contract to stay with the Canadiens, radically improves the team.

I hadn't weighed in on the Jeff Petry-contract issue much since the end of the season.  I really enjoyed his play down the stretch, obviously a quality guy, but I placed the odds of signing him to a (reasonable) deal at 33% or thereabouts.

Sure, he said all the right things at the end of the season, about loving the team and the building and the city and the fellas, but they all say that.  We've been burned before.  If they don't go all Thomas Vanek on us.

And I couldn't really blame him, after positioning himself so well with his performance, and after enduring years of penance in Edmonton, if he wanted to choose his next destination, where he'd play for the rest of his NHL career, essentially.  If he wanted to return home to Detroit, or land in a California beach paradise, or go to tax-free Florida and get to the rink in flip-flops, he'd have earned it.

I'd already made my peace with his departure, rolled my eyes a little bit at those who were blithely planning the roster for next season while including him in their crackpot pairings and outlandish powerplay lineups, as if it were a fait-accompli.

I thought we'd make do on our second-pairing, as we must, with a marginally improved Tom Gilbert, who was a better defenceman at the end of the year than the one who early on caused Andrei Markov to scratch his head and ask reporters bemusedly "What you want me to say?"  P.K. would anchor the first pairing.  We had Greg Pateryn who'd shown he could handle third-pairing duty.  Plus, the system is rampant with right-shot defencemen.  The cavalry's coming.

When it really stung was during my draft prep, doing my diligent cursory skim of scouting reports, adding shiny new prospects to my shopping cart, but always snapping back to reality: we don't have a second-round pick.  Nor a fourth-round pick.  Courtoisie, Monsieur Pétry.

We discussed in a post yesterday how the Blackhawks had 46 picks in the same time period as the Canucks had 31, due to Vancouver trying to find help, depth, a right-winger for the Sedins, always spending draft choices to 'go for it'.  While the Blackhawks already have their framework in place.  And how they profit from that, with an extra fifteen shots at the dart board.

It's hard to fault Marc Bergevin, when he sees his team well positioned to make a playoff run, when he sees his team scratching and clawing, for trying to add a missing piece here and there.  A Thomas Vanek.  A Devante Smith-Pelly.  Yes, a Jeff Petry.  At the mere cost of a second here, a sixth there...

But when the gambit fails, when we don't make it to the Promised Land, it's not impossible to fault our GM for the lavish overspend, the wanton waste of our draft bequeathment.  I Am Jack's Raging Bile Duct.

I was a little disheartened at the draft haul we got last June.  A 'beau risque' in Nikita Scherbak.  A longshot in Brett Lernout, another tough right shot defenceman, for a system replete with them.  Then, a list of longer-than-longshots and no-hopers.

And looking forward at our lowly draft position, our missing picks, I expected more of the same this month.  Another wasted year.  How is Trevor Timmins supposed to go McDonagh-Pacioretty-Subban again if he only has a first and no second?

Now, the picture has flipped completely.  There's new perspective.  Would I go on the trade market and obtain a Jeff Petry, a solid Top 4 defenceman who can skate, create offensively, join the rush, take a hit to make a pass, dish out those same hits, and generally make the team much better and injury resistant?  At the cost of a measly second and fourth-rounder?  Certainly.  With a smile on my face, that's like getting Marvin Gardens to complete my yellow set in exchange for B & O.

Suddenly, Marc Bergevin is a genius.  That's a risible cost to pay for a player like Jeff Petry, a veteran defenceman who's coming into his prime and is locked up for his peak seasons with the team.

Speaking of cost, 6 years at a $5.5M cap hit, that's an unconscionable, exorbitant amount, which is to say, the going rate.  Market value for a defenceman of his caliber.  I'll wager that he could have obtained more on the open market, that Cody Franson will get a similar deal, even with his poor outing this season.  Big defencemen, especially righties, are a much sought-after commodity.

And it brings up the fact that the Canadiens now have $63M committed for next season, and much up that tied up in the blueline group, when the ceiling could be $70M or even lower, and with Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu still needing contracts.  To say nothing of potential UFA's brought in to flesh out the margins of the team.  It will be tight.

So some salary will have to be shed.  In our sights has to be the $2.8M final year on Tom Gilbert's contract.  When you have David Lee Roth, do you really need to hold on to Sammy Hagar?  Jeff Petry plays the same exact role, except much better.  Greg Pateryn, the other rightie in our current lineup, brings a different skillset to a different role, third as opposed to second pairing, and he comes much cheaper, so he stays.

So Tom is the easy choice to be ejected, the sacrificial lamb.  Not that I dislike the guy, I was quite ready to have him back for another season, he wasn't a bad player, but it's a numbers game, and he draws the short straw.  The california-cool guy gets a ticket out of town, and maybe we can recover a midround pick for him.

And in this climate, where we Canadiens fans have been discussing the wisdom of just trying to get into the playoffs, versus the benefit of stripping our roster down to the studs in pursuit of a voyage to the bottom of the sea, to improve our drafting odds for a couple of seasons, in this age of the Blackhawks as perennial Cup contenders courtesy of Toews and Kane, and in light of Mike Babcock and Brendan Shanahan promising Leafs fans not a quick turnaround but more pain, we have our answer.

The Canadiens aren't in the business of tanking.  Geoff Molson, Marc Bergevin, they're in the business of putting on the ice the most competitive team they can, while building a solid organization that will constantly replenish the team with talent, year after year, with an emphasis on drafting and development, as well as retaining our best players.

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