An Offseason of Filling Holes?

The free agent signing period is essentially over, and for now the Canadiens offseason amounted to not much more than filling holes left by departing players. Some of the players who departed (David Aebischer, Janne Ninimaa & Sergei Samsonov) had provided little to the team last season, but some such as Sheldon Souray, Mike Johnson and Radek Bonk were key players on a team that struggled to make the playoffs. This is a look at what’s been done and what might happen in the next couple of months.

This article is exclusive to HTR and TheHabsFan.com.

It’s clear that Bob Gainey swung for the fences chasing Ryan Smyth and Daniel Briere and struck out. In both cases Gainey offered more per year than either player ended up signing for (although Briere did get a no movement clause from Philly). Kudos to Bob for trying, but it seems it’s going to take more than that to lure free agents to a city that has become notorious for the media pressure and high taxes.

The best way for the team to be able to attract free agents is to improve the on ice play this season and actually show signs of moving forward. Right now free agents view the team as a mediocre one which has not significantly progressed from a playoff bubble team in years. To some extent this is true, but right now the best hope for us fans is to hope that development from within leads to a good year this season. The hope is that young players such as Chris Higgins, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn pick up the slack offensively; while Mike Komisarek and possibly Ryan O’Byrne or Pavel Valatenko shore up the defensive side of the game.
The team’s most obvious needs heading into this offseason were to improve 5 on 5 play by acquiring a centre with size to take the pressure off Koivu, and another top four defenseman. As it stands, the roster will welcome three new faces – physical winger Tom Kostopoulous, third line centre Bryan Smolinski, and defender Roman Hamrlik.

All three are essentially replacing the spots of players who left to a varying degree (Smolinski upgrades Bonk, Hamrlik for Souray is questionable, Kostopoulous for Johnson is a downgrade). And in all three cases, Gainey had to sweeten the pot considerably to get them to sign here. Roman Hamrlik scored a sweetheart contract of 22M for 4 yrs, one which led to Red Fisher joke that he must have dislocated his shoulder in his rush to sign it. Smolinski signed a reasonable 1yr $2M deal, but got himself a no-trade clause. Even Kostopoulous, who’s the kind of player Montreal fans will love, got himself a nice deal of $950,000/yr for 2yrs. This is for a guy who’s pencilled in as a fourth line winger.

So what does that mean for Montreal? Well, fans gotta hope that Gainey makes some further moves. UFAs Danny Markov and Michael Peca have been linked to Montreal in online rumours (Markov especially would be a nice pickup). As well, Sharks centre Patrick Marleau has been linked to Montreal since last year’s trade deadline.

The wildcard in all of this is winger Michael Ryder, who’s been mentioned in rumours since he has gained a reputation as being difficult to negotiate with, and could hit the UFA market after this season.

Ryder is the best goal scorer on the team and is the kind of player Montreal desperately needs to hold onto thanks to his ability to score, but he could be looking for a contract which the Habs brass feel he isn’t worth. Personally, I don’t buy it. Ryder’s kind of player is just so valuable to Montreal right now that Gainey will have to suck it up and compromise with Ryder’s agent. On the trade market there would be definitely be interest – from places like Edmonton and the Island which really could use scoring wingers, but considering the Habs would need a similar player in return it would be hard to make a trade.


63 Responses to An Offseason of Filling Holes?

  1. Quebec4Life says:

    Leafs better than the habs ROFL I heard it all!!! No seriously despite the fact that they signed Jason Blake and Toskala, which for me will be a second Raycroft no question Leafs are still downgrading fast. They're are laking depth on youngsters, it's gonna take a while before seeing some good young guns come up for them. Though we saw improvements in their program with Wellwood and Steen in the past years. But i'm telling you, Sundin is just getting older and older, adding Allison, Lindros and O'neil was a major waste in the past years and its still gonna take them a while to come back from those bad moves…

  2. habsrock99 says:

    funny philosophy concerning the Leafs but about Markov, he's averaged roughly the same thing but also Koivu is THE heart and soul of the Habs, so it's different. I agree about the fact that theirs no guarantees in hockey besides the Leafs not winning the Cup but at the same time would you want Gainey to sign Markov, have him get injured and ultimately play roughly 50-60 games and having every single Habs fan on this site and in the stands saying "Gainey's an idiot for signing Markov. Everyone knew he was injury prone etc, etc, etc."

  3. mojo19 says:

    Good article. One thing the habs have is a goalie who can steal some games for sure. If Huet wasn't hurt last year the habs make the playoffs. At the same time if Wellwood, Tucker, and Peca don't spend considerable time on the IR the leafs make it too and the Isles and Lightning wouldn't have.
     
    Just for the record, Tampa dealt with the least amount of man games lost to injuries in the league and snuck into the playoffs by a couple points. I think Montreal is at least as good as they were last year and have some good young players who should improve and make Montreal a pretty good team, mostly Higgins who is a great young player.

    Then you've got the NYI who I think got worse, but they're a scrappy bunch and like Montreal have spectacular goaltending, in my opinion the best in the East, maybe this year better than Brodeur.

    Its going to be a a lot of teams in the middle of the pack seperated by a few points just like last year so don't rule out Montreal yet.

    GO LEAFS GO!!!! I LOVE NIK ANTROPOV!!!!

  4. loco42 says:

    Hey, it’s possible, I’m a Habs fan, and I see the Leafs as a good team this year. Toskala is an upgrade to raycroft, but it’ll be a battle between Montreal and Toronto. I see a last game winner goes to playoffs, like last season.

    GO HABS GO.

  5. HoustonHab says:

    “I really don't get some people at all….” 

    Ok, whats so hard to get? 
     

    We both agree that Bob would like to get his 30 goal man (8 more goals then anyone else remaining on the team) back for as cheap as possible i.e. slightly more then last year’s $2.2m and maxing out at $3.0m.
     

    You are saying that “Michael is looking for a 2-3 year deal around 3-3.2 Million per season” as you heard thru the grapevine. I’m sure you did hear something like that and it makes good business sense for Ryder. 
     

    I am saying that Ryder will get $3.5 to $4.0 million from the arbitrator. If Ryder is looking for, say, $3.2m his agent would submit a higher number to the league. A number in the range of “Ridiculous + 10%” based on someone who scored a big contract and over $4.0m. So, off the arbitrator goes and he does his thing and give Ryder what he is worth (market value).
     

    Now, what is market value??? Is it the $3.2m that Ryder is wants? Is it the low ball number that Bob would like to pay? Is it the number that Lowe is whispering in Ryder’s agent’s ear? Is it the ridiculous number that Ryder’s agent submitted to the NHL? I have no idea! 

    However, I am willing to guess for fun and I say it between $4.0m and 3.5m a year based on stats and current market value for 2007-08.  Looking at a few other guys in the NHL who have 50+ points and a low (+/-) would leave you to believe that plus/minus isn’t all that important when contract time comes around. Look at guys like Bergeron (-28, $3.0m), Blake (-26,  $6.0m) and Souray (-28, $5.5M) and two of those guys are D-men. Actually, if you look at the bottom 10 players in the league the average salary is about $2.4m per year including entry level contracts. The guy with the most goals and 3rd in points in that shameful group is Ryder. So, if Ryder’s agent high balled the Canadians the arbitrator will be leaning towards $4.0 more so then $3.0m. That’s why I say $4.0m to $3.5m.
     

    Now, assuming you got all that the next question is at what point will Bob walk away?
     

    As for the And didn't I already say that an arbitrator will give him around 4 million?”… no, you did not say that, I did.
     

    For the record… I hope you are right and I’m wrong.

  6. habsgod says:

    i presonaaly like your out look for us!! but i wouldn't have higgins on the third lineor smolinski on the second line with kovalev!! this is how i see them!!! koivu,ryder,and higgins(1st line) plekanec,kovalev,and latendresse(2nd line)  smolinski, lapiere, begin(3rd line) kostopoulous,kositsyn grabovski (4th line) then you can see what chemistry you can come up with by mixing and matching throughout the season with the 2,3, and 4Th lines don't touch our 1st line unless as you stated that gainey can somehow pick up marleau!! then you insert him between ryder and higgins! and put koivu,kovalev and latendresse together!! as for the defence i agree with you 100% and goaltending except i'd start price and go with halak as backup which makes huet expendable!! and tradeable for a defenceman to add even more depth and to go on a bit of a run in the playoffs!!! also i think markov ,and hamrlik is a good first pp pairing! hamrlik can play a good breakout and transition game better than souray!! what we give up is souray's big shot and his pylon style for hamrlik steady defence and breakout game it better to  have to puck moving d-men than one and one that is a pylon with a cannon!!! 

  7. habsgod says:

    the make me laughs BLOW!!!!!!!!

  8. jayhabsjay says:

    horrible line combinations. and im not saying that to be mean, but come on, higgins and plekanecs on the third line? no way would that be good for the team. this is how i see the forward lines…

    ryder/koivu/kovalev
    higgins/pleks/latendresse
    grabovski/smolinski/kostitsyn
    begin/lapierre/kostopoulous

    as far as defense is concerned, i dont really care what lines they are as long as they do their job. i will say though i wwould like to see komisarek and markov together. once kostitsyn gets a little more experience and shows what he can do, if i were gainey id try my best to get rid of kovalev and get a gritty defensive forward and a pick for him. that is unless he wakes up and plays to his potential, because their is no doubting his talent.

    thank you for reading this and to HabsRUs, please dont get offended. i just have a different view of how our lines should look. GO HABS GO

  9. jayhabsjay says:

    nhl ready perhaps, but difference makers no.

  10. jayhabsjay says:

    to totally off topic here, but i will miss saying HIP HIP SOURAY!!!

  11. jayhabsjay says:

    hey thanks leafsfanforever. its nice to see a leafs fan not bash the habs all the time. i will say this though, i hate the leafs with a passion, but i will say good things about them if it is merited. its not that i like them, its just that unlike many fans, i think its alright to give praise where praise is due. and yes i belive the leafs did some good in the off season.

  12. mojo19 says:

    "make me laugh's" is what they call us in Detroit, you have to come up with your own clever nick name for us.

  13. habsgod says:

    if you read my article fellow habs bro you'll see that i don't put higgins or pleckanec on the 3rd line i have higgins on the first line where he has chemistry wiith koivu and ryder this is where he belongs!! i have plekanec on the second line with kovalev and latendresse!! if it is not my article to which you are referring to sorry about the mix-up!!! GO HABS GO!!!

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