The Montreal Canadiens surprised everyone by beating the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals. This team had been depleted by injuries all season long and were finally able to pull everything together in the playoffs despite playing without their number one defenseman Andrei Markov.
Bob Gainey was heavily criticized for a number of his moves over the past few years but his overall record doesn't look so bad. The Montreal Canadiens made it to the playoffs in five of the six years that Gainey was GM and three of those times they made it past the first round. He was also criticized for signing small players last summer but it certainly wasn't a factor in these playoffs.
Let's take a look at the 15 players they currently have under contract for next season:
Scott Gomez - F - $7,357,143 - When the Canadiens traded for Scott Gomez last summer, Gainey was criticized for acquiring another small center but, most importantly, for acquiring his 7 million dollar contract. Many failed to realize that this trade was done in preparation for July 1st and is probably what allowed Gainey to convince Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri to sign in Montreal. Sure Gomez probably isn't worth more than 5 or 5.5 million but this trade was necessary in order to have a competitive team in 2009-10. Gomez picked up 59 points this season and added 14 in the playoffs; we can probably expect 65 to 70 from him next season if Gionta stays healthy and if Pouliot picks up his play a little next season - Overpaid.
Mike Cammalleri - F - $6,000,000 - He was on pace for 38 goals before suffering an injury in late January. He struggled for the final nine games of the regular season when he came back from his injury but picked it up again in the playoffs scoring 13 goals in 19 games. Had he not been hurt, Cammalleri probably would have finished in the top 30 for points and in the top 10 for goals. He is approximately the 25th most paid forward in the NHL which seems pretty fair, although one could argue that he is underpaid after the playoffs he had - Fair value.
Andrei Markov - D - $5,750,000 - Before the 2009-10 playoffs, the large majority of the Montreal Canadiens fans would have agreed that Andrei Markov was the most valuable player to the team. Over the past few years, the Canadiens had an awful record when Markov was out with an injury as he was pretty much their only good puck moving defenseman. Although he has been injured often over the past two years, he is still amongst the five best defensemen in the NHL in my opinion and is worth at least as much as Jay Bouwmeester who signed a deal worth 33 million over five years last summer - Good value.
Roman Hamrlik - D - $5,500,000 - He has finished second in time on ice per game in each of the last three years behind only Andrei Markov and, most of the time, has been solid defensively. The problem with Hamrlik is that he is starting to slow down at 36 years old and probably won't get much more than 25 points next year. The Montreal Canadiens are very glad to have him but they just wish he was making 4 million a year instead of 5.5 - Overpaid.
Brian Gionta - F - $5,000,000 - Similar to Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta had a pretty good season overall but was slowed down by injuries. Gionta's stats over 61 games would have given him 38 goals and 24 assists over a full season. This would have put him in the top 10 for goals and the top 50 for points. His offensive statistics are slightly worse than Cammalleri's but his defensive play makes him just as valuable - Good value.
Jaroslav Spacek - D - $3,833,333 - Most agreed that this was a good signing by Bob Gainey last off-season but it didn't turn out as well as expected. Spacek was disappointing for most of the season but played much better in the playoffs which could be good news for next season - Slightly overpaid.
Andrei Kostitsyn - F - $3,250,000 - He is an extremely talented player but who unfortunately is just as inconsistent. He remains a pretty good top six forward but his production has declined since signing a three-year deal in 2008. - Slightly overpaid.
Hal Gill - D - $2,250,000 - In just a few months, Hal Gill went from one of the most criticized players on the team to one of the most appreciated. Despite the criticism, he was solid defensively all season long and was a leader in the locker room. He does not bring much to the team offensively but he is excellent in his role - Fair value.
Travis Moen- F - $1,500,000 - He had the second best season of his career offensively with 20 points and was the second most used forward on the penalty kill. He won't do anything special but he is one of the few third or fourth line forwards on the team that played regularly on the penalty kill - Fair value.
Georges Laraque - F - $1,500,000 - Laraque was asked to leave the team in January and will probably be bought out this off-season. This would cost the Canadiens $500,000 in cap room for the next two seasons instead of $1,500,000 for the next year.
Josh Gorges - D - $1,100,000 - He was excellent all season long and was the most consistent defenseman on the team. He had the most time on ice per game on the penalty kill and fourth most at even strength. Gorges finally got the recognition he deserved from the media in the playoffs and will be a huge bargain next season - Great value.
Ryan O'Byrne - D - $941,667 - He was heavily criticized last season but picked up his play this season and seems to be improving. He still isn't much more than a sixth or seventh defenseman but he definitely has the potential to develop into a top four guy in a couple of years - Fair value.
Max Pacioretty - F - $875,000 - He was expected to play with Gionta and Gomez this season but was a big disappointment this season. He is still only 21 years old so has plenty of time to develop but - Fair value.
P.K. Subban - D - $875,000 - At times in the 2010 Playoffs, Subban looked like the best defenseman on the team. He still has a lot to learn but he made tremendous steps this season and will be a top four defenseman as well as a potential Calder candidate in 2010-11 - Great value.
Ben Maxwell - F - $850,000 - He didn't play much with the Canadiens this season but had a pretty good season with the Bulldogs and should make the big team next year as the 12th or 13th forward - Fair value.
Here's what we have when we put all that together:
Great value: 2
Good value: 2
Fair value: 6
Slightly overpaid: 2
Total Cap Hit: $45,582,143 (assuming George Laraque is bought out)
The Montreal Canadiens defense is pretty set for the 2010-11 season with Andrei Markov, Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek, Hal Gill, Josh Gorges, Ryan O'Byrne and P.K. Subban. This is the same defensive core which played so well in the 2010 Playoffs with one exception: Andrei Markov replacing Marc-Andre Bergeron. Bergeron could still be signed as a 12th forward / 7th defenseman and power play specialist but it probably won't happen unless Gauthier is able to trade Hamrlik or Spacek this summer.
At forward, the Canadiens will resign Maxim Lapierre, Tom Pyatt and Benoit Pouliot for a total of about 3 to 3.5 million which will bring the total cap hit to close to 49 million for 17 players including 10 forwards. Dominic Moore, Glen Metropolit and Mathieu Darche could also be resigned as UFA's for close to the minimum. If we add two forwards at 2 million (whether amongst the three named above or others), the cap hit will now be at around 51 million for 19 players.
This leaves us with the three biggest question marks of the off-season: Tomas Plekanec, Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price. Tomas Plekanec will ask for a contract similar to Ryan Kesler (30 million over 6 years). Both have very similar productions offensively but Kesler has been a nominee for the Selke Trophy in each of the past two years. Based on that, Plekanec is worth about 4.25 to 4.5 million a year in my opinion. Jaroslav Halak will definitely ask for more money than Kari Lehtonen who recently signed a three-year deal worth 10.65M. It will be very difficult to sign Halak for less than 4 million dollars a year unless it is a one or two year deal. Carey Price would be cheaper than Halak but we're still not sure if he's ready to start 60 to 65 games and be the number one goaltender on a playoff team.
Pierre Gauthier will have to make some decisions this summer since he cannot afford to keep all three players and probably can't even afford to keep both Halak and Plekanec unless he makes a trade. One solution would be to deal Price along with either Hamrlik and Spacek for a young NHL-ready player making close to the minimum (and picks or prospects depending on the player) and then to resign Bergeron as a seventh defenseman. The only way to keep both Halak and Price would be to trade a defenseman for a center to replace Plekanec on the second line but that's unlikely to happen.
In my opinion, the most likely possibility is that Carey Price will be dealt either for a center to replace Plekanec or with either Hamrlik or Spacek for a young forward to play with Gionta and Gomez. If the Canadiens stay healthy next season, they've shown us that they are amongst the best teams in the Eastern Conference and 95 to 100 points is certainly within reach for the 2010-11 season.
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