No Moves? No Problem! (for now)

If you were a Habs fan on July 1st, then odds are you spent the day either drinking and celebrating Canada Day, or in front of your laptop, TV (tuned to TSN2) and/or cell phone, waiting for news of a big signing by Canadiens’ General Manager Pierre Gauthier.

Odds are, when you put all that technology away, you were left feeling slightly disappointed.

Other than signing backup goaltender Alex Auld, signing newly acquired Dustin Boyd to a 1-year deal, and resigning Curtis Sanford to a two-way deal, there wasn’t much Canadiens’ fans could take away from their July 1st UFA Day experience. But should fans be upset or disappointed at the lack of activity from their general manager and team?

By no means.

For two weeks, Pierre Gauthier has ensured that the Canadiens were in the main headlines across the hockey world. From trading Jaroslav Halak, to signing Thomas Plekanec to moving up in the draft to select Jared Tinordi, the Canadiens have been front and center since mid-June. And all of this despite limited cap flexibility, thanks to deals made by former General Manager and current ”special consultant” Bob Gainey.

Really, going into July 1st, there wasn’t much that Habs fans could expect from their General Manager. Their major pending UFA had been signed, the goaltending ”controversy” had been dealt with, and arguably the biggest locker room problem, Sergei Kostitsyn, has been dealt with and traded to the Nashville Predators.

All that was left to do was to plug a few holes and look to improve the team, but not by further handicapping the team in terms of the cap, which, if course, is always easier said than done.

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HOLES LEFT TO BE PLUGGED

Do Alex Auld or Dustin Boyd solve any of the Canadiens problems heading into the next season? Maybe, in their own, limited way. Auld is an experienced back-up goaltender who won’t play more than 15-20 games, in all likelihood, further cementing the fact that Carey Price is this team’s #1 goaltender for the foreseeable future, for better or for worse. As for Sanford, he provides more experience and depth for the Canadiens at the goaltending position, and will help Cedrick Desjardins to continue his development in Hamilton. Dustin Boyd solves some size issues in the Canadiens’ bottom-six ranks, and provides some secondary scoring depth, not to mention a cheaper and younger replacement for Glen Metropolit.

Once Carey Price and Maxim Lapierre are signed to contract, the Canadiens will have a complete team.

But really, the Canadiens still have some major deficiencies when it comes to size and scoring amongst the forward ranks. Unfortunately, those holes will not be filled unless Pierre Gauthier can clear some cap space.

There are two players that Habs fans would most like to see traded before the start of the 2010-11 season:

Andrei Kostitsyn is the most likely candidate for a trade. His salary is relatively high at $3.25M, but the 25-year-old is scheduled to become a restricted free agent at the end of next season. And while trading him would free up the cap space to bring in a better offensive player, moving Kostitsyn would also have some drawbacks. Kostitsyn’s production has dropped every season since his first full season in 2007-08. From 26 goals and 53 points in a season where he benefited from near-career years for his then-linemates, Thomas Plekanec and Alex Kovalev, Andrei dropped to 23 goals and 41 points last year, and finally, 15 goals and 33 points last year. While those numbers may seem half-decent, Kostitsyn has been incredibly inconsistent over the course of the last season, and he often goes long stretches of games without any points. At the same time, Kostitysn is one of the only offensive players on the Canadiens’ who has some decent size and who can actually throw his body around on the forecheck. And despite under-producing in many of his NHL seasons, he still has tremendous amounts of talent and potential as a sniper, and without the added distraction of his brother Sergei, Andrei could have a breakout year. If the Canadiens trade Andrei before the beginning of the season, it better be in order to bring in a sure thing for the top 6.

- The second candidate for a trade is Roman Hamrlik. The 36-year-old Czech defenseman is in the last year of a contract that pays him $5.5M per year. While he is aging and his salary is much higher than it should be, Hamrlik has shown the ability to be an experienced top 4 defenseman who has mentored some of the young players to pass through Montreal in his time with the team. While he isn’t able to play consistent top-pairing minutes, he has also proven to be a suitable pivot-guy for when Andrei Markov succumbs to injury (which seems to be pretty often lately). A team with available cap space and a young, inexperienced core of players would definitely find Hamrlik useful. The problem? Hamrlik has a limited No-Trade Clause until a few weeks before the 2011 trade deadline, in which the Canadiens can only trade him to one of 6 teams in each conference specified by Hamrlik and his agent. While that may no seem so bad at a glance, balancing which teams would want Hamrlik, versus which teams he would want to go to himself could be a tricky act. Moreover, with Andrei Markov set to miss the beginning of next season with a knee injury, would it be smart to trade away one of the only players who could replace him while he’s gone?

Without moving one of these two contracts, the Canadiens are not going to be able to add any firepower for the upcoming. But as mentioned, trading either player would be a risky move, as both have proven to be useful for the Canadiens in certain instances, and play considerable roles for the team.

Moreover, with the salary cap troubles on the way in 2011-12, players with only a year or two on their contracts will start to look more and more appealing to the Canadiens.

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2012: NOT ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD

A lot of fuss has been made about the salary cap troubles of the Chicago Blackhawks coming off their Stanley Cup victory. With so many bonuses to be paid, so many raises to be given out, it was inevitable that some players would find themselves in new cities as the summer progressed.

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, things actually ended up worse than most people had predicted. As it currently stands, only half of the players that laced their boots in the Stanley Cup finals and lifted the cup just about a month ago will be Chicago Blackhawks next season. Playoff superstar Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd and others have already been traded, and there are more on their way, with contracts such as Cristobal Huet’s and Brian Campbell’s likely to be dealt with.

Of course, Hawks fans can’t really complain, they have a Stanley Cup to their credit and the Hawks core is still intact, for the most part. This article by Kevin Burgundy illustrates the point pretty well.

Canadiens fans, in all likelihood, won’t be so lucky as to have a Stanley Cup to brag about next season. On the other hand, their gripes about the salary cap and about the hole that their team has dug themselves into will be completely justified.

As it stands today, on July 5th, 2010, the Montreal Canadiens have but seven players (5 forwards and 2 defensemen) signed to contracts. The total cap hit is nearly $30 million, over half of what the salary cap will be in 2010-11. While most will not tend to worry about salary cap issues in future years, you have to consider this a legitimate issue. The Montreal Canadiens are in some deep crap moving forward.

Expect a more detailed look at this issue in the coming days/weeks, but I’ll let everyone mull that over as we whine about the lack of activity from Pierre Gauthier on UFA day, and as we plead for him to trade the likes of Roman Hamrlik and Andrei Kostitsyn.

All things considered, Gauthier and his staff have done a pretty decent job of keeping this team afloat heading into next season. But once these salary cap troubles start creeping closer and start becoming more apparent, that’s when the real test will start for Pierre Gauthier and the Montreal Canadiens.

Tomorrow I’ll have a primer for the Habs development camp, so keep an eye out for that, as well as many off-season features to come over the next few weeks and months!

Enjoy the beautiful July weather,

Prax
TheCheckingLine.com
twitter.com/GeorgePrax

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About the Author: George Prax, born and raised in Montreal, offers a unique point of view when it comes to blogging. A devout Montrealer, Quebequois and Canadian, Prax is and always be a die hard Habs fan, one who feels it necessary to offer his view on the Canadiens, the NHL, and hockey happenings in general. Expect many articles on the Canadiens, some from the point of view of a fan, some from the point of view of a blogger and some more distant, but expect them often, and expect them full of passion. Prax, who has somewhat of an infamous reputation around the online hockey community, also has interests in music, movies, television, as well as politics, and they are nearly as deeply rooted as his love for hockey. Prax is the senior content editor at The Checking Line, a website devoted to offering the best hockey discussion around the net, one that features bloggers from all over the league, and one that's constantly growing. Visit www.thecheckingline.com for more of Prax's work.

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