Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Spending for the sake of spending

Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said yesterday that if Mats Sundin does not land in Montreal this fall - which still isn't a certainty, but is most definitely a probability - that he will "experiment" in training camp with Chris Higgins and Sergei Kostitsyn playing centre.
I've always felt that Higgins would be better at centre than on the wing, and he did pretty well there when given an audition after Saku Koivu went down last season, other than his performance on face-offs (35.5 per cent, ugh).
A lot of people of press row began wondering last year whether or not the younger Kostitsyn would also be better suited at centre, considering his excellent vision, speed and playmaking abilities, not to mention his bulldog attitude. My thoughts on this are that he would, just not on the Canadiens.
The problem, in my eyes, with putting him at centre is that he's too similar - in both style and stature - to Koivu and Tomas Plekanec. Having Sergei in the middle would mean none of the Canadiens top three centres would be either 6-feet tall or 200 pounds.
Granted, Higgins is no monster, but his style of play is a bit more of a change from Koivu and Plekanec than Kostitsyn would be.
I still believe the ideal situation would be to bring in a veteran to centre the third line, but barring that Higgins would be my choice to make the switch from the wing.

Still going on the premise that Sundin will not be heading to Montreal, another question that needs to be asked is whether or not it is worthwhile for the Canadiens to spend the remaining $6.5 million of cap space prior to the season, or if it would be more prudent to hold on to that money in order to swing a deal during the season.
The quick and easy answer is that having so much room under the cap once the season begins is essentially a waste, because NHL teams don't need too much wiggle room to make improvements. In other words, spending for the sake of spending may be the best move Bob Gainey could make.
The salary cap era so far has seen very little movement of players between teams in the early part of the season, to the point where The Mouth (aka Brian Burke) suggested last year to re-open the CBA and allow teams to eat salary in order to facilitate trades.
With most teams waiting until the home stretch to make their moves, they only need to have room to absorb about 20 per cent of a players salary because at the deadline about 80 per cent of the season is over.
Yet another factor that comes into play is that for a player to be made available in and around the deadline, two equally important conditions need to be respected: 1) The player, in almost every case, must be heading toward unrestricted free agency and 2) the team needs to be out of playoff contention.
So, with that in mind, what exactly would be available come March 3, 2009?
Not a whole lot.
For the purposes of this post, I looked at 21 teams who could be among the 14 non-playoff teams at the end of the season. But one thing that should be kept in mind is that quite a few, if not most of those teams will still be in the hunt for a playoff spot come March 3, so they may not be willing to throw in the towel by making a rental trade.
The only teams I gave a free pass into the playoffs were the Ducks, Stars, Red Wings, Habs, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Penguins and Sharks. Out of all the rest of the NHL's teams, here's a subjective list of prominent impending unrestricted free agents that could be dangled as trade bait in March (current salary in brackets):
Atlanta: Jason Williams ($2.2 million)
Boston: none
Buffalo: Maxim Afinogenov, Jaroslav Spacek ($3.33 million each)
Calgary: Mike Cammalleri ($3.35 million), Todd Bertuzzi ($1.95 million), Adrian Aucoin ($4 million)
Carolina: none
Chicago: Martin Havlat ($6 million), Robert Lang ($4 million)
Columbus: Mike Peca ($1.315 million)
Colorado: Tyler Arnason ($1.675 million), Ian Laperrière ($1.15 million)
Edmonton: Erik Cole ($4 million)
Florida: Jay Bouwmeester ($4.8 million)
LA: Kyle Calder ($2.7 million), Derek Armstrong ($1.5 million)
Minnesota: Marian Gaborik ($6.33 million)
Nashville: Steve Sullivan ($3.2 million, still re-habbing a back injury that forced him to miss last season), Greg DeVries ($2.5 million)
New Jersey: John Madden ($2.94 million), Brian Gionta ($4 million)
NYI: Bill Guerin ($4.5 million), Doug Weight ($4.3 million), Mike Comrie ($4 million), Mike Sillinger ($2.2 million)
Phoenix: Steve Reinprecht ($2 million), Derek Morris ($3.9 million)
St. Louis: Keith Tkachuk ($4 million), Andy McDonald ($3.33 million)
Tampa Bay: Gary Roberts ($2 million), Mark Recchi ($1.5 million), Michel Ouellet (1.25 million)
Toronto: Nik Antropov ($2.05 million), Mark Bell ($2.17 million)
Vancouver: Henrik and Daniel Sedin ($3.575 million each), Mathias Ohlund ($3.5 million)
Washington: Sergei Fedorov ($4 million), Viktor Kozlov ($2.5 million)

Of those players, I would argue the only true impact guys are Gaborik, Bouwmeester, Cole, Cammalleri, the Sedins, Madden and maybe Havlat if he can stay healthy. Chances are pretty good that Bouwmeester will be the only one of those players to hit the auction block come deadline time.
But let's just say, for the sake of argument, that the Wild were to fall off the map and Gaborik - the highest paid player on the list - were made available. In order to add him, a team would only need roughly $1.3 million in cap space.
So hanging on to $6.5 million of cap room before the season starts would be a collossal waste for Gainey, because even though the Canadiens have a littany of young, promising players, this team is built to win now with all the impending free agents on the roster. And with the trend of the past couple of trade deadlines, where teams grossly overpaid for rentals, using that $6.5 million in cap space now would likely bring far better value than if it were used in March.


Naila J. said...

There are a lot of cool names out there... Cammalleri would probably be a good fit with the team but I doubt he'd leave Calgary so soon.

As for Higgins, I've always been a believer of him at center. That's just his style of play. He tries so hard, and never gives up. That's motivating to wingers.

Topham said...

Have to agree with your take on spending. If you don't spend to the cap, you are not trying hard enough. That's notto say right to it, but leaving $6+ million unspent is a tremendous crime.

I also feel taht the team in its current state is competitive.

Having said that, what i would do is target a relatively young player on an overpriced contract. In this way, we can get an asset for the future (hopefully to be re-signed for less later) while providing relief to a team that needs room (thereby reducing their demands for a return).

Who is this player? Well Tanguay's one of them. You couldn't deny that Havlat is being paid far too generously for the work he does, but I'd rather have Havlat for 28 games than Gillett that much richer.