Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hi operator? Can I have a number for François Giguère?

The universal calls for the Habs to grab a legitimate number four defenceman have started to heat up, with La Presse's Marc-Antoine Godin being the latest to chime in Tuesday.

He lists Vancouver's Mathias Ohlund, Anaheim's François Beauchemin, Dallas' Philippe Boucher and Florida's Jay Bouwmeester as the top four impending free agents out there, but it's one of the guys he lists in his "other candidates" section that remains the most intriguing to me.

As I stated back on Oct. 15, I remain convinced that the most realistic guy out there that wouldn't cost Bob Gainey a ton of assets right now is the Colorado Avalanche's Jordan Leopold.

All the guys in Godin's piece probably won't be available until at least Feburary as we approach the March 4 trade deadline. Leopold, on the other hand, could be used to fill a need that is getting desperate in the Rocky Mountains right now: a legitimate starting goaltender.

Peter Budaj is trudging along with a 3-6-0 record, 3.43 GAA and an .876 save percentage, and his backup Andrew Raycroft is...well, I don't think I need to tell you how he's doing (if you insist on knowing, it's a 2-1-0 record, 3.75 GAA and .839 SP).

Meanwhile, Leopold has three goals and three assists in 12 games, and that's without significant power play time (1:08 per game, fourth among the team's defencemen). His overall ice time of 16:30 per game is last among the team's six regulars on the blue line, yet he's still managed to put 16 pucks on net this season, second-highest on the d-corps.

I really think this is a guy who could help the Canadiens out, not only as a regular partner for Roman Hamrlik but also as a point man on the power play. He only makes $1.5 million this season, which means Gainey wouldn't have to clear too much space to make room for him right away.

The question becomes who goes to Colorado from Montreal? It's obvious Avalanche GM François Giguère would want Jaroslav Halak, which was my original suggestion as well, but with the outstanding numbers being put up by Marc Denis in Hamilton right now perhaps that would be an intriguing proposal for Giguère to mull over as well, especially considering Denis was originally drafted by the Avalanche back in 1995.

The problem with Denis, as I understand it, is that he would have to clear waivers to be called back up to the Canadiens, seeing as he had to clear them on his way to the minors. Not only that, but if I'm not wrong (you can tell how comprehensive my grasp of the CBA is with all the qualifiers I throw in everywhere) Denis would be on re-entry waivers, meaning the Habs would be on the hook for half his NHL salary should he be claimed.

I'm not really sure how that works if he's traded, but I don't believe it's a hindrance to either Montreal or the team he is traded to.

Leopold is headed to unrestricted free agency next year, and Giguère has a pretty big problem to take care of as Paul Stastny will be a restricted free agent next year as well. Considering the contract extension that was recently handed to L.A. Kings phenom Anze Kopitar (seven years, $47.6 million), who was also slated to be an RFA, the Avs will likely have to empty the bank to sign their rising young star.

That might make Leopold the odd man out, and if Giguère can grab a needed asset for him at this stage of the season, would he not at least consider it?


Sliver24 said...

I like the way you think Arp, but I don't agree that re-entry waivers are not a problem. If the Habs need to waive Denis in order to trade him to Colorado, the Avs could just claim him and get him for half the price. That would leave the Habs on the hook for the other half of the salary AND the cap hit.

Also, if the Habs do trade Halak anywhere they are opening themselves up for a potential goaltending problem. They'll need a backup goalie to replace him on the big club, meaning one option would be to call Denis up from the A. If Denis gets claimed by some desperate team (see New Jersey in about two weeks from now), all of a sudden Cedric Desjardins is the only other decent goalie in the organization.

In order to prevent that from happening I would expect to see one of two things happen:

1. Gainey calls up Desjardins to the NHL as backup, leaving Denis to carry the load in the minors. I don't see that happening because I don't think Gainey would want Desjardins playing 25 games this season for the Habs.

2. Either Raycroft or Budaj would have to come back to the Habs in the deal. Both are making only $800K this year, Raycroft is going to be a UFA after this season and Budaj (whose cap hit it actually only $700K) will be an RFA.

I see scenario 2 being more likely, with Raycroft being the throw-in by the Avs. It gives the Habs a backup goalie at a bargain basement price that is at least a known entity in the NHL. It also allows Desjardins to continue to grow in the minors and it prevents Gainey from having to expose part of his cap by having Denis claimed on re-entry waivers.

As for Leopold, I like him, but Pierre McGuire on Melnyck today said Leopold didn't have the edge he needs to be a good player when the going gets tough (i.e. in the playoffs). Maybe that's less of an issue when you're a number four instead of a top-two d-man.

In the end, I disagree with all the pundits and I will stand by my assessment of a few weeks ago in this space when Gaborik rumours were the flavour du jour. I think Gainey should stand pat. If O'Byrne continues to mess the bed or if an injury crops up somewhere down the road maybe I'll change my mind, but Halak's value will only rise as we get deeper into the season, so what's the hurry?

Arjun said...

Off topic, I suppose, but how is that McDonough kid doing? How far away is he? Two years?

Arpon Basu said...

Apparently, at least according to his defence coach in Wisconsin, he's not doing so hot. Check it out in today's La Presse:


Regardless, he's at least two years away because I would imagine he'll play a season in Hamilton before coming to Montreal.