Saturday, June 27, 2009

Now what?

The NHL draft has come and gone, the league's 29 other GMs have left town, and Bob Gainey has been left alone in his backyard holding a ball with no one to play with.

Of course, just because Gainey wasn't able to swing the deal for a big first-line centre he was hoping for this weekend doesn't mean it won't come down the road, and obviously he's hoping it will as he told TSN Friday night that it may not come until October.

But having it out of the way would have left Gainey with one fewer headache to deal with this summer, and now he has a real juggling act awaiting him as he shifts his focus toward the free agent market.

The unique window to negotiate with his stable of 10 unrestricted free agents comes to an end Wednesday and Gainey now has to guesstimate how much money he needs to leave in the vault to accommodate his new first line centre, should he be able to land one. Yes, Gainey knows how much a Vincent Lecavalier or a Patrick Marleau is due to earn over the coming years and he can use that information to make his budgetary decisions.

But what happens if nothing pans out on the trade market over the course of the summer? What does Gainey do then?

Judging from the responses of many of the league's GMs after the conclusion of today's draft, there doesn't appear to be much willingness on anyone's part to pull the trigger on a deal of any kind.

"There's still a real air of caution out there," Lightning GM Brian Lawton told me. "We had a lot of calls today discussing moving some of our roster players, but nothing of a magnanimous size, so to speak, that you're probably asking me about. We didn't have anything like that."

Now I didn't ask Lawton directly about Lecavalier, the question was more general to find out if he was a busy man over the weekend considering all the speculation regarding his need to cut payroll. But Lawton saw right through my question and still managed to put out yet another denial that Lecavalier is being pursued on the trade market, while also grossly misusing the word "magnanimous."

However, just a few minutes earlier, Panthers acting GM Randy Sexton was holding court with a group of reporters to discuss trading away Jay Bouwmeester's rights to the Calgary Flames, and he basically refuted Lawton's repeated claims that he wasn't shopping Lecavalier, or at least fielding offers.

"Teams were in on every deal," Sexton said. "They were in on Lecavalier. They were in on Hossa. They were in on Pronger and all of it. We were well along the way with three teams but they were in these other deals."

Aside from the fact Sexton revealed that Marian Hossa's negotiating rights were being discussed, Sexton confirmed not only that Lecavalier was in play, but also to what extent the entire league is in a holding pattern for some reason.

People talk about the economic climate and the salary cap, what Lawton called a "perfect storm" to breed cautiousness, but you would have thought that those two factors would lead to more deals, not fewer, as teams look to jettison cumbersome contracts to teams that can afford them.

Yet the only real big name player under contract to change hands over the weekend was Chris Pronger, and Sexton pointed out that the ridiculous price the Flyers paid to get him put the entire trade market completely out of whack.

"When Philly did the Pronger deal it adjusted two things, it adjusted a key player for us (Bouwmeester), and it adjusted the values," Sexton said. "That's why you haven't seen a lot of guys move. I know Bryan (Murray) felt strongly that Heatley's a quality player, but the offers he was getting didn’t meet what he felt. The Pronger deal set kind of a certain expectation of the value that should be derived, which is difficult for everybody else to pay."

Which raises the question: If one year of a 34-year-old Chris Pronger is worth what amounts to three first round draft picks, what is 11 years of a 29-year-old Lecavalier worth?

Anaheim received Luca Sbisa, who was taken 19th overall by the Flyers last year, plus the 21st overall pick this year and Philly's first-rounder next year. There's also a conditional third-rounder in 2010 or 2011 headed to Anaheim, which I would assume is tied to whether Pronger signs an extension with the Flyers.

To make the money work, the Ducks had to take back Joffrey Lupul, whom they originally drafted and, funnily enough, traded to Edmonton to get Pronger in the first place. Despite all his faults, Lupul still has 102 goals in only four seasons in the league, though he's now been traded three times. That's a pretty good throw-in for cap purposes.

Based on what Sexton said, this set the bar for what teams were seeking over the weekend in trying to swing deals. And if Ducks GM Bob Murray was able to get that out of the Flyers, God only knows what Lawton was trying to extract out of Gainey and surely others for Lecavalier.

But the news wasn't all bad for Gainey as his top scout Trevor Timmins appeared to have a pretty good weekend in the draft.

Grabbing Louis Leblanc at No. 18 was a bit lucky. I thought for sure he was going to the Wild, first picking at No. 12 and then No. 16 after trading down with the Isles. I have no doubt West Islander Blair Mackasey saw Leblanc play a ton while he was ripping up the Midget AAA league with Lac St. Louis, and Mackasey is a scout for Minnesota.

The Habs must have been thinking the same thing because they were trying to trade up to grab Leblanc, but without a second round pick as currency the deal was never consummated.

On day two of the draft Montreal continued addressing the lack of organizational depth at centre, proving once and for all that teams do in fact draft out of need and not simply the best player available.

Timmins had the good fortune of having Finnish centre Joonas Nattinen fall from his projected slot in the second round - where the Habs had no picks - down to the No. 65 slot. Nattinen was the 10th ranked European skater on the NHL Central Scouting list and was ranked 36th by Bob McKenzie of TSN and by The Hockey News, 28th by the International Scouting Service, 31st by the Red Line Report and 59th by McKeen's Hockey.

He's listed at 6-2, 183, and I can tell you from standing right next to him during his introduction to the Montreal media that those numbers aren't inflated. He's also a right-handed shot, like Leblanc, filling a need in that area as well.

Nattinen had four points in five games at the world juniors with Finland and he considers himself more of a playmaking centre than a scorer. When asked to compare himself to a current NHL player, Nattinen said he's like a cross between Mikko Koivu and Jason Spezza. That should tell you why that is a very stupid question to ask a young hockey player.

The Habs also grabbed American high school defenceman Mac Bennett from The Hotchkiss School at the No. 79 slot. His grandfather and two uncles all played in the NHL, and his uncle Curt gave him some sound advice on how to survive in the NHL.

"He told me that if I ever get in a fight, I should just sucker him," Bennett said with a laugh.

Bennett was the 40th ranked North American skater at NHL Central Scouting, while TSN had him at No. 56 overall. A rushing defenceman with a strong skating stride and powerful shot, Bennett is generously listed at 6-foot, 170 pounds. He's headed to the USHL next season and plans to attend Michigan University two years from now, like Max Pacioretty and Mike Komisarek.

Bennett joins a strong stable of defence prospects in the Habs system, particularly those of the offensive variety with Yannick Weber and P.K. Subban filling the same role, which makes me wonder if this was a necessary pick. But the philosophy of "best player available" sometimes wins out.

In the later rounds the Habs grabbed big Russian winger Alexander Avtsin and centres Gabriel Dumont, Dustin Walsh and Michael Cichy. My colleague at The Canadian Press Bill Beacon covered the Memorial Cup where Dumont played with the Drummondville Voltigeurs and he says Dumont's grit was impressive to watch.

Finally, with the very last pick in the draft, the Habs grabbed 6-foot-6 Finnish goalie Petteri Simila, marking the second straight year Timmins has opted for a giant in nets after nabbing 6-foot-8 Peterborough Petes goalie Jason Missiaen last year.

As the draft ended, the jam-packed floor began to slowly clear as GMs said their goodbyes and perhaps settled on when to continue negotiating some of the trades that were discussed over the weekend. A lot of them came over to the barrier separating the draft floor from the media area to kibitz with reporters.

But Bob Gainey wasn't one of them. As the draft floor cleared out slowly and the cleaning crew began making its way in, I saw him walk across the floor slowly, looking around and soaking in the scene. What was he thinking while he made that walk, I wondered? That this was a lost opportunity? That grabbing that coveted first-line centre will be tougher than he anticipated? That all this cap space and flexibility may be going to waste? Or maybe he left confident in the knowledge that some firm seeds were planted for a deal.

As he headed through the tunnel on his way out, he stopped to sign an autograph for a fan. To close out a weekend that had its share of highs and lows and heading into a period of great uncertainty, one that will likely define his time as GM of the Habs, that just may have been a perfect way for him to leave: Feeling the support of his fanbase behind him.


pmk said...

you think he'll go after the sedins?

moeman said...

Great read.

Arpon Basu said...

He might. I'd be surprised to see him agree to 2 12 year deals, but it would only be a cap hit of about $11 mil for the two of them. That's pretty reasonable, but that proposal may have only applied to the Canucks.

Anvilcloud said...

Nice article. I have no idea what he will or won't do.

pfhabs said...

good read Arpon.

I thought they did pretty well at this draft.lots of needed centres, another D man with pedigree in the new NHL mould for defensemen, the Russian kid is a prolific scorer with huge edge and wants to come over now. getting LL was a bit of luck but quelled the mania, for now, of the local star. the kid will need all his smarts to handle what's in store for him but seems like he will be able to handle it plus he also has big time skill and edge, another goalie from the Finnish guru of coaches...all in all not much to complain about but as always time will tell.

as for the impact centre Lawton is an idiot. deny, deny, deny---you'd think he was a politician...given the ridiculous Pronger deal, who btw is reported to want a 6 year extension for big bucks what do you think the T Bay 3 amigos will ask for for Vinny ? tooo much is my guess....Gainey is going to have to identify a club with more than 1 or 2 good centres and deal with them or identify a centre under the radar, as Carter was 2 years ago when Philly almost traded him to the Leafs and go for him.

the price of poker (aka known impact centre) has gone up and simply not worth it when you add 11years no trade at $7.72 cap hit. same goes for that dog Heatley where Murray wants 2 front line players and a 1st rounder. let both clubs live with their mistakes...that also goes for Philly and their 10 million dollar man Briere; Rangers with Drury, Gomez, Redden & Rosival...throw them all an anchor it'll make the eastern conference top 8 easier to accomplish

Now if they can only sign Komisarek and perhaps get Beauchemin and dump that Hamrlik contract the backend will be reasonable

it will be interesting over the next week or so

jkr said...

RDS just published an article that stated Gainey was dealing for VL right up to draft night - but the deal was vetoed by Len Barrie. So much for Lawton's denials. BG should stop banging his head against that wall & target a team with ownership & management that know what their doing.

Sliver24 said...

I think the biggest problem with not getting the Vinny deal done yet is that it would have been a nice way to entice Koivu and Komisarek to stick around.

If we get Vinny while keeping those two guys, Lang and Kovy, and assuming we send two or three mid-tier roster players (i.e. the players rumoured to be involved last season) to Tampa, we're instantly a contender.

That may very well be why Gainey was waiting until after the draft to make contract offers to the guys he wants to keep.

I just home the morons in Tampa get their acts together before Gainey feels he needs to compromise and sign someone else (i.e. Marleau).

pierre said...

Great analysis Arpon, superb week-end reports and love the title of your conclusive piece as nothing else than " Now what ! " couldn't have best translated the dramatic situation we are now in.

You were bang on about the effect the Pronger trade had on the week-end.

On the other hand trading for picks (for a better futur) might have been less attractive this year since owners are conscerned about attendances next season.... trading Lecavalier could lower attendances in Tampa which would cancel any saving the owners would be making with a reduced payroll.

Trades " among equals " might be whats lying ahead.... imagine a trade where Marleau goes against Lecavalier.... San Jose would gain from it by generating more attendances next season ( and winning the Cup ?) while Tampa would save a bit payroll wise without suffering to much a big drop in their attendance next season.

Most of our good players are not signed and most of our RFA all had a bad season last year..... we are in no position to trade among equals.

We have a descent bunch of prospects.... will the teams be interested ?

Tanguay, Kovalev, Schneider and probably Koivu too should be signed right away.... but what are their interest now that they are but second fidles and are only a couple of days away from offers coming to them from the rest of the league ?

As for Komisarek its all up in the air..... the only thing shure is that our right with him wont be traded..... he will joined us or another team but we will not get anything in return of his rights.... too late for that.

Gainey should try to get Beauchemin wenesday if Komi get on the market.

Will Gainey flip flop tenure in montreal end up with a big flop this summer ?