When asked why he didn't address the team's dire lack of size on the opening day of free agency, Bob Gainey said that July 1 was a day you shopped for skill.
In that sense, perhaps July 10 was like Boxing Day, when you grab some valuable pieces at discount prices.
After announcing the signing of 6-foot-4, 212-pound defenceman Paul Mara earlier in the day, the Canadiens added a prime checking forward in 6-foot-2, 216-pound winger Travis Moen.
And just like that, the Habs don't seem that small anymore.
OK, maybe that's going a little too far, because five of the top six forwards will still be 6-feet or under. But addng Mara on the back end and Moen up front will make the Canadiens far more difficult to play against than they were a day ago.
Both contracts appear to be good value on the dollar. No firm contract details have come out for Mara's one year deal, but he told La Presse Canadienne that he took a slight pay cut from his $1.95 million salary last season. For a 29-year-old who's still in the prime of his career, that's not too bad.
ESPN reported that Moen's deal is for three years and $4.5 million, or the same contract Georges Laraque received last summer. Considering there's already questions about the same disc problem in Laraque's back that plagued him last year, and that Gainey had said he was only looking to add another defenceman in free agency, perhaps Moen's addition is the precursor to a buyout of Laraque's remaining two years on his contract. If so, then this move makes perfect sense. If not, the Canadiens will not be a team that is pushed around next season.
Moen is not afraid to drop the gloves, and he does it against some pretty tough customers. He had nine fighting majors last year, incidentally the same number as Laraque did, and he took on the likes of Todd Fedoruk, Erik Reitz (that Isles giant who tossed Laraque around like a rag doll), and Jared Boll (here's a video of the Boll fight). Moen didn't win too many of those fights, at least according to his fight card at hockeyfights.com, but at least he brings more to the table than just fighting.
Moen was 21st in the league last year in hits among forwards with 171, just ahead of the 167 of the departed Tom Kostopoulos, who is basically the guy Moen is being brought in to replace. Moen's also a go-to guy on the penalty kill and, really, I'd rather my top grinder be from Saskatchewan than Mississauga, so I consider Moen a really big upgrade on Tom the Bomb.
Mara also appears to have found his fighting legs in the last year, posting a career high six fights last season. That's the same number as his previous three seasons combined, and maybe it's what convinced Gainey that Mara was a guy he wanted on his blueline because none of Andrei Markov, Jaro Spacek, Roman Hamrlik, Josh Gorges or even Hal Gill are very frequent fighters.
Having already admitted I didn't know a whole about Mara, I thought I'd scour some of the Rangers fan blogs to see what they thought of losing him and for the most part, it appears he was an appreciated player in New York. But I get the impression it was more for his playoff beard than anything else.
Anyhow, here's a sampling of reaction from the Rangers blogosphere:
"I'm sort of disappointed that the Rangers opted to not re-sign Mara, as I thought he had a solid season last year, had completely transformed his game to fit into the Rangers team by becoming much more physical and a stand up teammate."
"Personally, I’m disappointed to see him go, even though I knew it was coming. He’s a guy whose usefulness extended off the ice. He was a leader of this team and a guy who went all out every game. Mara was never the most talented defensive player on the Rangers, but he worked as hard, or harder, than any other player on the team and it showed. Montreal is getting a very nice player. And one hell of a playoff beard."
"Mara was a cheap, but solid player on the Ranger blueline while he played here, and was a great leader on the team. Good luck to Paulie, and the fans of Montreal must learn to respect the beard."
"Mara never lived up to expectations but proved himself a capable, consistent defenseman during his time in New York. While he wasted a ton of power play time - much like every other defenseman on the roster - Mara was good at getting the puck out of the zone, always willing to stand up for teammates and had one legendary beard."
The New York Rangers Blog
"Mara really turned into a solid defenseman for the Rangers the last two years and became one of the few players on the team that would actually stick-up for teammate."
So what are the cap implications here? Gainey spent under $3.5 million of his $8.8 million in availavable cap space today, leaving him just over $5 million to spend in re-signing RFA's Tomas Plekanec, Guillaume Latendresse, Matt D'Agostini and Gregory Stewart. That number would be increased by $750,000 if Laraque is indeed bought out.
I'm going to assume that despite his horrid season Plekanec will still get a raise from his $1.8 million salary, so let's say he gets $2.25 million, just like his fellow underachiever from last season Chris Higgins did with the Rangers. Latendresse should make at least $1 million, but I'll give him $1.25 million just to be on the safe side, while D'Agostini and Stewart should combine to make about $1.5 million.
That makes $5 million for those four players, so unless Laraque is bought out or there's some salary that will be shed in a trade, Gainey will enter training cap right up against the cap.
Personally, while it may not be the most prudent course of action, I say it's better to go into training camp with the team you envision having rather than saving money for a deadline day move. Those deadline moves rarely work, unless they're made by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Gainey's usually unwilling to overpay on that day as we saw in the Marian Hossa auction.
The depth in the organization was greatly improved today, so most injuries can be accomodated from within with youngsters who should be on a pretty darn good team in Hamilton.
So now, for the second time in a day, here are my projected lines for this team that has added seven new players in the past 10 days, taking for granted that Laraque will be either bought out or placed on long-term injured reserve. I've never been a proponent of building a team through free agency, but on paper, this lineup looks pretty good:
Pacioretty - Gomez - Gionta (still an All-American line)
A. Kostitsyn - Plekanec - Cammalleri
Moen - Lapierre - Latendresse (suddenly a pretty great crash-and-bang line)
Metropolit centring some combination of Stewart/S. Kostitsyn/D'Agostini
Markov - Spacek
Hamrlik - Mara
Gill - Gorges
Extras (either in Hamilton or the press box): Chipchura, O'Byrne, Weber, Subban, one of Stewart, S. Kostitsyn or D'Agostini.