Monday, July 6, 2009

Compare as we dare

Today's signings of Francois Beauchemin in Toronto and Alex Kovalev in Ottawa was more than a simple case of two Montreal rivals getting stronger.

Both Beauchemin and Kovalev signed contracts that are eerily similar to the ones Bob Gainey gave to Jaroslav Spacek and Brain Gionta. In the case of Beauchemin and Spacek, the difference is minuscule, as each of them got three-year deals, while Spacek will make $100K more than Beauchemin over those three years. With Kovalev and Gionta, they are each $5 million deals, but Kovalev signed on for two years while Gionta is locked up for five.

This turn of events is essentially a Gainey nightmare, because it makes comparisons too easy to drum up. Forgetting, for a moment, that Gainey allowed his number one priority to leave town over a paltry $500k per season, the Beauchemin and Kovalev signings will give his ever-growing legion of doubters even more fodder with which to work.

So let's try to find out who would have been a better signing in each case:

Jaroslav Spacek v. Francois Beauchemin

This isn't really a fair comparison because even though these two play the same position, they play very different roles. Spacek is a power play trigger man and is coming in to replace Mathieu Schneider, whereas Beauchemin would be more of a replacement for Mike Komisarek even though he's not nearly as physical.

But ever since Beauchemin arrived in Anaheim in the Sergei Fedorov trade, he's played at least 24 minutes a game, and that's while getting what little time on the power play was left when Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer would get tired. The bulk of Beauchemin's time on the ice was spent at even strength or on the penalty kill. In fact, he led the league in penalty kill ice time per 60 minutes played.

That's not to say Beauchemin couldn't play on the power play, he simply wouldn't be as good in that role than Spacek, who got 22 of his 45 points last year with the man advantage. The most Beauchemin has ever gotten is 13 power play points in a season.

Still, handing a three-year contract worth just over $3.8 million per season to a 35-year-old like Spacek may not have been the greatest idea, considering the 29-year-old Beauchemin was available at the exact same price. Then, instead of signing Hal Gill to a two-year, $4.5 million deal, Gainey could have spent that money and perhaps a little more on a power play guy like Dennis Seidenberg. Or you could even promote Yannick Weber to fill that role as a specialist and still sign Gill.

Now Spacek's salary will be on the Habs cap for three years no matter what, even if Spacek retires or is sent to the minors, because he was 35 when he signed it. I also wonder why Spacek has moved around so much, with Montreal becoming his sixth team in 11 NHL seasons. He was a key component for the Oilers run to the final as a rental player in 2006, playing nearly 26 minutes a night in the playoffs. But Beauchemin averaged more than 30 minutes a game for the Cup-champion Ducks in 2007.

All in all, for the same amount of money, I think I'd rather have Beauchemin than Spacek. And then I would criticize Gainey for failing to get a power play quarterback in free agency.

Brian Gionta v. Alex Kovalev
All sentimentality has to be put aside for this argument to make any sense, because there are more than a few Habs fans who hold their "Kovy" dear to their heart because he was the first forward with elite talent to come to Montreal in quite some time. Heck, some 200 of them even demonstrated outside the Bell Centre on Sunday to try and sway Gainey into re-igniting talks with Kovalev.

But his money seemingly went to Gionta, who coaxed far more than the two-year term that RDS is reporting was offered to Kovalev at or near the same $5 million per year salary.

Gionta has only had one great year out of his seven in the NHL, potting 48 goals and adding 41 assists in 2005-06 on a line with new Canadiens centre Scott Gomez and Patrik Elias in New Jersey. Kovalev, in 16 seasons, has had two great years, the most recent coming two years ago with the Habs and the other in 2000-01 with the Pens.

But despite his offensive struggles last year, you might be surprised to learn that Gionta was on the ice for 53 even strength goals, while Kovalev was only on for 38. For some context, know that Henrik Zetterberg was on the ice for 55 even strength goals. This drives home the point that while Kovalev is a tremendous power play weapon, he's not really much of a factor at 5-on-5.

But the one thing I have always respected about Kovalev is that when the stakes were at their highest, in the playoffs, he always showed up. For his career, Kovalev's point per game totals increase from 0.82 in the regular season to 0.84 in the playoffs.

Gionta, meanwhile, goes from 0.66 regular season points to 0.60 in the playoffs, though that's not entirely fair because more than a third of his career playoff games came in the Cup-winning year of 2002-03, when Gionta didn't play a huge role in New Jersey. Since then, Gionta has 0.73 points per game in the playoffs, which is slightly higher than his 0.72 regular season average over the same period.

The X factor in this debate is Gainey's acquisition of Scott Gomez a day before signing Gionta. Whether or not you agree with the trade that brought Gomez to Montreal, the Gionta signing when seen in that context made a whole lot of sense. And frankly, as spectacular as Kovalev was in the playoffs, he wasn't someone who was necessarily going to help you make the playoffs by producing in November and December.

So in the context of finding a winger for Gomez to play with and considering consistency to be a greater attribute than flashiness, I think I would rather have Gionta than Kovalev on this team.

What do you think?

22 comments:

Anvilcloud said...

Given the new direction, I'm surprised that Kovy was even offered a contract. I don't see him fitting in with the new style very well. I think Bob's building a different kind of team. I think Saku would fit in but Kovy not so much. As for the D-men, I have no opinion.

jkr said...

Gainey seems to be operating differently this season. I wouldn't call it ruthless but it's getting there. He made Kovaleve an offer before July 1, talked to him again on July 1 but kept irons in the fire by talking to Gionta. I think Kovalev miscalculated & thought he could force Gainey's hand.

As for the D - I like the physical element Beauchemin brings & would prefer that but,as you said, they also needed that PP defensemen. Could be a push.

pfhabs said...

Arpon:

1. Spacek vs Beauchemin:

-in my mind no contest. yes Spacek is younger than Schneider but what is Gainey & Gauthier thinking? they just made the team dangerously smaller upfront; Price & Halak were run with regularity last year; team lacks toughness all over the map; people shouting from the rooftops that we got younger up front and brought in guys with Cup wins.

-so on defence we want to get older and slower and more timid. Beauchemin is a better overall Dman than Spacek, tougher, 6 years younger, has a Cup ring and Bob goes with an aging Dman who from the Buffalo website depth chart was in the 3rd pairing

-dumb move that exposes Price & Halak with no one to respond

-add in the bewidering inability of Gainey to match the Leafs offer of $22.5M for 5 years to Komisarek or accept a 7 year $4.25M counter offer from the Komisarek camp and you have to wonder what G & G are thinking..it seems they are lost

-all Spacek will do is severely limit Weber's development time on the PP and the best analysts have said about Gill is that he can get in the way.

-wonderful move G & G

2. Gionta vs Kovalev

-in talent Kovalev is top 5 in the NHL. Gionta is another body

-Kovalev 6'2"/200+ lbs vs Gionta 5'7"/170 lbs. Kovalev cannot be moved off puck

-Kovalev is a PP and shootout machine Gionta I haven't a clue

-apparently Gionta works every night and Kovalev as we all know may show up for only 60 of 82 games

-Kovalev can get your ass out of your seat with amazing plays Gionta who knows

-outside of the attitude ajustment Kovalev constantly needs seems to me the tale of the tape in terms of ability to help you win/get points its Kovalev who btw frustrates me to death some nights and has me going WOW on others

-Kovalev is my choice

-at some point people will start to separate the excellent captain warrior Gainey from Gainey the boardroom flop...I've gotten to that stage already and have a sinking feeling about where this team is going...it's not good

Larry said...

"accept a 7 year $4.25M counter offer from the Komisarek camp . . ." Where did you get that information or did you make it up to make your point look good?!?

Arpon Basu said...

I also heard the story, unsourced, on the radio Monday about the back and forth between Komisarek and the Habs. According to Tony Marinaro on the Team 990, that's what the Komisarek came back to the Habs with after receiving the Toronto offer.

Sliver24 said...

My $0.02:

Beauchemin v. Spacek

You're bang-on in your analysis of the two players' abilities but the most important point you make is that they each play very different roles.

Spacek will fill the role Schneider performed last season whereas Beauchemin would be more of a fill-in for Komisarek's spot (which has since been plugged by Hal Gill).

Spacek is five years younger than Schneider and will earn $2 million less than Schneider did last seaons - all the while putting up similar numbers and eating up more even strength ice time. That seems like a pretty good upgrade to me.

I think a Beauchemin at $3.8 million vs. Gill at $2.25 million would be a more relevant discussion.

It's obvious where the talent lies there, but the Habs have an extra $1.5 to play with as a result of that talent gap. And Gill, while slow, did just play a key role in the Pens' Stanley Cup victory.

On top of that there's the fact that Beauchemin played only 20 games last season as the result of a torn ACL. We've heard time and time again how it can take players several years to fully recover from that type of injury.

Finally, he's been a 'minus' player for the last two seasons. In 2007-08 Beauchemin played all 82 games and finished -9, second worst on his team. That same year his teammate Mathieu Schneider finished with a +22. (Keep in mind, folks, that only even strength goals count toward that stat).

I'm thinking that, aside from the fact that keeping Komi would have been the best option on D, Gainey did okay under the circumstances. It also seems to me that the Leafs just picked up another Jeff Finger.

Gionta v. Kovalev

I agree with your conclusion but I'm glad you showed your work because I'm not sure I agree with how you got there.

In your D comparison above you place a major emphasis on age when you're comparing the two players. For some reason you didn't even mention that fact that Gionta is only 30 years old while Kovalev is already 36.

I really like your stats about even strength goals. Five-on-five scoring is something the Habs have been needing to improve for the past few seasons. Hopefully Gionta will help them achieve just that.

Your argument based on the points per game numbers, on the other hand, is thin at best.

Kovy's difference between .82 and .84 points per season works out to a whopping 1.64 points per 82 games played (something Kovy has only achieved twice his in 16 seasons - Gionta has done it twice in six years). That's not exactly evidence that Kovy has been a playoff stud throughout his career.

Furthermore, that 0.02 increase only works out to an additional 0.55 points per playoff season assuming all four series go seven games. Not exactly the kind of production increase that will carry you to a Cup.

Comparing Gionta's 0.73 ppg to Kovy's 0.82 might be more of a difference maker - obviously in Kovalev's favour.

Another point I'd add is that Brian Gionta by all accounts is a great guy in the room that will give his 100% every game and go to the wall for his teammates. I don't think even Kovalev himself would argue that he's that type of player.

There's absolutely no doubt that Kovalev is a more talented player that Brian Gionta. For me it's the harder-to-measure intangibles that make Gionta an upgrade for the Habs.

Glenn said...

Are we forgetting that in order to get a UFA to sign here, they have to want to play here? It is so easy to say "we should have signed so-and-so" or "how about whats-his-face", but the simple fact is, not everyone who is available would choose to sign in Montreal. Let's face it, at times it is not the nicest of places to play.

Tim_Silver said...

I dont think beauchemin wanted to come play in montreal... players always say they do, but in reality, probably a different story. I can imagine gainey not offering beauchemin the same amount of money he signed in Toronto. Ginaey says he needs another d-man, but if Subban, Weber or Carle, come up big in camp, that money can be spent on some size in attack, which is apparently the Habs greatest need right now (and has been for the longest time). I believe Kovalev leaving will make Plekanec and Kostitsyn become better players. They sometimes seemed scared of playing with him, always dishing him the puck. Who knows, Gainey says he has a plan and I think he deserves a 2nd chance at making this team a winning one. If he fails this time, it's over. Bring back Serge Savard LOL

Stéphanie & François said...

The D strategy to go with Spassek and Gill is hard to understand. It looks like a plan B or C or D.
In my mind, those 2 would have been still available couple days after July 1st. I think Beauchemin was a no brainer without even taking accound the lack of size upfront.
On Offense it's different. I think it's much more tough to sign good pts prodcuers (like we saw over the last few yrs). An at some point you have to question whether or not you want a leader who plays 1 good game out 3-4 and have is own game plan.
History has shown that many less talented teams would get better results base on a sound game structure, commitment, team work, etc. So I think we're better with Gionta than Kovy.

jkr said...

If the source of that Komisarek rumor is Marinaro then why is it even up for discussion. The guy is right about as often as Eklund.

pfhabs said...

Hey Larry, Hey jkr:

Marinaro is a friend of Komaserik's so where do you think that information came from ? not from stone faced Gainey.

why not make a salient point as opposed to denigrating people you don't know

Arpon you can verify the next time you find yourself around green avenue

jkr said...

pfhabs,

Don't mean to denigrate anybody. It's just that anybody can get on the net and anonymously claim to be anything or anybody. I just approach those type of statements with scepticism. Didn't meant to insult you or anyone else.

Arpon Basu said...

I wouldn't go so far as to call Marinaro a "friend" of Komisarek's, but he does appear to have some reliable sources on the club. He was the first to confirm the news of Jacques Martin being hired. Comparing him to Eklund isn't fair, but you should always, and I mean always, take unsourced information with a grain of salt. Still, I heard the report and it sounded reasonable. Basically it said Gainey wasn't willing to go to $4.5 million, only $4.25 million, so Komisarek came back with a seven-year deal at that amount instead of five and Gainey said no. If this is true, it makes Gainey a total liar, so believe who you want to believe.

jkr said...

We have heard from Gainey. About the only way we will know for sure is too hear from Komisarek or his agent.

I'm not naive enough to believe that GMs never lie but is this so important that the truth must be hidden?

Sorry about the Eklund comment. Insults lower the board so I will refrain from now on.

Sliver24 said...

Lets just make sure we don't get too PC around here. Pfhabs wouldn't be able to post any more! xD

pfhabs said...

Apron et al:

-Tony Marinaro has confirmed that Komaserik will come on his show (10am-12 daily, Team990 Montreal) some time this week....an interview that may answer a lot or may just infuriate some people more.

hey Sliver24:

-I'm too old to be completely PC so my vote is with your comment

jkr said...

pfhabs

If you hear the Komisarek interview please post what you hear. I don't get a chance to listen during the day.

pierre said...

This is the NHL where nothing can cover a scoring deficiency in a team, healthy scoring teams can dream on as for the rest forget about it.

The most efficient way to secure scoring prowess in a team is to secure a top 5 quality PP unit in its rank.

Gainey had to select 1 player among 3 top 4 defensive men out there in the 4 million range.

Which one of Komi, Beauchemin or Spacek could best help replaced Streit and Schneider ?

You guys know that our PP effiency had dropped to be among the worst in the league last season without either of them playing the point along side Markov (27th worst liguewide).

Spacek will be a difference maker for our club because he will make a difference to the PP qualities of our team while the other two simply wouldn't have..... its a no brainer.

The Kovalev show is over in Montreal.... I welcome our new stability in roster which should enhanced our team's game as a group.... all of that without sacrificing fire power or diminishing an exciting brand of a game we all like..... considering our impasses Gainey came up big.... I wont missed the last few years here.

Les said...

Komisarek has sounded giddy about getting out of here; Beauchemin got shipped out unceremoniously. If people spoke honestly, I wonder if we'd find out Gainey really had no chance to sign either of them.
Kovalev was one of precious few to get any offer before the deadline, and he chose to dither, probably overestimating his bargaining position, which would be fitting for the Artiste whose contribution never matched his talent or the esteem he got from Montreal fans.
Don't get me wrong: Those dreary Tuesday night games against Buffalo won't be the same without the chance he will light up the rink for a play or two -- especially if the team continues to be a marginal playoff team (which seems entirely possible.) But what are you going to do. If Gainey dithers and comes away from July 1 a skill player short, he and the team don't even have a chance to match last year's dismal effort.

Paul said...

Gionta's (relative) youth and consistency make him a better choice than Kovalev, particularly in the highly structured system Martin will attempt to install. I'm a fan of Kovalev and will miss the exciting games (though I won't miss the invisible ones). If Kovalev could have been added to the mix, great, but if I have to choose, given the new coach and other factors, I choose Gionta.

Spacek or Beauchemin? Spacek. Our powerplay needs Spacek more than our total D-corp needs Beauchemin. And if Beauchemin is so good, why didn't Anaheim try to keep him especially after Pronger left? They knew him best and at the deal he got in Toronto, it is inexplicable to me why Beauchemin wasn't offered a contract by Anaheim. Plus, he said on the radio yesterday (himself, not a "friend" or his agent) that he asked for a 4-5 year deal from the Habs (for who knows how much money). Perhaps, at that moment, Gainey decided to move on to other matters. Would Beauchemin be a good addition to the Habs? Yes. But he's not the second coming of Bobby Orr. The Habs can live without him in the lineup.

I think the Habs' current D-corps will be fine with Martin's system. I also think Gomez, Gionta, Plekanec (despite his flaws), as two-way players, will fit into Martin's system well and the Habs will be in decent shape next season. I don't expect a parade on Ste. Catherine's next June, but I don't expect to be eliminated from the playoffs by January either. And let's not forget that Cammaleri is a very good addition, one that, frankly, I did not think the Habs would be able to attract given their recent record in free agency signings. So I'm cautiously optimistic and I am willing to be patient enough to let the new group and new system mesh together.

pfhabs said...

Paul:

-Martin's system aside the D is softer and slower than last year.

-system aside they are smaller up front, yes younger just younger smurfs

-Cammelleri is a good player, Gomez and Gionta have had 2 so-so years in a row...declinging or bad luck ?

-there's no parade they are again a bubble team that is now smaller up front and slower, softer on the D. It will not shock me in the least to see them miss the playoffs or 1 series and done

Anonymous said...

Cammalleri signing? Great move. Kovy for Gionta in the hopes theyll recapture the magic he and Gomez had? VERY RISKY.