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?