Monday, July 20, 2009

It's speculation season

It's mid-July, meaning it's that time of year when what looks to be the most minor hockey news around can be stretched and prodded and spun to mean just about anything.

Take for instance today's announcement that the Canadiens signed veteran backup netminder Curtis Sanford to a two-way, one-year contract.

A reasonable assessment of the deal would be that Sanford was brought in to replace Marc Denis as the starter in Hamilton and occasional emergency backup with the big club.

But really, what fun is reasonable in the dead of summer?

No, what would be far more entertaining would be to say that Sanford was brought in to replace Jaroslav Halak as Carey Price's backup in Montreal because Halak will be packaged in an effort to bring in a big name player, say one of the Patricks, either Sharp or Marleau.

Since I make every effort to entertain while I inform, let's just go with that hypothesis for a while, shall we?

First of all, Sanford is not a spectacular goalie, but he's a capable backup who could spell Price for 15 to 20 games this season if need be.

Seeing as Price is obviously going to be the guy this team will be banking on for the foreseeable future, having Halak around is a major luxury. He's cheap and he's good enough to be the starting goalie on, by my count, about 12 teams in the NHL. But it's clear that will never happen in Montreal, and considering his age (24) and minuscule cap hit ($775,000) Halak is a pretty valuable trade chip.

This is where Chicago becomes interesting because it was clear last year that Joel Quenneville does not have loads of confidence in Cristobal Huet, who was paid $5.625 million to watch Nikolai Khabibulin backstop the 'Hawks to the conference final.

Chicago has loads of salary cap issues and can't afford to go sign a pricey veteran to compete with Huet, so someone like Halak should be right up their alley. Meanwhile, Sharp accounts for a $3.9 million cap hit, which is a steal for someone who scored just under a goal every two games over the past two seasons, can kill penalties and can play both centre and wing.

But, much like Halak is a luxury in Montreal, Sharp looks like he may be in the same boat in Chicago because of the impending doom facing the team when Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith all hit restricted free agency next summer (Of course, if Price has a breakout season the Habs could be facing the same situation regarding his next contract as well).

There are reports out of Chicago that Sharp is being shopped, with one report specifically stating there have been discussions with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But unless the Blackhawks would be willing to give up Sharp for just Halak and some picks or prospects, there wouldn't be too much cap relief going back. Halak and Tomas Plekanec's combined salaries would likely top $3 million. Guillaume Latendresse could be interesting to Chicago at only $803,000, but he'll be eligible for salary arbitration next year, which is when Chicago needs the cap space.

But the Blackhawks do need a sixth defenceman so perhaps Josh Gorges would be a possibility, because that would clear $2 million off the books for Chicago while also filling a pressing need with a good, young, cheap player.

As far as Marleau is concerned, the only reason I could see interest in Halak there is that the Sharks plan on trading impending free agent Evgeni Nabokov, who appears willing to waive his no trade clause if asked. There's no backup to Nabokov signed as of yet, so I suppose Halak could be brought in to fill that role and serve as insurance should San Jose lose Nabokov as a free agent next summer.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson promised big changes for his playoff-choking team this offseason, yet did nothing in free agency aside from re-signing Ryan Clowe and Rob Blake for $7 million, which put San Jose right up against the salary cap.

At a salary of $6.3 million in the final year of his contract, trading Marleau would give Wilson some financial latitude while also allowing Joe Pavelski to take on a more prominent role on the team. Perhaps a package of Halak and Plekanec could entice Wilson to budge, a deal like that providing more than $3 million in cap space while taking on a centre who had a 69-point season only two years ago and has scored at least 20 goals in each of the least three years.

Marleau has yet to be approached about his own NTC, but I would have to imagine he wouldn't stand in the way if he was sent to a winning team.

Is Montreal that team? Not right now, but it could be next season just as easily as it could be a team scratching and clawing its way into the playoffs. That uncertainty would change in a hurry with the addition of either Sharp or Marleau, which would instantly make the Canadiens a very strong contender in the east.


Sliver24 said...

It seems to me that you're overpaying for Sharp in your assessment. We should be taking advantage of the Hawks' desperation. You're talking about sending them a player that will challenge for the starter's role and potentially fill it for several years.

Offer Halak for Sharp straight up and it starts making sense to me.

I'd also love to see the Habs make a run at some of the other players mentioned as available in the Herald article you reference (

If the Hawks really need to shed $15 million in salary for the 2010/11 season let's make it easy on them by allowing them to achieve that in one fell swoop while getting viable NHLers in return.

Package Halak, Plekanec, Latendresse, Gorges and one or two early-round picks. In return ask for Sharp, Byfuglien (I love that guy) and Versteeg.

That will result in a $5 million net savings for Chicago this season (assuming Plek gets $2.5 million). More importantly fot the Hawks the trade brings them down $12 million in committed dollars for 2010/11.

On top of that, sending them to the East would soften the blow of having to part ways with three good young players. At least you wouldn't have to worry about them coming back to haunt you, unless of course you meet them in the Finals.

It does mean Gainey will have a lot less flexibility next offseason, but the Habs would also have very few holes to fill in their roster.

And if this free agent frenzy has demonstrated anything it's that a GM patient enough to wait until mid-July will have no shortage of options when it comes to signing very serviceable, vereran NHLers to reasonable contracts as UFAs (say hi Travis).

pierre said...

Would Marc Denis still be in Hamilton the hiring of Sandford by Gainey might have lead me to fall for the tentative pieces of speculations that might have risen as a result of it but with Denis now gone its clear to me that the hiring of Sandford is based on the same logic which had brought Marc Denis to Hamilton a year ago.

There is nothing unsual about our depth at the position, Price and Halak in MTL, Sanford in Hamilton and a couple of giant in the minors.... one of which a higher pick had to be given away in order to be grabbed in the lasr round of this tear's draft.... its a tradition in Montreal to show concern for the goaltending position and to always take the means needed in order to secure an unbroken chain of solid performers therein as best as possible.

With the parity, a good second fidlle over an average one can make the difference between a playoff participation or not... specially on an Olympic season where supporting goaltender might have to play a larger rĂ´le than is normally expected of them... would the CH be ready to weakened such support deliberatly in order to elevate the scoring prowess of their team above present estimation ?

According to my speculation, on our present team' s strenghts and weaknesses we would possess a very good goaltending support in Halak... a very good main goally in Price... an above average to very good scoring roster while having very good defensive now how as a whole..... this subjective set of balance would be altered for a different one if Halak, Plek and draft picks were to be traded for a player that would need to be twice as good as Plek in order to make for a meaningfull difference offensivelly speaking.... not unlike Pronger those players usually cost alot of assets but carries huge salaries also..... salaries we cant no longer afford to take as we stand this year and in face of the projected futur.