The Habs defence corps just got a little more crowded, and a little beefier, too.
The Canadiens announced the signing of Paul Mara to a one-year contract Friday, adding a 6-foot-4, 212-pound body to the back end who still has some legs (he'll turn 30 in September). He's also been a pretty durable player over his career, playing at least 73 games in all but one of his last seven seasons with the Coyotes and, most recently, the Rangers.
The signing is not ideal because it adds yet another left-handed shot to a blue line full of them, joining Andrei Markov, Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik, Josh Gorges and Hal Gill. That is good news for hopefuls Ryan O'Byrne and Yannick Weber because they are the only two defencemen in the organization right now that shoot from the right side. But with Mara in the fold it also essentially means that neither of them have any chance of cracking the top six next season.
Mara received regular ice time for the Rangers last regular season with an average of nearly 19 minutes, but with the arrival of Derek Morris at the trade deadline his minutes suffered, and he didn't even get 15 minutes a game in the playoffs, lowest among Rangers defencemen.
He can, however, fill a role on the power play and he'll likely play on the second unit with Roman Hamrlik. Mara played 2:40 per game on the power play with the Rangers last regular season. That number remained pretty consistent in the playoffs, suggesting New York was happy with his work on one of the worst power play units in the league (29th overall, 13.4 pewr cent). But Mara's shorthanded ice time in the playoffs was practically cut completely, dropping from 1:57 per game to 15 seconds.
I'll be honest, I'm not sure what to think of this signing because I don't really know Mara is a player, even though I've seen him play many times. I always assumed he was a solid defenceman, having been drafted seventh overall by the Lightning in the 1997 draft, but the Canadiens now become his fourth team in 11 seasons.
It goes well with the trend of journeymen defencemen joining the Habs, as Spacek is on his sixth team in 11 seasons and Gill is on his fourth team in 12 seasons.
"Paul Mara will bring size and experience to our group of defencemen," GM Bob Gainey said in the release announcing the signing. "He can contribute to all facets of the game."
It's true that Mara brings size and experience, but does he bring anything else? Toughness? Skill? Vision? Skating? I'm not sure. But if Mara plays a second-pairing role, that should push Josh Gorges down to the third pairing and will be of a great benefit to him, because he'll be able to focus more of his energy on his penalty-killing duties, where he really excels when he's not overtaxed.
I guess the final opinion on this signing will be made once Mara's salary is uncovered. He made $1.95 million last season, and if he was given any semblance of a raise by Gainey then this will be a poor signing. For that kind of money there are a lot of capable defencemen still available on the open market.
Further to that, I was curious to see if Gainey would reach out to his old friends Darryl Sydor or Sergei Zubov, who are both still un-signed. Zubov would be a pretty monumental risk with his injuries of late, but the reward would be equally as huge if he could put together a healthy season. Sydor is an older but better version of Mara who would surely be able to play for one year, though perhaps he's looking to maintain the $2.5 million salary he earned last season.
With just over $8.8 million left under the cap before the Mara signing, it would be pretty safe to assume that Gainey has about $7 million left to sign Tomas Plekanec, Guillaume Latendresse, Matt D'Agostini and Gregory Stewart. Only Plekanec is arbitration eligible among that group, and I'll be interested to find out what number he puts before the judge because his performance last season will not give his agent too much to work with.
So, assuming Gainey isn't able to swing any major trades this summer, the signing of Mara should complete his summer shopping list as he noted on July 1 that he was only looking for one more defenceman.
I guess all that talk from Gainey of saving some money for the late summer bargain bin so he doesn't miss out on a situation like the one with Jean-Pierre Dumont was just that, talk. With arbitration hearings coming up, some teams are going to be walking away from players who are awarded too much money, just like the Sabres did with Dumont, and Gainey will likely have little wiggle room to work with.
This also means the team is waving goodbye to Francis Bouillon, Mathieu Dandenault and Patrice Brisebois as well as Robert Lang, and that one third of the 18 skaters who will dress every night will be playing their first season in the Montreal fishbowl.
Here is what your Montreal Canadiens may look like in October, after making some alterations to my original line combinations based on Jacques Martin's assertion that he'd like a big winger with Gomez and Gionta:
Pacioretty - Gomez - Gionta (An All-American line)
A. Kostitsyn - Plekanec - Cammalleri
Latendresse - Lapierre - D'Agostini
Laraque - Metropolit - Stewart/S. Kostitsyn
Markov - Spacek
Hamrlik - Mara
Gill - Gorges