Friday, July 10, 2009

What exactly does Mara offer?

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

7 comments:

pfhabs said...

Arpon:

-not sure if that is a bubble team or worse ? still need a senior goalie/mentor for Carey and size down the middle is still an issue.

-Laraque has already complained about disc issues so that leaves Stewart, Lapierre and Pacioretty with any semblance of continued beligerance/grit (without really knowing Gill & Mara). of course George needs to drop the blogging and philosophy, realize his role and why he's getting $1.5/yr for another 2 years.

-hopefully they give Weber & O'Bryne enough ice time or their development may be retarded

-as for what this lineup can actually do against the beasts in the east---on verra BUT its not a Cup contender

btw: can you really see Sergui as a 4th liner ? what would you see his role as being ?

Michael said...

Boone is hearing that T. Moen may become a Hab.

The more I hear about it, the more it sounds like BGL either needs surgery or has to hang up the skates.

I hope Pac can play on that top line. It would be my ideal group up front to average out the size.

Mara is a great pick up in my opinion, he can move the puck, he'll drop the gloves and stand up for a teammate, and he is a big body.

pfhabs said...

Moen just signed for 3 years no $$$ disclosed as of yet...being on top line may be much too soon for Max Pac....would hate that they give him more responsibility than he's ready for with only a few games under his belt.

well they needed more beef and they just got it...have to say as much as I hate what BG has done lately Moen is a good pick up

pierre said...

I like Mara at 6'4, 212 pounds, 29 years old..... I like his one year contrac as well.

A solid stay at home with a good shot.... his plus/minus of last season was best among the Rangers defensemen while his " give aways " stat was the lowest among that group ( and way lower than among our own group ).... his penalty minutes were highest so were his bloked shots.... heart and soul some Rangers fans used today as
terms to described his playing mode in New York last season.

Gainey brough him over to finalised our top 4 scenario.... Martin who stated that he saw Gorges as a 5-6 defenseman upon his hiring last month must be pleased with the new addition.

Looking at our present D corp as a whole over what we had last season makes me feel good.... and looking at it as in fragments of top two and top four groupings makes me feel even better.

That said, much of my optimism is derived from my belief that Martin possesses the perpectives and the tools required to create a team that will be better than just the sum of its individual parts..... without major injuries this team should be hard to beat during the regular season.... should be a fun team to watch too.

Anonymous said...

Hall Gill stunk in Toronto and thrived in Pittsburgh. Why? Because of his surrounding cast and the expectations of the team. Mara (and Gill and Moen) could go either way here for the samereasons - might work brilliantly; could be a group of slow pylons.

Arjun said...

I like the Moen signing. A lot. Not sure we needed Mara, however.

Anonymous said...

as always, great work, arpon. i would change your "d" pairings. markov and mara, hamrlik and spacek. book it!!