Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Time to roll the dice on Price

Bob Gainey's time as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens has been marked by many factors, but one overriding theme that seems to have developped is his unwillingness to negotiate with impending free agents until it is absolutely necessary.

This strategy - actually, it's more like a principle - has its strong and weak points. On the strong side, it sometimes allows you to avoid a horrible mistake. Take Sheldon Souray, for instance.

Let's say Gainey had negotiated with him during the 2006-07 season and managed to sign him to a five-year, $22.5 million deal with a cap hit of $4.5 mil per. That would be $900 K per season less than he received as a free agent from the Oilers, but Souray's very first year in Edmonton he only lasted 26 games. On the other hand, taking a $4.5 million cap hit for the Souray who scored 23 goals in 80 games last season would be very reasonable. My point here is that Souray was far too unreliable, both defensively and physically, to receive that kind of money and term.

On the other side of the coin we have Mark Streit, who signed a five-year, $20.5 million contract with the Isles last summer. It is pretty common knowledge that if Streit were presented with a four or five year deal in the $3.5 million range per season during the 2007-08 season, he probably would have snatched it up to stay in a city he had grown to love. That would have been a steal of a contract, and if Streit were still around Gainey wouldn't have needed to go out and sign an aging Jaroslav Spacek for slightly more money this offseason.

But now we have come to a crossroads in Gainey's principles because his "thoroughbred" Carey Price is up for restricted free agency next summer.

Price's name immediately came to mind when I saw that the Columbus Blue Jackets had locked up centre Derrick Brassard and his 48 career games of NHL experience to a four-year extension worth $12.8 million. Brassard is a year younger than Price and - despite what Price went through last season - hasn't accomplished nearly as much in the NHL.

The thinking for Jackets GM Scott Howson must have been that if Brassard puts up a tremendous season riding shotgun with Rick Nash, it will likely cost him much more money to negotiate at the end of the season than it would this summer.

In a word, Howson gambled.

Time will tell if that gamble pays off, but I think it's time for Gainey to do a little gambling as well. If he truly believes Price is his thoroughbred, then get his name on a contract before the end of training camp.

It's hard to say how much Price would fetch as a restricted free agent at the end of the season, even if he somehow wins the Vezina Trophy this year. Comparables simply don't exist for him because very few goalies are able to justify a huge contract as a 22-year-old. Even Rick DiPietro had to wait until he was 25 before getting his ridiculous 15-year, $67.5 million deal handed to him by his former backup Garth Snow.

DiPietro had 58 career wins at the time he signed. Price enters this season with 47 wins. There simply aren't any goaltenders in the salary cap era with those kinds of credentials at that age, which makes finding a number to even begin negotiations with Price a little tricky.

But I would have to believe that if you are going to hitch the franchise on this young man's back, there would be no better time than the present to negotiate a deal.

First of all, I think everyone in Montreal and beyond has some significant doubts as to whether or not Price will indeed become a franchise goalie. As confident as he is in his own abilities, I would have to believe that somewhere in the deeper recesses of Price's mind, he has to have some degree of doubt as well. So if that's the case, would he not welcome the chance to sign a long-term deal now?

What if he has a repeat of the second half of last season? What if this newfangled team plays horribly in front of him? What if this new goalie coach messes him up even more than the last one? What if Jaroslav Halak completely outplays him (again)? What if? What if? What if?

Meanwhile, Gainey must be asking some of those same questions, but I have a feeling his confidence in this young man is unwavering. Why else would he so brazenly come to Price's defence after that utter meltdown last season, using words you never hear coming out of the mouth of someone who's usually so reserved?

If Gainey truly thinks of Price as a "thoroughbred," it's time to get that horse locked up at a discount, because Gainey hasn't left himself much wiggle room for next summer.

Gainey has nearly $44 million committed to 12 players in 2010-11, and if the cap actually winds up dropping by a couple of million as people are speculating, that will leave him with about $10 million to fill his roster.

Tomas Plekanec will be an unrestricted free agent while Guillaume Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre will both be restricted with arbitration rights. Assuming all three have big years and they are all re-signed, they will likely eat up about $6 million of that cap space, leaving another $4 million to sign Price and SEVEN more players. Not a pretty situation.

It is not outside the realm of possibility that Price alone could command the entirety of that $4 million cushion, assuming he puts together a dominant season. If that happens, Plekanec would probably have to be allowed to walk away for nothing, no matter how he plays this season. But right now, there is no way Price could justify that kind of money based on what he did last year, and even in the playoffs the year before.

If Price is willing to talk shop prior to the season, Gainey has to do everything in his power to get his name on a contract similar to the one Brassard signed last week.

Or else next July 1 could get very ugly.


Count Blackula said...

Assuming all three have big years and they are all re-signed, they will likely eat up about $6 million of that cap space, leaving another $4 million to sign Price and SEVEN more players. Not a pretty situation.

Well, that's the most depressing thing I've read today. And the day is still young!

Sliver24 said...

I think it would be wise to lock Price up on a five-year deal at $17.5 million to $20 million. To me that's a decent contract for a guy that age and it brings him to UFA status at the peak of his career.

That being said, if I'm Price I may just want to roll the dice and see how this season plays out.

While it's true that he's still seen as a blue chip prospect he's coming off the worst part of his admittedly short NHL career, why would he want to deal from a position of weakness?

It's not that it couldn't get worse for him - there's no doubt that it could if he messes the bed this season. It's just that the potential to improve his bargaining position seems to me to outweigh his potential to make it worse.

And if it does get worse over the year he'll always have the option of signing a one-year deal at a lower number to give himself the chance to get back to elite status.

On another note, I agree with the Count. Those numbers for next year seem pretty damn scary. I'm looking forward to seeing how Bob manages to make this work over the next few years.

I think, for him, it made sense to spend now and worry about the consequences later. A bad first half of the season will likely have Mr. Gainey looking for another job.

Nathan said...

You have to take into consideration that we could unload roman hamrlik and his 5.5 million cap hit, assuming one of Yannick Weber, or PK Subban are ready to make the jump. OR, Ryan Obyrne is ready to fulfill a more prominent role.

Anonymous said...

my biggest criticism towards gainey is his unwillingness to sign guys during the season but i believe price will be an exception and, despite how unsure i am about price, it's a gamble worth taking.

i also hope that if pleks has a solid start gainey will do away with a ridiculous principle that, i believe, has hurt us more than helped us...even though, at the time, i wouldn't have kept streit either.

Arpon Basu said...

There's little doubt that at least one of PK Subban or Yannick Weber will be ready to make the jump next season. The question is whether or not Gainey will be able to find a team willing to take on Hamrlik's salary in a year when practically every team will be tiptoeing near a reduced cap.

pfhabs said...


-the scenario you've painted was predictable. just as nhlnumbers.com can easily show trouble on the horizon as to RFAs, UFAs, cap hits etc one assumes Mr Brisbois has created similiar spreadsheets for Bob the Genius GM.

-one of your readers said earlier this summer that dollars spent on players means little because you cannot bank it

-true enough but if you spend it on the wrong guys you are pretty well screwed for a long time under a cap system

-if Bob the Genius bet on the wrong ponies this past July Hamrlik's contract removal will be virtually a breeze compared to those he signed on July 1.

-the next 5 yrs could be quite a legacy for the Genius or quite an albatross for his successor

-glad to see that the no in-season negotiating policy is starting to crystalize with Gainey advocates as a very dangerous tactic

-CH Nation is about to live in very interesting times as $4 million into Price and 7 others will not work under any scenario including one where Hamrlik's contract is gone (Price into $9.5 + 7 others doesn't really fit either)

-in the end Bob's brilliance could cost the club Price and in time other young prospects

-lets hope the worst case scenario doesn't play out because getting rid of Bob is an easy fix but losing the young prospects much more debilitating.

-then again most were aloof at the loss of McDonagh. would Subban, Weber, Pacioretty + others be as easily discounted as losses. on verra

Anonymous said...

pfhabs... if you could lose the derision (childlessly referring to Bob Gainey as the 'genius') and your seemingly single-minded focus on doom and gloom your posts would be a lot more readable. The situation with the Habs is simply not as bleak as you so often paint it.

You obviously care for the team and seem to know something about hockey, but the posts are very negative. Do what you want... As respectfully as I can, I'm just letting you know what the impact is over here and I suspect many others (like me) just tune you out because of the tone. It's too bad because you clearly have some important things to say.

Sliver24 said...


While I tend to agree with your sentiment regarding pfhabs (and I've made similar observations here before) at least he has the courtesy to identify himself when posting comments.

If he followed your MO of posting anonymously you wouldn't have been able to make your assessment of his comments and share them with the world.

It's not like you have to sign up for an account or anything like that. Simply choose the "Name/URL" option below, pick a handle and use it every time. Or at the very least sign your anonymous posts like NK and SRS tend to do.

That way we'll have a better idea of whether you have anything important to say or if you simply prefer to anonymously criticize other readers' postings.

V said...

Thanks Silver... I am pretty new at this and did not know the option to identify myself was so easy. Wasn't up to the trouble of creating an account.

I don't prefer to anonymously criticize others... in fact my intention was not to criticize pfhabs at all, just to let him/her know about the impact of the posts so that they can change them if they want to have a different impact.

I am happy to idenfity myself going forward and will use the same identification I use on Habs Inside/Out.

pfhabs said...

V (aka Anon)

-a few points to share

1. the 'genius' moniker was borrowed from another who has used it in a couple of forums to indicate his/her view of Bob's activity not just these past few months but the entire 5-6 years of his tenure

2. I could also have used/borrowed the moniker Bo(zo) which also is not my creation but creative none the less.

3. as to the salient point of me being derisive of Bob's activity, let me say that 6 years ago I was amongst the very large group that saw Bob as a saviour of the team from the days of Houle-Corey-Tremblay. looking over his moves of the last 6 years, especially what he allowed to happen last season and what he did this past July in my opinion he is clearly not a genius nor is he a clown act.

4. but to put yourself into a position where you given a franchise tag to a 21 yr old, made player moves on that premise, in a city that eats its own when things go bad and to have that player be THE goalie with the distinct possibility (as outlined by Arpon) that you may not be able to sign him long term at market value is plain stupidity. if that is too harsh an assessment for you (or others) wake up and smell the bleu-blanc-rouge. it's the tip of the iceberg as it affects other prospects also

take a few minutes and review the nhlnumbers.com site Carey's contract is not the only problem this coming July. you can add S Kostitsyn, Plekanec, Latendresse, Lapierre, D'Agostini, Stewart, Mara, Halak and Sanford. will Bob stick to his guns and not negotiate in season and potentially walk away from some (UFAs) and into offer sheets (RFAs) for the others ? or will he man up say he make mistakes with his policy and negotiate ? who knows but it's shear lunacy to put the club in that position. for you to sit there and pretend everything is okee dokee is a sentiment I will not subscribe to

5. as for the "tone" as you put it, interesting that you can sus that out on e-mail, the coldest form of communication there is. perhaps you are applying some of your own discontent to my words.

For your reading interest only, I would suggest you focus on the message/content and not the tone/messenger...if you tune out completely that's your choice and doesn't hurt my feelings. my intention is not to convert anyone only to bring another point of view which belies my previous "in Bob I trust" position. but again your choice to read or not; to trust in Bob or not; to agree w him or not

6. finally as for being negative, facts are facts. see them as you like. I do; i.e., not very positive going forward in terms of long term team development. says nothing as to what happens with this year's fortunes

pmk said...

While I agree that Bob's refusal to negotiate during the season is a dumb policy. Personally I think this doom and gloom for next yr is all overblown. Fact of the matter is second and third tier players (like pleks) change team regularly in the salary cap world of the nhl. Price will be signed - that I am sure of. When and for how much is hard to say. Other players will be let go to make room for him and rookies on cheap contracts will come in to fill out the roster. This is why the draft is so important - you must have a constant stream of good young cheap talent in order to be successful in this salary cap world.
The only way I would agree with the doom and gloom scenario is if our new longterm FA signings stink out the joint. Very possible I suppose but I just have a feeling they will be fine...

V said...

pfhabs... thanks for your response.

I agree that facts are facts, but we seldom use 'facts' to make our arguments. Most of our arguments or positions are facts heavily influenced by the perspective we hold of the situation or 'facts'. I look at a lot of what you present as facts and I don't agree because I see them from a different perspective... call it the glass half full versus the glass half empty.

I choose to hold a perspective about the Canadiens that has me feel good about them. I don't want my interest in them to be a source of anger or frustration - there are already enough things in life that can do that. So I hold the perspective that things are good, the team is made up of good people trying to do a good job (and not always succeeding) and things will work out. And they have for the most part over the 45 years I have been following them.

So when I see Gainey not signing pending UFA's through the season, I look at if from that perspective and I don't feel anger or frustration. I don't assume he is stupid, irrational or incompetent... I assume he has his reasons (and they may change) and that this policy is consistent with many others I can support because without getting into the details, I see the team steadily improving from the time he took over (I suspect you don't see that). I am happy to have the team he said he wanted to create... a consistent play-off team with the potential to go for it when the stars align.

So for me, the tone is much more important than the details. I get I'm fuzzy on those and I get the tone is not so important to you... so together we make one perfect Hab fan and am perfectly happy to have us disagree with one another when we think we should.

Arpon Basu said...

PMK's point about rookie contracts is bang on, every team needs to fill out their roster with entry level deals, especially ones from rookies not selected in the first round because they're even cheaper. As far as Plekanec, I suppose Ben Maxwell is kind of following the same path he did so that could be a potential replacement next year. But honestly, does the thought of having Maxwell as your second line centre make your toes tingle? However, if Gainey allows Pleks to walk at the end of the year, the cap situation becomes far easier to manage, and I don't think anyone would be crying into their beers if Pleks left town, even if I personally like the guy.

Sliver24 said...

V: Great comment.

Arp: While you're right I won't shed any tears when Plek leaves the team I'm hoping that Bob will manage to get something for him this season (i.e. trade for prospect/picks).

Unless we're on a Cup run it would be a shame to see him go for nothing.

pmk said...

I like pleks too but unless he improves to his 2007-08 form AND learns to play through the rough stuff the fact is he's not good enough to be a 2nd line centre on a contending team. So i see it as one area that needs to improve. So why pay big money (unless i; m proven wrong this yr and i hope I am)for a guy who when it comes down to is just not good enough. Let someone else have a shot...
and Actually I think maxwell might be a pleasant surprise this year.

pfhabs said...


-thanks your your comments they are thoughtful but not totally agreed with

1. we are near the same vintage with me a died in the wool fan for 50+ years. so we've both, unlike so many others, have seen Cups in the 50s, 60s, 70s and the last two in 86 and 93.

2. we are so far removed from the talent on the 76-77 team that today's version has no one that could make that squad in my view save maybe Markov in the 3rd pairing and Gomez on the 3rd line

3. I shared your perspective of the Canadiens until last year which was for me Bob's Waterloo. I will not go into details again except to say following a 1st place finish 2 years ago then to get booted around the boards this past year was completely unacceptable and I blame Bob for that. add the absolute dismissal of Koivu, the needless loss of Komisarek and the excessive overpayment for Gomez and I find myself without that joie de vivre concerning la sainte flanelle that is normally there so early in a new season

4. that you continue to hold Bob's activity/changes as good hockey moves is too polyannish for me.

5. of course he is trying to do a good job and he has his justification but its a cap world now not what he played in nor what he GMed in at Dallass. I just think it has gotten away from him and he is getting bad advice from Gauthier and he's scrambling to make it right.

6. the team, its structure, its farm system has all improved since he took over but its 1 step forward and 1.5 back...the Canadiens should be miles ahead of where they find themselves today somewhere between 10th to 7th and the stars have not aligned since 93. toooo long a time frame for someone like me that saw consistent glory not hit and miss stuff

-keep writing, eventually we'll agree if not it's still good to exchange ideas...perhaps I may become more positive and you may become more realistic


ps Arpon:

-can we please get something for these assets even Pleks...its mindless to develop them and let them go for zero...asset management is extremely important and with a guy like Timmins even a draft choice can become a precious stone if not a jewel

Arpon Basu said...

PF and sliver,
Getting something in return for Pleks at this point may be impossible, considering the lack of in-season trades since the lockout. To trade Pleks for porspects/picks at the deadline would have to mean there was someone ready to step in and takew his place, which would also mean Pleks wouldn't be having a particularly good season. So, under that scenario, I don't see what kind of value the Habs would get for him. Under the scenario where Pleks was having a good season, why would the Habs trade him away if it would downgrade the team right before the playoff push? I think they should get what they can out of him this year and if he wants to walk away at the end of the season, so be it.

pfhabs said...


-if you can envision a scenario where Pleks is having a decent year and say Maxwell is ready to step in Pleks could be tradeable before or at the deadline

-now it seems crazy to be trading your #2 centre just before the push but like most previous idiomatic thinking this also is starting to change under the cap world

-young players are being brought in to level off cap hits; vets being bought out and demoted to AHL; draft choices are becoming as important as NHL players; trades almost impossible unless similiar dollars are being moved; trades for about to retire players; trades for players that will never make the NHL all because you have cap room and the other team doesn't but you get future considerations (see last Toronto-Tampa trade)...in essence the cap system has changed how GMs view the team development landscape

-I would trade a decent player, bring in a younger player to replace him because the cap savings allows me to sign a core player for longer term and get a decent draft choice which my draft guru will turn into another good asset. that assumes the player loss doesn't debilitate my playoff push

-the above is very applicable to the CH scenario with Pleks-Maxwell-Price.

-the above may be a stretch but this new moving cap system demands outside the box thinking like nothing else in NHL history. yes its a gamble but that's why your best paid employees need to be your pro scouts and your amateur scouts so that the gamble is less gamble and more visionary changes.

-I believe you can continue to develop dynasty NHL teams if you employ the best scouts and evaluators and managers available from the GM down to the guy scouting AAA midgit games

Arpon Basu said...

In principle, you're right, sometimes tough decisions need to be made in the interest of the big picture. That's actually what Gainey did when he traded Huet away for a pick at the deadline, because he knew he wasn't going to re-sign him and he wanted Price to get some playoff experience. When Price totally crumbled in the playoffs, who was blamed? Gainey for trading away Huet and hanging Price out to dry. On the other hand, Gainey held on to Souray at the deadline because he knew he was so important to the Habs power play and he was vital in trying to make the playoffs, but he traded away Rivet in order to ensure he got some valuable assets in return, which turned out to be Max Pacioretty. So I think Gainey understands that you need to get value for impending free agents, but he also has an acute awareness of weighing that need against the needs of the current team.

pfhabs said...


-I agree those moves display that kind of thinking but those changes were 2-3 seasons ago. I may have been one of the few who was not sold on Huet's long term viability nor his in-season ability to give clutch performances regardless of what his numbers said.

-since then the story is slighly different; aka Streit and Ryder. in time perhaps we'll come to more fully understand what happened with Koivu and Komisarek but in the meantime they remain mistakes to me

-as you said in another post both Gainey and Boivin are in the saddle for the time being under Molson

-it will all unfold in the months to come