Monday, October 12, 2009

Eureka, I think I've got it...I think

I was following the wild Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames game online Monday night, and early on it was hard not to let my imagination wander a little bit.

The game began with the Flames rolling out to a 5-0 lead, including three goals on five shots against starter Cristobal Huet. He was mercifully pulled, his backup Antti Niemi let in two more on the next five shots, but shut the door thereafter to allow his teammates to score six straight goals and win the game in overtime.

It must have been a wild scene at the United Center in Chicago, but lost in that euphoria might have been Hawks GM Stan Bowman, who was probably wondering what he did to deserve such a porous starting goalie that he has $5.625 million committed to for the next four years.

He did nothing to deserve inheriting his predecessor Dale Tallon's mistake, but Bowman does have the power to try and hide that mistake.

With the Blackhawks looking for a potential Stanley Cup run before facing salary cap Armaggedon, perhaps it might be time to dangle Jaroslav Halak and Sergei Kostitsyn in Bowman's general direction and see if he'd be willing to part with Cam Berker in exchange.

What's that you say? We've already discussed this?

Well, since I wrote that there is one thing I've realized about long term injury relief that I did not incorporate into my original prognosis on the possibility of replacing Andrei Markov with a big ticket defenceman.

The salary cap, as you may or may not know, is calculated in terms of actual salary paid out to players over a 193-day season (UPDATE: For clarity's sake, it's not actual salary paid out, but rather the number of days a player is on the roster multiplied by his average daily cap hit. Is that clearer?). The good people over at capgeek.com have spelled it out quite nicely for you.

That means, for instance, sending Yannick Weber down to Hamilton on Monday instead of Tuesday saves the Canadiens $4,534 on the cap, because that's Weber's averaged daily cap hit (how's that for a dose of perspective? Scott Gomez counts against the cap to the tune of $38,120 per day, in case you're wondering).

Furthermore, if Bergeron were called up Wednesday instead of Tuesday, it would save the Habs $3,886 against the cap. You get the idea.

So, when it comes to LTIR, what dawned on me is that it is calculated daily. In the case of Markov, if he were to in fact miss exactly four months, it would amount to roughly $3.575 million that the Habs could exceed the cap if they acquired a player to replace him. Initially, I assumed the CBA was referring to annual salaries, but in fact it is referring to the actual amount of salary dished out over the season (UPDATE: Again, see above for the clarification).

When you throw in Ryan O'Byrne, and again assuming he misses six weeks of action, it would add another $205,000 in cap relief.

The signing of Bergeron, assuming he's called up Tuesday, will add just over $705,000 to Montreal's cap figure, which actually amounts to $500,000 if O'Byrne's LTIR is accounted for.

So, all that brings us back to the Blackhawks and their situation in goal. While many people would probably cringe at the thought of trading away Halak at this point, it may be a necessary risk simply because of Markov's injury. Cam Barker continues to watch games from the bench, for the most part, as Joel Quenneville rides his top pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. In that 6-5 OT win over Calgary, Keith played 22:39, Seabrook played 25:00, and even Niklas Hjalmarsson played 22:56. Barker? A whopping 13:42.

Through five games, Barker has topped 16 minutes of ice time only once, which is not a great return on the $3,083,333 the Hawks are paying him this year and next. It's next year that has the Blackhawks freaking out because Keith, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will all be restricted free agents, and they can't all be signed unless some salary is shed. Barker is only 23 and would be a great acquisition.

Considering how desperately the Hawks need to get rid of salary, grabbing Halak and Sergei Kostitsyn for Barker would probably suit them perfectly. Perhaps they would ask for a defence prospect or draft pick in return as well, so throw in Mathieu Carle if you want.

But will that work with the money saved on Markov's LTIR? The answer, as far as I can see it, is yes. Barker has already pulled in about $175,000 of his salary. If the Canadiens were to acquire him Tuesday, there would be just under $2.9 million left on his salary. There would be a minor cap savings with Curtis Sanford as Carey Price's backup, but that appears to be pretty irrelevant because with the $3.575 million in cap space cleared up by Markov's injury, it would appear to be enough to absorb Barker's contract or several other potential defencemen. And every day a trade isn't made, the easier it becomes.

But it only appears that way to me, which doesn't necessarily make it so because the CBA is one confusing document. Someone, if you have a legal background, please read the section on LTIR and correct me if I'm wrong.

Adding Barker would help shore up a Montreal defence that remains in constant flux as Jacques Martin and Perry Pearn continue searching for pairings that work in Markov's absence. The problem is that without Markov and O'Byrne, the Habs no longer have four legitimate top-four defencemen, and the pairings in their absence have been a mish-mash affair.

Michael W. Fleming, an associate professor in the faculty of computer science at the University of New Brunswick and apparent Habs fan, has a great site that tracks all the forward combinations and defence pairings on the Habs all season, along with other "sabermetric" hockey stats like on and off ice +/- (a special thanks goes out to the legendary Ron Reusch for sending me the link, you can check out his blog here).

In any case, according to Fleming's site, the Habs have used at least 14 different defensive pairings in five games. Paul Mara's most frequent partner has been Hal Gill, and he's only played with Gill for one third of his total minutes played. Gill, of all people, was on the ice in the dying seconds of the loss in Edmonton with Montreal scrambling for a goal, which shows to what extent the coaching staff is still learning about its personnel.

Considering one of Gill, Mara, and Bergeron will be fighting for top-four minutes, I don't think the Habs would have much trouble welcoming Barker into the fold. And when Markov returns, the team's defence would be that much better for years to come, because Barker should only improve.

I don't see a better solution out there, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to pull the trigger soon. Because while the Habs try to figure this defensive situation out on the fly, they might very well lose their way out of a playoff spot.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love it ! Now how do we get Gainey to read this and have a "Eureka" moment?

Anonymous said...

While it would be great, don't the habs have a massive amount of salary already tied up in less then 15 players? Taking in a young player like barker may make it very difficult next year on the already cap tight Canadiens.

Ted said...

Well Arpon, I do recall you wrote a similar article on acquiring Robert Lang and that was one of the few pleasant surprises in a sea of misery last year so I say here, here!!!

I do wish Halak had been given more of a chance to show his wares.

greg said...

trade Halak? You're kidding, right? Barker (it's spelled with an 'a' not an 'e', is a good up and comer, but there has to be a reason he's so low on the Hawks' depth chart. Trading Halak before he has a chance to show the league his fine skills won't help get value in return, and trusting a Price - Sanford combo is scary as hell. How much money do we need tied up on defence anyways?

Anonymous said...

The only problem arpon, and anyone please feel free to correct me, is that we have no significant salary coming off the books this year. Which will basically put us right up against the cap, or even over the cap in the off-season, and we have RFAs like Price, Latendresse, and Plekanec to re-sign at seasons end. I dont think lats or pleks will get significant raises as neither of them seem poised to break out, but price should at least garner 3.5-4 million, and that alone can kill us. Chicago may have huge issues this off-season cause players like kane and toews can easily command $10million/yr+ combined, but we still have issues of our own.

Arjun said...

I say let's just get through this season and worry about next season, next season. Yes. Think only of the present and salvage the season. But I say we wait until the first few home games of the homestand. Western Canada has always been a black hole for us for whatever reason. I would say it's not indicative of the season. I would even wait until around game 10 and then see what we have.

Sliver24 said...

I dunno Arjun. It's one thing to mortgage the future if you're in a credible position to make a run for the cup.

Going all-out now at the expense of the future - just to hopefully make the playoffs - seems like a great way to ensure you'll continue down the path of mediocrity (at best).

If this team can't make it into the playoffs without Markov then it's not good enough to do any damage in the playoffs even with him in the lineup.

If on the other hand they are a good enough team to truly contend for the Cup then they'll manage to make it in without #79 in the lineup. Then, once there, they'll be poised to make something happen with a healthy and well-rested Markov firing on all cylinders. It's a similar situation to the once faced by Pittsburgh last season when Sergei Gonchar was out.

Either way the Habs aren't in a a position to spend today at the expense of tomorrow.

Arpon Basu said...

While I have been a big booster of next year's cap nightmare for the Habs, I feel a young player of Barker's (spelt with an "a", not an "e". not too sure what that one meant) calibre being available forces someone to change their plans. Barker has two more years left at $3 mil, and that could be absorbed next year by saying goodbye to Plekanec, who makes $2.75 M this year and is UFA next. It would still make things tight for signing Price, but grabbing a good, young defenceman is not something that pops up everyday, especially a former third overall draft pick who had 40 points last year as a 22-year-old. It's clear this team is too reliant on Markov to stay afloat. Having someone like Barker on board would change that in a hurry.
As for keeping Halak as insurance for Price, does anyone think Bob Gainey wouldn't pull the trigger on a Halak trade? His opinion of Price is well documented, and if ever Halak were to have a future with this organization he would have had a chance to show it in last year's playoffs. He didn't get that chance, which I never understood, but considering the circumstances it's a risk that needs to be taken. Having Halak as a backup is a luxury the Habs can't afford, and he is a perfect fit for the 'Hawks because of his low salary and high skill level.

Andy J Smith illustration said...

I think Corey Crawford has to come back the other way. Curtis Sanford might do OK in spot duty but you need another insurance plan behind him. Or are there answers left out there in UFA market? M Fernandez? M Legace? R Esche? R RACICOT? OK, I'm reaching...

Andy J Smith illustration said...

On an off-topic note, you're lack of a unique blog logo bugs me. You have some interesting insight covering the Habs/hockey and deserve better. I'm going to whip you up something in my free time (whatever THAT is) and run it by you. Gratis. If you like, post it, if not, no worries. Stay tuned!

Dave H said...

I like the suggestion. Someone get Gainey on the phone and get a deal going down!

I wouldn't also mind seeing Andrei Kostitsyn put up on the trading block with maybe some prospects/picks to get us a HARD WORKING 2nd line winger. He's really been disappointing me lately...

Arpon Basu said...

Andy,
That would be fantastic. As you can see from the site, I am not very design-gifted. Any help would definitely be appreciated. Thanks!
Arpon

Gerard L said...

I really do like this idea, especially if Price keeps up the steller play in goal. His problems in net so far have come due to horrible D and not his play.

I see the habs as havin two major issues. One, being the injury to markov and needing a replacement on D and the second is more of a combo problem, lack of big center/2nd line scoring.

In order for the habs to get into the playoffs and hopefully make a run, ATLEAST one, but preferrably both these issues need to be dealt with. I say get this deal done for Barker and that would hopefully take care of one of these problems. Than perhaps a deadline deal to bring in someone to help up front who is on the last yr of his contract.

Of course all of this needs to be carefully planned out thinkin about next yr, as the last thing that needs to happen is cap problems heading into a off season where Price needs to be signed.

Big T said...

Arpon,

the previous poster was indicating that you spelled Barker as Berker in your original post.

Patte said...

Would Halak really solve chicago's problem in net? I don't think they'd be interested as we are interested in barker.. this trade would definately help us, but I dont think it'd help them..

Yves said...

It's a great idea Arpon.

Barker would be a great acquisition.

Anonymous said...

I think Price is done in Montreal. His body language is all bad, like he really has had enough of being in a pressure cooker. I'd like to see a real blockbuster trade with Price, Huet, Barker and maybe a couple other players thrown in. Chicago has a lot of talent that they could/have to trade away so it makes a deal possible.