Thursday, October 1, 2009

Time to play hardball

So, Sergei Kostitsyn feels he's reached the stature of star NHL player, one with so much leverage he can scare his team into a trade.

There's no doubt Kostitsyn has some talent, but what made him such an instant fan favourite in Montreal when he first arrived was his willingness to take on anyone in the league in a battle for the puck, no matter how big, and usually come out with it. That took sheer will and hard work, two qualities that have been greatly lacking in Sergei's game ever since.

If Bob Gainey decides to give in to his trade request, he will be giving up a valuable asset for what amounts to nothing, perhaps a high draft pick. If Mikhail Grabvoski is worth a Leafs second-rounder, doesn't that make Kostitsyn worth at least a first-rounder?

Speaking of Grabovski, you would have to imagine Kostitsyn has ironically used his compatriot and on-ice nemesis as inspiration for this stunt. Grabovski challenged Gainey's authority and got himself traded to a team where he fills a top-six role, is scoring points and just inked a three-year deal worth $5.7 million (UPDATE: Actually, that Grabovski deal is worth $8.7 million over three years. I still can't believe it). You would have to imagine Kostitsyn is telling himself that he's better than Grabovski, shouldn't those millions be going to him?

But I highly doubt anyone will be willing to part with a first round pick for Kostitsyn, even though the draft class next year appears to be pretty weak, because when a player demands a trade it instantly becomes a buyer's market. Just ask Bryan Murray about that.

So Gainey's best move in this circumstance would be to simply wait Sergei out, to call his bluff.

If Sergei wants to bolt to the KHL, let him go, because I doubt he will. This is a guy who came to Canada to play his junior hockey, who seems quite fond of the lifestyle here, and who appears to want to prove he belongs. Going to the KHL would be an admission of failure, one I'm not sure he's willing to make.

So let Sergei sit at home and pout. Eventually, he should come around and report to Hamilton. And if he doesn't, the only person he'll be hurting is himself.

While Kostitsyn's trade demand yesterday was the biggest news, almost as significant was Montreal's decision not to name a captain right away, which is really the announcement they should have made at the beginning of camp.

When Martin said one would be announced at the end of training camp, it created a distraction of sorts, albeit a minor one, with players being asked their opinions on who should fill the role. Everyone knew the best way to make the right decision was to let the team's identity take hold, allow Martin's system to be assimilated, and then see if a player emerges who can best serve as a conduit between Martin's message and the players.

So kudos on the Habs for not rushing into this simply to avoid becoming the first club in franchise history not to have a captain on opening night. That is no reason for choosing the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, a position that should not be taken lightly.

Finally, I was very intrigued (as you may have noticed from some of my twitter posts on the right) by the six-year, $37.8 million contract extension handed to Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward yesterday. Regular readers know that I feel the contract status of Carey Price is looming over this club like a black cloud, and I think Ward's contract could come into play when negotiations begin.

I'm not suggesting that $6.3 million is an appropriate figure for Price, but it does set the market a little bit. Ward is entering the final season of a three-year deal worth $7 million, his second pro contract. He has a Stanley Cup ring, yes, but he also struggled in his second year, just like Price. It was after that season, where he had a 2.93 GAA and .897 save percentage, that Ward signed his contract. He followed that season up with 37 wins, a 2.75 GAA and a .904 save percentage, and last year he was outstanding with 39 wins, a 2.44 GAA and .916 save percentage.

Right now, Price's value is purely hypothetical, just like Ward's was two years ago, despite his heroics in the 2006 playoffs. Should Price return to the numbers from his rookie season this year, the cost for his services will have skyrocketed from where they are now. I would still be tempted to believe Price would jump all over a four-year offer at $4 million per season, which could turn into a great bargain or a millstone. I, for one, would be willing to take that risk.

Another question that comes to mind on Ward: How is it that other teams find it prudent and even good business to lock up their star players before their contracts expire, yet the Canadiens always wait until the last minute? The last player that comes to mind who was not allowed to get to the end of his free agent season without a contract was Saku Koivu, if memory serves me well.

If it was a good idea then, why is it a bad idea now? Why did Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit, Mike Komisarek and Alex Kovalev all have to wait until June to get legitimate contract offers from Bob Gainey (Streit supposedly got an offer from Gainey in January, but it was such a lowball figure that I wouldn't call it legitimate)?

The risk of losing Price to restricted free agency is pretty minimal, so the incentive to get it done quickly might not be there. But how's this for incentive? With a young goalie coming off a confidence-shattering season that you have already labelled as your franchise player, wouldn't a pre-season show of confidence like a long-term contract be a potential performance-enhancing boost for your coveted thoroughbred? Just a thought.


Sliver24 said...

I agree. Let him rot. Heck, turn down all trade offers unless you're blown out of the water.

I don't think that it's a buyer's market when you're talking about a young guy on a two-way contract that wasn't making the big club anyway.

It's not like the Habs are feeling like there's a hole in the lineup and that there's an important asset being wasted.

Sergei has absolutely no leverage here. His was a pretty bone-head move.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit shocked that Gomez wasn't at least given an "A" when he was touted so highly by Gainey. There was serious talk about him being captain material and now it looks as if he's not even in the running.

If these are the three I'd be shocked if it's not Gionta. Gill might get played out of his position if O'Byrne progresses enough and we all know Markov doesn't want it.

Paul said...

I think the wait is simply to avoid announcing it at a "dude ranch" in suburban Toronto rather than in Montreal at the Bell Centre. I fully expect a captain will be chosen (if it is not already done) before the home opener and he will be announced in all the fanfare.

As for Gomez not being in the running--I don't think he should be discounted just yet (same for Cammalleri). Not all "A"s are chosen with the idea they might be a permanent captain in the future, just as not all assistant coaches are merely head coaches in waiting. Game 2 may have a different set of players wearing the "A".

pfhabs said...


re your question "How is it that other teams find it prudent and even good business to lock up their star players before their contracts expire, yet the Canadiens always wait until the last minute?"

you need management with a vision...need I say more

the Gainey apologists can weigh-in at their leisure :)

Anonymous said...

Signing Price to a big contract now would heap extra pressure on the already large pile resting on his shoulders and don't think for a second that the fans won't take a big dollar sign next to his name as added incentive to boo should he falter early.
Wait until the olympic break.

Sergei is going to learn the hard way on this one, but he won't be with the Habs next year no matter what happens.

jkr said...

Gainey is not the only GM who doesn't negotiate during the season. Lou Lamoriello has lost guys like Scott Niedermeyer, Brian Rafalski, Scott Gomez and others because of this stance. I don't agree with this approach but it's hard to argue with the track record of L.L.

Arpon Basu said...

Actually jkr, I could argue with the track record of Lou Lamoriello. Yes, he's won a couple of cups, but believing it was the organizational philosophies that won those cups and not so much the players, as Lou does, is egotistical to the point of being detrimental to your team.The Devils are on the verge of oblivion, but by the timke they get there Lou will likely be gone. The Habs, on the other hand, should be moving on the way up with the farmhands in the organization.

jkr said...


Your Jersey numbers are a little off. It's more than a couple of Cups. The Devils have been to the finals in 95,00, 01 & 03 winning 3 times. The Devils system went a long way in their successes, especially with their ability to plug players into specific roles. As a Habs fan that's a track record I admire.