Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The ends justify the means

The Habs put an exclamation point on their last game of the first century, but the first one of the next century could probably be best described using what, a comma? As in, "The Canadiens won, but..."

No matter how ugly Monday night's 3-1 win over the self-destructing Flyers may have been, particularly compared to the excitement of Friday night's rout of the Bruins, the fact remains that Montreal won both games. In very different ways, but the standings don't reward style points.

Good thing, because this game reeked in every way.

Still, there were lots of positives to be drawn from this second straight win, and the biggest one for me was the work of the penalty killers, who ran their streak to 15 straight in four games since allowing Eric Fehr to score that tying goal in the dying seconds in a shootout loss to the Caps. The Flyers barely threatened to score on the power play, and while they ran their own futility streak to 19 straight chances, the Habs PK played a big role in that.

Sergei Kostitsyn, for all his faults, has gained Jacques Martin's trust and is now cemented into a penalty killing role. Generally, you want your hard workers out there when down a man, which explains why Tomas Plekanec and Travis Moen are mainstays. Not sure why that makes Scott Gomez a regular, but the fact Martin keeps sending the younger Kostitsyn out there shows what the coach thinks of his enfant terrible these days.

Another positive was Mike Cammalleri scoring another goal, this one the game-winner off a great feed from Maxim Lapierre. It was Cammalleri's 16th of the season, which puts him on pace for 43 over 82 games, which would eclipse the 39 he scored in Calgary this year if he maintains the rhythm. I'm still waiting for Cammalleri to bring up all the doubts about his reliance on Jarome Iginla to score all those goals (a myth I think I debunked back in September). Somehow, I think Cammalleri is pretty good at scoring goals, with or without Iginla.

Of course, having Tomas Plekanec as your centre has certainly helped Cammalleri, and Plekanec continues to help himself toward a huge free agent payday at the end of the season, whether it's from the Canadiens or some other team. His two assists Monday night gave him 28 points on the season, or only 11 shy of his total for all of last season. He's been the Canadiens most consistent, most versatile and hardest working player game in and game out this season, which is why I still think it's time to trade him and get some value in return.

But the marquee story remains, in my eyes, Carey Price. He was only called upon to make 14 saves in this win, but he didn't give up a backbreaking stinker or do any of the other disconcerting things he had made habitual since last year's All-Star break. In his last 13 starts, Price has a .932 save percentage and a 1.96 goals against average, and I'm going to keep bringing these numbers up as long as he keeps playing like the start goalie everyone projected him to be.

On the negative side of the ledger, the "upper body" (read: shoulder) injury suffered by Paul Mara could sideline him for a while. He won't play Tuesday night in Ottawa, and who knows for how long after that. While Marc-Andre Bergeron is admittedly a nightmare on skates in his own end, his value is that he almost single-handedly makes the power play because of his ability to get shots through to the net. That alone forces you to live with his defensive short-comings, which aren't quite as bad as everyone makes them out to be. But they're bad. If Mara is out for any amount of time, those shortcomings will go back to the fore, But until then, Bergeron scoredd his sixth of the season to provide the final 3-1 cushion, allowing the Habs to sit on a two-goal lead halfway through the third. His sixth goal of the season puts him in a tie for sixth among the NHL's defenceman.

The Habs are still a work in progress, but at least there appears to be some progress being made.


pmk said...

please stop with your trade pleks nonsense!

Sliver24 said...

I second PMK's emotion - yours is crazy talk. How about trying to sign him to a reasonable contract sooner rather than later.

After 30 good games I don't think Plek will be asking for 40 million over seven years. He will likely still be willing to hedge and sign a two- or three-year deal at 3 or 3.5 million per.

That will give him a chance to truly cash in when he's 29 or 30 - if he turns out to be the player he is showing signs of becoming.

But something has to be done now. Once June comes along it will just make sense for him to wait to see what the market will offer, especially of he continues playing as he has been.

Arpon Basu said...

The time to sign Plekanec to a reasonable contract was actually when he signed his current contract. With the season he had last year, I'm sure he would have gobbled up the $2.75 million he's making now on a three-year deal. There is absolutely no reason for him to take a discount right now, though he's said he would be very open to talking contract any time. Put yourselves in his shoes. Why on earth would he not be pushing for a at least $4 million a year at this point? That's an amount Gainey just can't afford to give, even if it's for two or three years because the cap situation is too tight as of next year. If you sign Plekanec now and you're unable to unload salary in the offseason, you risk losing Price to an offer sheet or at least the threat of one.

Sliver24 said...

Price ain't going anywhere, at least not as an RFA. Gainey would put the rest of the roster on waivers to clear space before letting that happen.

Why would Plek sign now for 3.5? Because he hasn't proven anything yet. Sure, he might turn one good season into a $25 million over six year contract, but puts him just past his peak for a subsequent deal.

Three our four great seasons in his late twenties gets him Gomez money before he's 30 - here or elsewhere.

There's also injury to consider, as well as the fact that if his current pace turns out to be a streak he could find himself signing a string of one year deals while the league waits for him to prove his worth.

Anonymous said...

Arpon is 100% right. Unless the Canadiens can move Scott Gomez for a larger/better player, they can't reasonably spend big bucks on Plekanec, and venture into the next 5 years with Gomez and Plekanec running the offense.

Arpon isn't suggesting trading Plekanec because he doesn't like him, he's simply hit on a reality that too many fans are ignoring.

If Scott Gomez is here to stay (and with that contract, he likely is) the Habs need to plan on getting an upgrade on both Gomez and Plekanec.

-Eric Engels

TK said...

Contract details aside, wouldn't trading Plekanec seriously harm the chances of making it into the playoffs? I don't know how the new boss will feel about that lost revenue. Unless Gainey gets something of immediate value in return (players who are ready to join the team and make a difference), the team minus Plekanecs would have a huge hole to fill. He has been our best player this season, he's young, and he enjoys playing here- what more could we ask for? We've been clamouring for a quality centre for years, and now that they have developed one I don't think shipping him out of town is the answer. Unless of course you believe that this pace of Pleks is a totally unsustainable. Which i suppose is at the heart of this issue*.

*just what this team needs- another media initiated 'issue'.

nk said...

why not sign pleks now (meaning ASAP) to a long term deal (which is basically the norm these days) at a lower cap hit and if we run into cap issues at season's end i can think of a few buy-out possibilities that might ease the burden.

losing pleks now would be nailing the coffin on a season where this team has done so much to stay in the race. bad idea, imho.

Anonymous said...

shoot first, ask questions later?

I don't think anyone likes the idea of shipping Plekanec out of town, but Arpon's argument needs to be considered by all those suggesting he be signed right away, and screaming at Gainey for not doing it yesterday.
-Eric Engels

pmk said...

exactly TK - why trade a player on a point a game pace? That's loser talk - 'tank nation talk' - not sure why I'm debating it bc he will not be traded but for the sake of argument:
Sign him longterm 4-5 yrs 3.5/4 per. You probably can't get rid of Gomez now (unless Tb wants him...) so you Cut salary elsewhere - Obvious candidates:

With time other contracts either come off the books (hammer) or become easier to unload (gomez,spacek). By committing to Pleks now we are NOT committing necessarily to Gomez and PLeks for the next 5 yrs. We are committing to pleks, a player we drafted and developed. Why trade this away?? What message does this send to our prospects?

ps - nk you beat me too it!

Sliver24 said...

Eric: Gomez's contract gets easier to stomach by the season, most notable for teams that are looking to chew up cap space to make it to the spending floor. As long as Gomez is playing even marginally well there will be teams that will be happy to pay $4.5 million for a $7.4 million cap hit.

TK: One more thing to consider is that Pouliot is a natural centre, albeit one that has played most of his NHL career at left wing. Gainey could be waiting to see if he'll begin to live up to some of his potential before making a decision on Plek.

TK said...

PMK+Sliver: I hope more teams will be interested in acquiring Gomez in the future. That would really help solve some of these cap issues.

and I wasn't aware that Poulliot played centre. It will be intriguing to see if they try to use him there.

john deere said...

I agree that either Gomez or Plekanec has to go but my choice wouldn't be Plekanec. Also, if you trade Plekanec what position and type of contract do you pick up on the other end? Do you trade for a scoring winger and then do you keep Gionta or if you trade for a decent defenseman you will, in most likelihood have similar cap issues just with different players.

Arpon Basu said...

Just a point on the possibility of trading Gomez, he does have a limited no trade on his contract that allows him to pick 10 teams he would accept a trade to. Or at least I believe it's something like that, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. So I'm not sure you could trade him to a garbage team looking to reach the salary floor. You'll likely have to trade him for another regrettable contract.
As far as Plekanec, I think back to the Hurricanes a few years ago who were desperate for a defenceman because of injuries. They had Jack Johnson who refused to leave college, so they traded him for Tim Gleason. If there's another contending team out there desperate for a centre to make a push for the Cup, who knows what they'll give up to get their hands on Plekanec (which would also include exclusive negotiating rights until July 1)?
I know everyone wants to make the playoffs this year, but that has been the rationale behind holding on to players like Souray, Streit and others at the deadline in the past, then everyone complains afterwards that these players left for nothing and it was all so the Habs could get knocked out in the first round. That pattern needs to change at some point, no? You can't have it both ways. Remember the outcry from some in this city when Gainey traded away Rivet, that he was throwing in the towel for the playoffs? I don't think anyone regrets that trade today, with both Max Pacioretty and Josh Gorges in the lineup.
Basically, as I wrote before and still believe, the ideal situation would be to sign Plekanec and trade Gomez, but the market for Plekanec will be much better than the one for Gomez. But it'll be tough for Bob Gainey to find another Bob Gainey out there willing to give up a top flight prospect for an albatross contract. The only one I can think of lives on the west coast of Florida, and he has a certain trade chip that would make this city go gaga.

pierre said...

Gainey wants a team that can hold the fort until Markov and Gionta get back and wants them to display their full potentiel as a team once they will..... then have a strong finnish and make the playoffs...... point à la ligne.

Unless you perceive Gainey's priorities to be any different than my own otherwise talking Plek being moved this season would indeed be crasy talk.

Next season we will need a Plek quality second line center to start the season and unless Pouliot can do it no one else will from within our organization.

Trading Lats was very pro-active I though and Pouliot should be a better fit to our team than Lats was...... but above that no one can say for now.

pmk said...

So Gainey and Martin want to change the team culture to refelct one of hard work and effort yet trade the hardest working forward on the team. dumb dumb dumb. Crazy talk - sign him now. Deal with the cap later. Get rid of the dead weight on the team. When you're trying to solve a problem why would you throw out part of the solution?
It really comes done to how you see Pleks. Is he a core part of team? or someone easily replaced? I, along with NK and Sliver say core - you, along with Eric Engels say he isn't.
I'm comfortable with my position.

john deere said...

That is quite a pickle Gainey has got himself into.

Would there be any possibility of renegotiating Gomez's contract down to say $5.5 million per year with a $4 million per year cap hit? That is the only way I could see him staying and the Canadiens be able to have cap room to have field a competitive team.

I'm not against Gomez per se but I don't see how they can field a competitive team with the cap hit that comes with him.

Arpon Basu said...

It actually has nothing to do with how you see Pleks, it has to with what Pleks believes he is worth. It's easy to say sign him now and deal with the cap later, but when GM's think like that they lose their jobs. Just ask Dale Tallon. Plekanec signed for $2.75 million after last year's atrocious season, so much would this be worth? Let's be conservative and say it's $3.5 million, even though I would fire my agent if that's all he was able to get me after the season Pleks is putting up right now. Let's be equally conservative and say Price signs for $3 million (which would also result in an agent losing his job). That would bring the Habs payroll next season to $50.4 million, and if Laraque is bought out it would drop to $49.4 million. The problem is that money will only go to 15 players.
I think Gainey missed an opportunity to get a core player locked up long-term or even medium-term at a discount over the summer. I think he saw Andrei Kostitsyn's contract and didn't want to make the same mistake, which ultimately has turned out to be poor judgement. (yes, I know the perfect vision of hindsight, but my job is not evaluating hockey talent, is second guessing hockey people.) I'm just saying the idea needs to be considered with the way the team is made up right now.

nk said...

what about a 7yr deal for pleks at just over $3mil? why wouldn't he want that kind of security?

i'm not a fan of long-term contracts but they seem to be the norm these days which will make trading players of worth a lot easier in the future, no?

not to mention, hopefully some of our defensive prospects will be more nhl ready by next season which would enable mgmt to clear some cap space there.

pfhabs said...


1. trade Plekanec ? and your second line centre would be whom ? you don't have one and you just got rid of a player you drafted, developed and looks like he's coming into his own after 1 bad season...not a smart move

2. the ga ga effect for the city would be a dumber move than trading for Gomez. yep trading a bad contract, 4 yrs/$7.37 for a worse contract 10 years/$7.727 and 3 major injuries always makes more sense...don't you think they've sold enough jerseys last year ?

3. find another gainey, there are a few- if not ask Scott to waive his partial no trade. if Scott says no guess he plays in hamilton. cap hit off the books..its quite simple actually it just costs Molson money but then you can develop the team with smart contracts/good players including signing Price long term as opposed to keeping Gomez in NHL and potential to lose young prospects...its a no-brainer

-my guess is that Scott will waive his no-trade in favour of avoiding Steel Town...its dirty to the player but its a business and Scott knew signing his contract he wasn't worth that coin nor could he perform to it