Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Is it time to sell high?

With the excellent start to the season Tomas Plekanec has had, people are coming out of the woodwork screaming at the top of their lungs that Bob Gainey must sign him to a new contract immediately to ensure he doesn't add his name to the long list of free agents who have left town for nothing in return.

Gainey admitted that his policy of not negotiating during the season was not set in stone, and that it shifts from year to year. Seeing as Plekanec is the only significant unrestricted free agent on the team this year, I would imagine that policy might change.

But it's not some policy that will prevent Gainey from negotiating. No, it's his salary cap situation next season and the impending restricted free agency of Carey Price that will have the biggest impact on his decision-making.

As I've written before, Montreal's cap situation next year couldn't be much tighter, and the strong play of Price lately, along with Plekanec's great start, is only making it more difficult to figure out how Gainey plans on filling out his roster next season.

Let's recap quickly: Montreal has 14 players signed next season at a total cost of $45.6 million. Among those without contracts are Price, Plekanec, Glen Metropolit, Maxim Lapierre, Benoit Pouliot, Sergei Kostitsyn, Paul Mara and Marc-Andre Bergeron. Of those players, I think it's reasonable to believe that Mara and Bergeron likely won't be back, and as much as it kills me to say it, neither will Metropolit. Lapierre is arbitration eligible, but he doesn't have much of a leg to stand on right now, while Pouliot and Kostitsyn are not. Let's also assume (and hope) that Gainey buys out the final year of Georges Laraque's contract, which is something he should have done this past summer. Finally, let's assume the cap remains frozen at $56.8 million next season, which is a scenario that is starting to look more and more likely.

So, with Laraque's hypothetical buyout adding $1 million in cap space but also an additional roster spot to fill, the Habs should have about $12.2 million in cap room next season to sign nine or 10 players.

If Lapierre, Pouliot and Kostitsyn are all signed for about $900,000, that removes $2.7 million from that figure, leaving Gainey with another $9.5 million. If Mara and Bergeron are replaced by two guys from Hamilton, say Yannick Weber and P.K. Subban, that knocks another $1.75 million off. That would leave $7.75 million to sign Price, Plekanec, a backup goalie (assuming Jaroslav Halak is traded rather than signing another contract as a restricted free agent) and one or two more forwards to fill out the roster. If we take for granted that those role players and the backup goalie will cost about $800,000 apiece, it would leave in the neighbourhood of $5.35 million left for Price and Plekanec.

Still with me? Good, because I think it's clear to anyone who's playing attention that $5.35 million will simply not get it done in terms of signing both players, seeing as just one of them could in all likelihood command a good chunk of that extra money.

But, cap situation aside, the question needs to be asked whether or not the Canadiens are good enough to warrant this kind of extensive cap stretching, and also whether or not Plekanec is the right fit as the No. 2 (or No. 1) centre on this team moving forward.

For better or for worse - and I think it's too early to judge definitively, but it's likely for the worse - the Habs have Scott Gomez penciled in as their top line centre for the next four seasons. You can't have someone eating up $7.3 million of cap space without having him play top-line minutes.

So seeing as that is the current situation, is Plekanec the ideal second line forward? Not in my view, because his game is extremely similar to that of Gomez - small, speedy and crafty, though Plekanec has shown far more jam in his game than Gomez has. Ideally, the Habs would have a big, strong and mean second line centre to complement Gomez, but those don't grow on trees, and it doesn't appear as though Pouliot could ever become that kind of player.

The avenues for a solution to this situation are twofold, in my eyes. First is the option I floated way back in July, which would be to trade Gomez to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Vinny Lecavalier. The two players have a virtually identical cap hit (about $400K more for Lecavalier), but since Gomez's contract is front-loaded he is a far cheaper option for the cash-strapped Lightning, and Lecavalier hasn't exactly been lighting things up this season. The Lightning would save $16.5 million in real dollars over the next four years if they made this deal, not to mention that they could crawl out from under Gomez's contract six years sooner than they could with Lecavalier.

Under this scenario, re-signing Plekanec makes perfect sense because he is a different style of player than Lecavalier and therefore a better complement as a No. 2 centre, at least in my eyes. Then it would just be a question of fitting him under the cap, which would still be no easy task.

But if the Lightning don't want Gomez (or the Habs no longer want Lecavalier, or Lecavalier doesn't want to waive his no trade to come here), then I believe the next option would be to trade Plekanec at this year's deadline. His value as a player is sky high right now, and if he plays well at the Olympics - where he could be the Czech Republic's top-line centre - then it will only climb higher. The Habs could command a first-round pick and a young roster player in return that they could build around for the future, and who would be far lighter on the cap for next season.

The thought of trading Plekanec cannot be palatable to most of you, and I understand. Trust me, no one has more respect for Plekanec than I do. He works his butt off, and the old cliche of being first on the ice and last off at practice certainly applies to him. Not only that, but he was telling reporters a little while back about how he worked hard to improve the mental side of his game over the summer, and the CBC's Elliotte Friedman reports this week that Plekanec got a big pep talk from Jaromir Jagr over the summer that helped his confidence management.

I would hate to see Plekanec go, but it might be made necessary by the corner Gainey painted himself into over the summer with his free agent spending spree. And if that's not depressing enough, ask yourself what will happen when Andrei Markov's bargain of a contract is up two years from now?

21 comments:

FinnHab said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FinnHab said...

"Finally, let's assume the cap remains frozen at $56.8 million next season, which is a scenario that is starting to look more and more likely."

Do you think that the "5% inflator rule" will be voted in for next season too? If it would not be in use for this year the cap would be around 54.1 million, right?

That being said the REAL cap which is taken directly from league's revenues came down by 2.6 million last year and then it was inflated by 5% and stands now in 56.8 million.

Cap last year = 56.7M
Cap this year = 56.8M including the 5% inflator.

So what if the cap comes down by 2.6 million for next year too FROM that actual capnumber which is 54.1M?

I really would like to know is it possible that this "5% inflator" cannot be voted in and IF it can be used, will it be used? If the answer is no, then we could have a cap around 51.5M next year...

I'm just speculating, but the fact remains. You cannot ignore the "5% inflator" in salary cap for this season. I just dont think the cap will be as high as it is now...

Chris Nadeau said...

Pretty hard to argue with. :-) Great post!

Topham said...

This has been in discussion at Lions in Winter for some time.

The one criticism I have is the ntion that trading Plekanec should wait until the deadline. As you mention his value is very high right now. Given this isn't our first exposure to the player, we know he streaks (in the points department anyway) and so trading him, if it's ever on the cards should be a December job.

Kid Panda said...

Sure, you can't have someone eating up $7.3 million in cap space without playing front-line minutes. But you can't give front-line minutes to a guy who doesn't deserve them, either.
So since we're talking in hypotheticals, how about this: buy out Gomez's contract. Then Gainey (or his replacement) could negotiate a new deal with him, or use the cap space more usefully.

Sure, it means admitting the Gomez deal was a giant mistake — but it'd be an even bigger mistake to let it stunt the team for the next four years.

And trading for Lecavalier? The tread's already worn thin on him; his cap hit would stunt the Canadiens for most of the next decade.

joshhargreaves said...

As well as he's played this year, another option to free-up some Cap space for next year would be to buyout the last year of Roman Hamrlik's contract.
That would give the Habs $3.66 million more money to work with, minus whatever they pay the player to replace him.
Not the best option, but I'd rather have Plecks than Hamrlik at this stage of their careers.

kyleroussel said...

I believe Gainey should sign Plekanec whether or not he keeps him or trades him. As high as his value is now, it would only be higher in the eyes of the rest of the league if he was signed to a long term deal.

It's the classic catch-22 for Habs fans. If someone is not playing up to expectations, you trade him, though you concede that his value is low and you don't get much for him. On the flip side, if he's playing well, you don't want to trade him.

I really like Plekanec. I think he can be the 2nd best center in the league, or right near the top. But the Habs will never win anything of significance in the playoffs with Gomez and Plekanec as 1 & 2 centermen, unless they surround them with big, bruising, consistent scoring wingers, which is not in the cards either with Gionta and Cammalleri also signed long term.

I also like Gomez (yes, he's overpaid by a long shot), but I do NOT like Plekanec and Gomez on the same team if the goal is the win a cup. If the goal is to be entertaining and competitive, they're fine. I just hope there aren't any delusional Habs fans out there that think they can be great, entertaining and come close to the cup with those 2 at center.

I think Gainey needs to start (quietly) finding out what Plekanec may be worth on the trade market, unless, of course he can drop Plekanec first.

smilinggainey said...

Great post...though I can't see Plekanec fetching as much as others due to how his size/strength is perceived across the league.

And I must take issue with your use of the word 'policy' re: contract negotiations. It's a myth! There is no policy to either adhere to or ignore. He deals with contracts on a case-by-case basis, end of story.

You guys in the media need to stop making this stuff up!

Sliver24 said...

It would be maddeningly frustrating to be in such a ridiculously tight place under any circumstances. The fact that the Habs are in such a bind while still a bubble team at best is enough to drive me crazy.

If we were in a scenario where a successful team had to make some compromises in order to fit its core players under the cap I think this would be much easier to swallow. Being in a position to lose an extremely serviceable centre from an already anemic offence, and with no obvious youngster ready to replace him, is unacceptable as far as I'm concerned.

How is it possible that the Habs are spending as much as the Sharks or the Pens or the Flames? The Canadiens lineup - fully healthy - can't hold a candle to those three, either on paper or on the ice.

Where is the depth everyone was touting two years ago? Remember the farm team that was supposedly stocked with players just waiting for a chance to prove that they're ready to play in the bigs?

Why is is that when I check the stats page on TSN.ca there isn't a single Habs player in the group of 40-or-so leaders? In the 13 years since St. Patrick was chased away by a snake, a long line of coaches and administrators hasn't managed to draft, develop or trade for a single legitimate superstar. Meanwhile players that have played most of their careers since the Habs' last Cup are being inducted into the Hall of Fame with regularity.

I find it ironic that the Habs' mediocrity is these days blamed largely on the parity-inducing salary cap. It was only ten years ago that we were being told that the US dollar was too strong, that the Habs were essentially a small-market team and that they just couldn't compete with the likes of the Rangers, Wings and Leafs.

Then there are the other tired old farces like "Other teams get up to play the Habs, especially in Montreal," or "The media focus is too intense," or my favourite, "Free agents just don't want to sign here."

It's one excuse after another and frankly, I'm growing tired of hearing them. I don't know, maybe I'm having a bad day but I think I'm starting to see things along the same vein as pfhabs (a more sane rational version, mind you). As far as I can tell the Habs are no better off, overall, than they were when Gainey took the reins six years ago. Maybe Gainey has had his chance and it really is time for him to go.
______________________

A few other thoughts, and this is much more micro than macro; Is anyone else blown away by the fact that the Habs keep adding left-handed defencemen to the roster even though it's absolutely clear that the team is desperate for a righty or two? Bergeron I can understand because he has a unique talent and was brought in to fill a specific role. But Leach? I have nothing against Leach per se but I find it hard to believe Gainey couldn't have found a player of a similar calibre that shoots right somewhere in the ranks of the AHL. A lack of attention to details like that really makes me call his decision-making into question.

Also, if his stated numbers are right, it's hard to disagree with Joshhargreaves' assessment of Hamrlik vs. Plekanec.

pfhabs said...

Arpon:

-I'm amazed that you'd keep that underperformer that costs $7.37 and get rid of the best centre they have, leading the team in production and costing only $2.75

-the post makes no sense to me.

-how are the July signings looking now ? btw not only are you paying $7.37, you gave up your best defensive prospect (does he shoot right?)another solid prospect in Valentenko (does he shoot right?) and Higgins. plus Gaborik was available for about another $200,000...what a trade...what vision and cap management

-all the crap floated by the CH and eaten up by fans about this acquisition being younger, faster, more durable somehow became equated to being better...guess not so much

-the solution is finding a way (anyway) of dumping Gomez who btw is a downgrade to Koivu but at $4+ million more..add to that, relief from the Hamrlik contract and perhaps even Gill

-Sliver glad you are on board and although your rationale is less passionate than mine we end up at the same destination...on another train guess your earlier choice of the CH in 4th ahead of Philly is not as strong as once thought :)

-today is the first day for Geoff Molson and his brothers as owners...hopefully Gainey's and Gauthier's days are numbered...if not, enjoy the bubble position or lower for years to come..

-more revelations concerning the July signings and the affect going forward are to come and few of you will be happy

BTW SmilingGainey:

-hate to break your bubble but the policy exists, was created by Bob and agreed to by the owner...it was not created by any media and openly referred to by Bob on many occasions. take it to the bank virtue of Mr Gillett himself

kyleroussel said...

I have to clarify something I said that does not make sense.

I originally said that "I think Gainey needs to start (quietly) finding out what Plekanec may be worth on the trade market, unless, of course he can drop Plekanec first."

I meant that Gainey should at least find out what Plekanec is worth in a trade, unless he can unload Gomez first.

Arpon Basu said...

I'm going to try to respond to as many of these points as I can:

Topham: Haven't been reading the blog of late, so sorry if I poached an idea that you've been writing about of late. The reason I say to wait for the deadline is because you'll have more teams in the pool because his cap number becomes easier to absorb and you can create a bidding war.

FinnHab: I'm sorry I didn't reply to your e-mail on this subject, but that was largely because I don't have the answer to your question, which is a very valid one. I will try my best to get back to you with something.

Josh: Yes, buying Hamrlik out is an option, but will you have a suitable replacement to eat up those minutes next year? D-men who eat up 24+ minutes don't come cheap.

To anyone who mentioned trading Gomez, you would wind up getting a player with the same cap hit in return, so that player had better be worth it. I don't want people to think I'm giving up on Gomez because I'm not, he can still be a good (not great) first line centre. But his cap number, whether it's through him or another player, is here to stay.

Sliver: Say it ain't so. If I were to choose anyone to not lose faith, it would have been you. But your points are all painfully true.

Kyle: Trading a signed player is not as easy as one might think.

PF: The reason for the post is based on having Gomez here, which you cannot erase. It's a reality, and it needs to be dealt with as such. What happened in July happened, so I'm talking about what to do moving forward, not backward.

I tried, keep the discussion going guys, this is great

kyleroussel said...

There are pros and cons to trading signed players. The pros are that the other team will feel secure knowing that they have that player for X years after the deal. This may prompt them to give up a little more because they won't fear losing him as of July 1st.

The con is that the cap number becomes unpalatable to a number of teams.

Is Plekanec worth more as a tradeable asset at the deadline, and would he create a bidding war? Or would he be worth more in a sign & trade deal? I don't have that answer.

* note that I'm not advocating trading him, but I do think Gainey needs to be prudent and find out what he can potentially get for him.

I also agree that Gainey is not going to get out of his 7+ million cap hit on Gomez. He may be able to move him, but he's taking at least that much salary in return.

I love this discussion, there are so many ways to slice it!

I also like Sliver24's post. All true, and all painful to admit for most Habs fans. To the points of teams being fired up to play here, media scrutiny and UFAs not signing here, I think there are validity to those statements to some degree, but they have been used as convenient crutches far too often by fans who enjoy the mediocrity.

pfhabs said...

Arpon:

-need I remind you that Gomez was already traded once for players not even close to the same cap hit

-Gainey just needs to find someone that thinks like he does. is Gauthier in line for a GM job anywhere :)

-Bob was once able to get rid of that ridiculous Jose Theodore contract of $4.5; $5.5 and $6..so I still hold out hope

-bad signing on cap alone

V said...

Sliver... I think the mediocrity is based on the injuries more than anything else. Trying to accurately evaluate this club right now is premature. And it probably won't get a lot easier for a month or two. And if the only way this team can be considered good is to match up with San Jose and Pittsburg (I don't think we are that far behind Calgary when healthy) then 27 other teams have the same issue.

If we get to the end of the season and we are no further ahead in the standings, I will agree. This year, this team was mediocre. Until then, it's a work in progress which we knew it would be.

Next summer is a long way off in hockey terms - heck, this season just started. Lots of time to deal with the issues in Arpon's post. 25or so games into the season is not the time to start throwing iin the towel and dumping half your roster... that's fantasy league garbage.

Maybe you are just having a bad day.

V said...

"Are we going in the right direction? Yes," Molson said. "Bob Gainey has done an excellent job in rebuilding the team."

This from Molson press conference today. Under the circumstances, it would be unusual for the new owner not to endorse the current management team. But even under circumstances, this is a strong endorsement and well deserved.

I wonder what he sees that some here don't?

V said...

"Are we going in the right direction? Yes," Molson said. "Bob Gainey has done an excellent job in rebuilding the team."

This from the Molson press conference today. Under the circumstances it would be odd if he did not endorse the current management team. And under any circumstances, this is a strong endorsement and well deserved.

Of course he could have said, 'I was over at the Daily Hab-it and saw that we should be dumping Gomez, Hamrlik and Gill and generally running around pulling our hair out and crying in panic like small school children in a three-alarm fire, so that's what we'll do.' But he didn't.

I wonder what he sees that some here refuse to see?

john deere said...

I would prefer to have Lecavalier instead of Gomez as the number one centre and if in a couple of years he doesn't have it any more cut/trade him even if you have to take the cap hit. There are other players that are also in a similar situation, Brian Campbell (D) in Chicago comes to mind.

pfhabs said...

-Vinny for Gomez in terms of hockey skill may be considered an upgrade. the Gomez contract is a killer so why is 10 years of a bigger contract more palitable for a guy who just had 3 major injuries and not as prolific as he once was ? I see the marketing angle but there's a lot to swallow even in a 1-for-1 deal assuming Vinny agreed to come and save the CH.

-we are not that far behind Calgary. really ? I look at the CH roster and wonder is it Hall Gill that equates to Bouwmeester ? perhaps Hamrlik equates to his young protege of days gone by Mr Phaneuf ? I guess Spacek & Mara are the equivalent of Regher ? where's Iginla ?

-Calgary is 11 points ahead in a much tougher conference having scored 17 more goals and given up 13 less. could there be a more less substantiated statement !

-outside of Pittsburgh, San Jose the Canadiens do not match well with Chicago, LA, Washington, New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia just to mention the obvious but there are more. if your goal is to be in the same pool of mediocrity as the rest then your objective has been met and Gainey is Executive of the last for the last 7 years.

-as for the injuries Markov will help but Markov was there last year and they were still a bubble team. I guess Gomez coming back last night really helped out

-Geoff Molson's comments were public and for national consumption. does anyone really think he was going to say anything of substance that was negative. believe me he knows a lot more than some who continually post blue sky polyanna comments

-you know some have vision and can see a fire hazard long before the overload hazard comes to fruition. some need to wait until the last fireman goes home and wonders what happened ? now that is fantasy

-looking forward the signings of July need to be dealt with. upfront Gionta (vastly overpaid; Devils were offering $2.75) is performing quite well and works dilegently all the time; Cammelleri is also doing v well and I guess the $1.5 more he gets in Montreal vs Toronto or Ottawa (offering around $4.5) is a necessary evil of the industry. Gomez would be overpaid at $4.0 million at $7.37 it's a disgraceful lack of management. I do not blame Scott one iota for taking the cash if fools want to offer it...it doesn't make it smart business from a hockey operations perspective and cap management...if the current trends continue what will Plekanec demand if he outpoints Gomez...the internal comparables are woefully out of wack now. beyond the non production of a huge contract (now 3rd year in a row) the comparables within the club will cause immeasurable negotiation issues going forward with all the UFAs and RFAs in the next 2 years. for both reasons I see Gomez having to go

-on defense they are younger, if you choose to include comparisons to Matt Schneider, but less mobile and softer. I would like to see more pop from them and perhaps Calgary would be interested in trading Regher and Sarich and Phaneuf to us given how close the clubs are in quality

V said...

You can't compare us to Calgary right now. The Canadiens don't match up well against a lot of teams right now.

This is not our real team. Full lineups, straight up I think we are fine. Not best in league but fine. Just an opinion.

If the Canadiens had their full team and we compared them to a team that had the injury concerns we have right now, you would be complaining about how unfair the comparison was. Your comparisons in light of the team's injury situation - compounded by the challenges inherent in the reworked lineup - aren't fair and are inaccurate.

And now you claim to know what is 'really' going on in Geoff Molson's mind in direct contradiction to what he publically said yesterday based on nothing more than pure, unadulterated speculation.

Let me propose something... neither of us knows what this team is capable of right now. At least one of us is prepared to admit that. I'm going to stay optimistic until I have more evidence. I hope you stay just the way you are. I'm enjoying it.

pfhabs said...

V

-bring back all the injured players you want...they have been a bubble team for the last 7 years and continue to be so against the elite of the league even with Markov in the line up....no need to accept my opinion accept their playoff results over the last 7 years...those are facts not opinions

-as for Mr Molson read his words carefully-- doubt you see anything referencing a team capable of winning the Cup..if you do pls pass them on

-stay deluded they need someone to buy and consume without question