Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Happy birthday to me!

It's been exactly one year since I decided to start spewing out my stream-of-consciousness idiocies on the Habs, wondering if anyone would really care.
Well, 355 posts later I'm still at it, and I wanted to thank all of you who take the time to drop by here for a daily dose of Obssessive Compulsive Habs analysis.
Even though I've totally slacked off on the blog this summer, I wanted to assure all of you that it was only to rest up for the upcoming season, when I hope to make The Daily Hab-it even better (assuming, of course, you found it good to begin with).
Thanks again everyone for giving me a reason to keep on keeping on.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The powers of perception

We're coming up on that time of year when most of the major hockey publications will be coming out with their previews and predictions for the 2009-10 season, and one thing Habs fans will be hearing and reading a lot of is how this team is way too small up front to be very competitive.

When your three splashy forward acquisitions of the summer are all under six feet tall, it's a pretty easy analysis to make. But is it an accurate one for the team as a whole?

I figured I should check it out, so I decided to compare the average height and weight of the projected Habs forwards and defence to those of their division rivals, seeing as over a quarter of the season will be played against those four teams.

The word "projected" is an important one, because these numbers reflect my own personal idea of what the Habs, Leafs, Sabres, Bruins and Sens rosters will look like. But even if a player or two is changed on each team, I think the numbers will still hold true.

For instance, on the Habs roster I decided to leave Georges Laraque out because it would be a stunner to me if he showed up at training camp healthy, and I put Gregory Stewart in his place. But I also left out Matt D'Agostini for Max Pacioretty, because I believe his combination of size and skill will be an advantage for him in camp.

So, here's what I came up with (heights and weights rounded off):

Forwards - 6-foot, 202 pounds
Defence - 6-foot-2, 214 pounds
Total - 6-foot-1, 206 pounds

Forwards - 6-foot-1, 201 pounds
Defence - 6-foot-2, 211 pounds
Total - 6-foot-1, 200 pounds

Forwards - 6-foot-1, 202 pounds
Defence - 6-foot-1, 205 pounds
Total - 6-foot-1, 203 pounds

Forwards - 6-foot-2, 213 pounds
Defence - 6-foot-2, 214 pounds
Total - 6-foot-2, 213 pounds

Forwards - 6-foot-1, 201 pounds
Defence - 6-foot-2, 214 pounds
Total - 6-foot-1, 205 pounds

OK, raise your hand if you thought the Sens were the biggest team in the division? Give yourself a pat on the back if you did, because I found that surprising.

But the most telling part of this is that the Canadiens forwards, widely panned around the league as being far too small, are just about as big on average as the forwards on the Leafs, Bruins and Sabres.

If you're curious, adding Georges Laraque to the lineup and taking out Gregory Stewart leaves the average height of the forwards the same but brings the average weight to 206 pounds.

So while I understand what a lot of people have been saying about the new look Habs - particularly Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta - I think the size of the other forwards compensates, not to mention the fact that both Cammalleri and Gionta have reputations for playing bigger than their size.

You can count the number of big, skilled forwards in the league on two hands, so not every team can have a Ryan Getzlaf or Vincent Lecavalier, and there definitely isn't one available every summer on the free agent market.

The only team in the division that has someone that fits that description is Ottawa with Dany Heatley and Alex Kovalev, and I don't think either of those guys really qualify as power forwards.

This is obviously not an airtight analysis, but I think it does give a pretty general idea as to how the Canadiens measure up in the muscle department with their main rivals. So the next time someone tells you how the Habs forwards will get crushed whenever they enter the Leafs zone, you can point out the Montreal defence is just as big and the Leafs forwards are just as small.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Saying all the right things

New Hab Scott Gomez was talking to reporters today at Maxim Lapierre's golf tournament, and either he's already graduated from the Canadiens media department's school of PR, or he really has a grasp on the types of things you need to say to be loved in Montreal.

When he tells reporters he's taking French lessons and has already been in town a couple of weeks so he can get settled in, fans have to be excited. At the very least, it makes it appear like Gomez genuinely wants this marriage to work after his sojourn in the Big Apple went so sour, so quickly.

He wasn't blind to the constant questioning Saku Koivu received on why he refuses to speak to reporters in French, in fact the whole league knew what Koivu went through here at least once per season. The only thing is now that he's let it out that he's taking French lessons, it won't be very long - say, November? - until he starts getting asked by the Francophone media for sound bites in the language of the majority in Quebec.

Tom Kostopoulos made the mistake of letting it slip that he spoke a bit of French at the team's golf tournament when he first arrived in Montreal, and he was asked to analyze games in French immediately until it became painfully clear to everyone that he was not in a position to do so.

That's exactly why Koivu - who did, in fact, speak some very basic French - didn't want to address the media in his fourth language, because he didn't want to inadvertently say something stupid that would touch off a firestorm. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if the Canadiens media crew told him to steer clear of French interviews until he was certain he had a firm grasp of the language, which was something he never had.

So Gomez has now put himself into a position where he's going to have to back up what he's saying, especially when he cites Larry Robinson as his inspiration for plunging into French lessons. But Robinson also surely told him that all the people want here is to see some effort, and if Gomez can do that he'll become an instant fan favourite.

Gomez also has to know that the reason why he quickly became so despised by Ranger nation will still apply here, that is the massive chuck of salary cap space he's taking up. When you alone represent about 13 per cent of the team's cap room, you had better be productive, and if you're not you're going to hear about it.

But if you can explain yourself in French, it may take some of the sting off a four-game pointless streak.

Whether it's good PR or a sincere desire to fully integrate himself into the culture is irrelevant.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The picture gets a little clearer

Gregory Stewart signing a one-year deal for $500,000 makes the Canadiens cap picture a little clearer, even though it's still murky because we don't know who will make up the 23-man roster once the season starts.

As things stand right now, assuming Ryan O'Byrne makes the team as a seventh defenceman, the Canadiens have just over $1.1 million in cap room with only Matt D'Agostini left to sign. Considering D'Agostini was making $508,000 last year, it would be surprising to see him get a contract worth any more than $600,000 for the upcoming season, if that.

So, for all intents and purposes, the Habs are working with about $500,000 in wiggle room for the upcoming season, perhaps even less than that if Max Pacioretty makes the big club and someone like Kyle Chipchura doesn't. That's not a whole lot of space when names like Alex Frolov and Patrick Marleau are flying around in trade rumours.

But where it gets complicated is the performance bonus cushion. This has been referred to here many times over the past little while, and I suddenly realized I didn't fully comprehend what the consequences of that cushion were. So I decided to refer to my favourite document and yours, the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The Habs have $1.615 million in potential performance bonuses on the roster this year, most of which is accounted for by Carey Price's $1.35 million bonus package. The CBA would allow the Canadiens to exceed the cap by that amount if they so chose, but that decision is one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

If GM Bob Gainey decides to use this loophole in the CBA to further bolster his club, it will come at the expense of the following season in a very dangerous way. Essentially, whatever the Canadiens spend over the cap this year would be dropped from their cap number in 2010-11.

If fans thought this summer was eventful, next summer may not be so peaceful either.

Price's entry level deal will be up and as an RFA he'll likely be looking at the contracts signed by guys like Dion Phaneuf (6 years, $39 million), Paul Stastny (5 years, $33 million), Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf (5 years, $26.625 million) and others who cashed in on their second NHL deal.

In addition, Tomas Plekanec will be an unrestricted free agent, Guillaume Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre will be arbitration eligible, while Sergei Kostitsyn will be a restricted free agent as well.

Add in the fact that there's the very real potential for a drop in the $56.8 million salary cap and it makes it a pretty ugly picture for Gainey, who has already committed nearly $44 million to 12 players for 2010-11.

So, when looked at in this light, would it be wise for Gainey to use that bonus cushion and make a trade now even though it's not likely to push his team over the top? Or would it be better to save that cap space for next season, when he - or whoever is GM of the team next summer - will have some more important decisions to make?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

That didn't take long

Courtesy of the guys over at comes a shot of Scott Gomez enjoying some drinks with Mad Max Lapierre during a recent visit to Montreal.

I'm not sure where it is, but anyone who watched the TV series about Mathieu Dandenault's wife re-modelling Lapierre's bachelor pad in Brossard may be able to recognize the background here.

Let the "too much partying, not enough focus" rumours start flying.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Are there any good free agent contracts?

There's been no end to the griping since July 1 about some of the contracts Habs GM Bob Gainey handed out, and it appears most of the negative press has been aimed at Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri.

Throw in the acquisition of the Scott Gomez contract, and there are more than a few out there who believe Gainey has gone completely bonkers.

I'm not one to argue, but if you want to think Gainey has lost his marbles, then it should be because of his plan to have so many key players hit unrestricted free agency at the same time, and not necessarily the contracts he either acquired or signed to replace those departed components.

There's a reason why everyone in hockey not named Glen Sather knows that a team is not built through free agency or trades, but rather by good drafting and development. The free agent market is supposed to be used to plug holes, or add that one final piece to a near-completed puzzle. It is not the ideal way to completely rebuild a team, as Gainey has done here.

The primary reason for that? The unrestricted free agent market almost always leads to buyer remorse, the only question is how long will it be before that sets in.

Gomez signed his gargantuan seven-year, $51.5 million deal with Sather's Rangers two years ago, and he's already been shipped out of town. Paul Holmgren in Philadelphia would love to do the same with Daniel Brière, but he'd have to find a pretty desperate man to take that contract off his hands, like Sather did.

So, just how bad are these supposedly horrible deals for Cammalleri and Gionta? To figure that out, they need to be looked at in context.

I pulled up the 15 richest contracts signed by UFA forwards who switched teams since the summer of 2006, because players generally give their own team a bit of a discount when they re-sign. Then, I averaged out their stats from the three years prior to signing that contract on a per game basis so as not to unduly penalize an injury-plagued season, but also added the average number of games they played over those three seasons. The final factor was their age when they signed.

Here's what it looks like, in descending order of $$ value:

Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers, 2009
27 years old
$7.5 million x 5 years
47.3 GP, .646 GPG, .56 APG, 1.206 PPG

Scott Gomez, New York Rangers, 2007
27 years old
$7.357 million X 7 years
78 GP, .253 GPG, .657 APG, .910 PPG

Chris Drury, New York Rangers, 2007
30 years old
$7.05 million X 5 years
78 GP, .363 GPG, .447 APG, .810 PPG

Daniel Brière, Philadelphia Flyers, 2007
29 years old
$6.5 million X 8 years
70.3 GP, .420 GPG, .640 APG, 1.06 PPG

Ryan Smyth, Colorado Avalanche, 2007
31 years old
$6.25 million X 5 years
76 GP, .423 GPG, .430 APG, .853 PPG

Mike Cammalleri, Montreal Canadiens, 2009
27 years old
$6 million X 5 years
75 GP, .400 GPG, .513 APG, .913 PPG

Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks, 2009
30 years old
$5.233 million X 12 years
76 GP, .487 GPG, .543 APG, 1.03 PPG

Brian Rolston, New Jersey Devils, 2008
35 years old
$5.062 million X 4 years
80.3 GP, .397 GPG, .440 APG, .837 PPG

Martin Havlat, Minnesota Wild, 2009
28 years old
$5 million X 6 years
57.3 GP, .367 GPG, .550 APG, .917 PPG

Brian Gionta, Montreal Canadiens, 2009
30 years old
$5 million X 5 years
75 GP, .307 GPG, .397 APG, .704 PPG

Marc Savard, Boston Bruins, 2006
29 years old
$5 million X 4 years
64.7 GP, .337 GPG, .687 APG, 1.024 PPG

Alex Kovalev, Ottawa Senators, 2009
36 years old
$5 million X 2 years
77.7 GP, .337 GPG, .500 APG, .837 PPG

Kristian Huselius, Columbus Blue Jackets, 2008
29 years old
$4.75 million X 4 years
80 GP, .330 GPG, .463 APG, .793 PPG

Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay Lightning, 2008
29 years old
$4.5 million X 7 years
72.7 GP, .297 GPG, .277 APG, .574 PPG

Jason Arnott, Nashville Predators, 2006
31 years old
$4.5 million X 5 years
75.3 GP, .230 GPG, .453 APG, .683 PPG

The first thing that jumped out to me, after laughing over the fact the Rangers had the top three players on the list, is how the overwhelming majority of these contracts are now headaches for their respective teams. Two of the top five players here (Gomez and Smyth) were traded this summer, and Holmgren would love to shed Brière's contract and I have no doubt Sather would jump at moving Drury in spite of the intangibles he brings to the table.

I would say there are only two contracts on the list, aside from those signed this summer, that represent good value - Savard and Arnott. But both of those were signed under a far lower salary cap than we have today, one that doesn't look like it will continue skyrocketing, at least not at the same pace.

But, if you accept this as the reality of the UFA market, I would have to say that Cammalleri's contract is just about where it should be based on his consistent level of production over the past three seasons, his durability and his age. That's not to say it won't turn out to be a millstone, but his deal is a product of the system, so it should be judged that way.

Gionta, on the other hand, appears to be grossly overpaid based on his production. Of the 15 players on the list, only Arnott and Malone were less productive going into their new contracts than Gionta has been over the past three seasons. Except Arnott and Malone are at the bottom of the list, and Gionta's closer to the middle.

I realize that Gainey was trying to reunite him with Gomez in the hopes they could recapture the magic of 2005-06, when they both put up career years, but that shouldn't be a factor in how much Gionta gets paid.

With Gionta's steady decline in production in the three seasons since then, you would have to believe Gainey could have saved a pretty significant amount of money in signing Gionta, say $1 million per season or so.

Considering how tight the Habs are with the salary cap this season, that $1 million would come in pretty handy right about now.

Don't believe the hype

The idea of a three-way deal between the Habs, Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks has been swirling for a while on the Internet, but there are lots of things that get mentioned on NHL rumour sites that never see the light of day in the mainstream press.

There's a good reason for that, because the standard of truth is a little higher at a newspaper than it is in the blogosphere, even if those rumours published online may be just as credible as anything written by a "journalist."

So, when the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch decided to run with this rumour and publish a story Sunday that the Habs could indeed serve as a facilitator to get Dany Heatley to San Jose, it tends to get a little more attention.

But to be honest, I don't know if I believe this story any more now than I did when I first read it online.

First of all, as Garrioch points out in his story, all three teams involved in this rumour are up against the salary cap. So, in theory, for any trade to go down the salaries involved will have to more or less match. That's difficult enough for two teams to do, let alone three, so if this were to happen it would have to be an NBA-style blockbuster involving 10 or 12 players changing addresses.

If Heatley and his $7.5 million cap hit wind up in San Jose, what ends up in Ottawa or Montreal? Well, Patrick Marleau's $6.3 million cap hit would make a match easier, but it appears likelier that Marleau would be headed for Montreal than Ottawa. Except the Habs don't really have a big contract to move unless Bob Gainey is thinking about dealing one of the players he acquired this summer. I suppose he could convince someone to take Roman Hamrlik and his $5.5 million salary, but I highly doubt it.

Meanwhile, a bunch of people online are giving credence to this report that the Habs are interested in acquiring Alex Frolov from the Kings to reunite him with Mike Cammalleri. This, admittedly, appears to be a lot more likely than the aforementioned threeway trade.

Frolov has a very affordable $2.9 million cap hit (though he'll make $4 million this season) but is an unrestricted free agent next summer. That, in theory, should lessen his trade value somewhat, but I have to believe Kings GM Dean Lombardi feels his team could make the playoffs this year and I don't think he'd be willing to deprive his team of Frolov's talents for nothing.

Jaroslav Halak, in my eyes, should be a pretty interesting player to Lombardi because his goaltending situation is extremely murky, with one of Jonathan Quick, Erik Ersberg or perhaps Jonathan Bernier in line to start between the pipes this season.

Rumours, it should be said, could not be any less reliable, especially when it comes to Gainey. Not a single deal he was rumoured to be discussing has ever come to fruition, and basically every deal he's closed came out of nowhere.

But, where there's smoke there's usually fire, so it's pretty likely Gainey is indeed working the phones in a further effort to further re-shape his team. I just don't think we'll hear about it until it actually happens.