Thursday, January 28, 2010

Deadline decisions will be easy for Gainey

I will try my hardest not to over-react to the Canadiens horrendous showing over the past two games in sunny Florida.

OK, I tried, but I can't. I'm going to over-react my heart out.

Why? Because as I've stated previously, the Habs schedule from here until the Olympic break is treacherous. Because the Canadiens rivals for one of the bottom three Eastern Conference playoff berths all hold games in hand. Because this team has consistently shown that it is maddeningly inconsistent. Because losing a game when you give your best effort is one thing, but laying down in consecutive important games is an indicator of a far greater malaise than I think any Habs fan is willing to admit.

Well I, for one, am going to admit it. And I'm not going to pull out any excuses for it either. Believe it or not, the lack of an identified captain is not to blame for the Canadiens performance.

Neither is a supposed post-game locker room spat, because as Francois Gagnon of La Presse points out in his excellent blog post about the reported Andrei Markov-Carey Price showdown last week, the Habs won the next two games pretty convincingly. Furthermore, stuff like that happens all the time.

And finally, the back-and-forth debate over Jaroslav Halak and Price is not to blame either. How can goaltending be an issue when the team scores one goal in two games, and not one at even strength?

No, the issues this team face are rooted in other areas. Jacques Martin's coaching has become an issue of late, and that's normal when a supposed puck possession system remains in place even though the players are incapable of getting the puck. Or holding the puck. Or making a pass.

Scott Gomez alluded last night to a need to change the game plan, and then quickly absolved the coaching staff of blame. Well, it was too late by then. If a player ever - and I mean ever - says the words "game" and "plan" together in a sentence, it generally means the coach is cooked. I don't believe that to be the case here, but it's definitely not a good sign.

So, what to make of this horrible stretch of two games? I guess about the same importance I gave the previous two games. Never get too high and never get too low, athletes like to say. Except that the timing right now unfortunately does not allow for such rational level-headedness.

The Habs have eight games left before the Olympic break and, more importantly, the Olympic trade freeze of Feb. 12 at midnight. While some people appear to think that the freeze will serve as some sort of mini trade deadline, I believe it will have the opposite affect. Why would a team trade for a player on Feb. 12 when they can do it when the freeze lifts on Feb 28, thereby saving 16 days of that player's salary? For a $2 million a year player, that's a savings of just over $165,000 in salary. Also, if that player is going to play in the Olympics, why would you acquire him before the tournament?

Anyhow, my point here is that the March 3 trade deadline is only three days after the Olympic trade freeze is lifted, which means the Canadiens only have nine games left before that date. Normally, this is about the time where teams make their final decisions if they will be buyers or sellers, where they try to objectively determine if their team has a chance to make the playoffs, where the character and soul of a team is under constant evaluation.

If you were the ones in charge of that evaluation, what would you think of your team right now? Not only based on the past two games, but the entire season, or even just the month of January? I'm not sure I would be looking for ways to load up for a playoff run right about now, and if that's the direction Bob Gainey wants to go he needs to consider looking at which pieces he wants to move.

Obviously, there are the goalies to consider. Matthias Brunet of La Presse has a piece on Price which asks fans to be patient because 22-year-old goalies rarely have any success, which is something I've been preaching for quite some time. But, does hanging on to Price necessarily mean that Jaroslav Halak must go at the deadline? No, not necessarily. If a team comes calling looking to grab Halak and offers an actual roster player of some use to the Canadiens, then Gainey should jump on it. Otherwise, as a restricted free agent, Halak would still have a lot of value as a trade chip at the draft.

As far as the skaters are concerned, I would not be the least bit surprised to learn that Gainey has been offering up Paul Mara around to the good teams in the league looking for some depth on defence. Mara is a cheap option as he will only have a little under $350,000 left on his salary for the year, and he's an unrestricted free agent next year. If Gainey were willing to take a mid-round draft pick for him, I have no doubt he could find Mara a new home.

The only other UFAs on the team are Marc-Andre Bergeron, Glen Metropolit and Tomas Plekanec. I have to believe that Gainey will attempt to sign Plekanec after the season, or he might even be trying to do it as we speak, but I still think he should listen to offers at the deadline if enough teams are calling to inquire about his availability. If Gainey can create an auction situation surrounding Plekanec, the return could be quite significant simply because after Ilya Kovalchuk, he would be the most attractive forward available. Ultimately, though, I believe Gainey will hang on to him and try to sign him long-term.

Both Bergeron and Metropolit could be moved with little in the way of return, so why bother?.

But the big challenge for Gainey would be to find a taker for Roman Hamrlik, who has one year remaining at $5.5 million. For this season, there would be just over $1.1 million of Hamrlik's salary left to be paid. I don't think there's a team out there that would be willing to take on that kind of salary, but anyone who has seen him play in the playoffs knows he is a valuable cog. So perhaps Gainey can use that to persuade someone out there to give him a little bit of cap relief.

Looking over the Habs roster, those are the only potential "seller" moves I see. Which means Gainey might be best served just hanging on to his players and letting the chips fall where they may.

In the event Gainey wanted to be a buyer, that possibility was dealt a serious blow when Georges Laraque's potential transfer to AIK Stockholm was nixed, either by the NHL or by Laraque himself. Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet is reporting that the NHL stepped in and blocked the deal from happening because of Laraque's no-trade clause, which makes little to no sense. What I think happened is that Laraque refused to lift his no movement clause and go through waivers, and the NHL said if he doesn't do that then he can't play in Sweden.

In any case, that means the $575,000 Laraque has left on his salary will remain on Montreal's cap, and that's significant because having that much room on deadline day would allow you to acquire a player that makes about $2.7 million for the year.

As it is right now, the Canadiens are only carrying the minimum 20 players because their cap situation is so tight. That's why they only used 19 skaters last night in Tampa when Jaroslav Spacek came down with the flu. With the team this squeezed against the cap, I find it hard to believe Gainey would be able to acquire anything of significance to help the team this year.

So, barring an unforeseen move, I would imagine Gainey will be pretty inactive at the trade deadline for a second year in a row. But when you're neither good enough to buy or bad enough to sell, that shouldn't come as a huge surprise.

16 comments:

Mr Trivia said...

good post.

mara will probably, hopefully, be moved by march 3rd. i've been hoping to move hammer for awhile now too and if we can do it on deadline day, fantastic. we might have to wait until the summer, however, when absorbing the year left on his contract is easier for teams.

unless we tank by the deadline, i too doubt we'd move bergeron or metro.

i've got a feeling that something is coming, and before the olympic freeze. don't know why, just call it a hunch.

i'm envisioning more activity come june. if we can unload hamrlik, we can resign who we need to resign and go after a solid 20 goal scorer or maybe even better, a cheap, hard-hitting agitator.

Chris Nadeau said...

Nice analysis! I agree, please move Mara and Mr. Gainey is known for early deals when the deadline is looming. You might see that again this year, before the Olympic break.

What seems to bother me more then anything else, is the team seems disinterested some nights. That to me always comes back to the environment they are surrounded with. Is that coaching? Well most of the times yes. How can a team look like that only 53 games in with a new coach and players?

Why can't Montreal bring in a coach with some spunk? Think about the last few coaches...Martin, Gainey, Carbo, Gainey, Julien. All seem like nice guys, but are they really going to make you want to go out there crash and bang night in and night out.

Just my two cents worth, which is not much.

Anonymous said...

Arpon,
Not really sure how the cap works, but don't we get some cap relief from the injuries the habs have suffered this year

Mr Trivia said...

Chris - I agree... something seems stale with our brand new team...

I thought Martin was a solid choice. Gainey was pushed into a corner to choose 1)a coach with experience and 2)a coach who could speak French

he went out and got JM who speaks fluent French and is the tenth most winningest coach in NHL history.

seemed great at the time.

now its seems JM hasn't adapted to the "new" nhl, nor has he adapted to the team and the players he has at his disposal. JM is trying to implement an outdated system with players who would fit better in an uptempo, less conservative approach.

say, mr guy boucher?

or at least that's what i think.

Sliver24 said...

So, let's summarize:

-The Habs are unlikely to make the playoffs. Even if they do manage to squeeze in it will almost certainly be a one-and-done scenario. Again.

-They're so tight against the cap that they're counting their available room on a man-game basis.

-There's are constant issues with players (Laraque this season, Kovalev last year and the year before) that seem to be very oddly handled by management.

-Their most important offensive player is a UFA at season's end. Their supposed franchise player will be an RFA. They may not be able to afford to keep one or both of them because of the commitments made last July.

- The much-touted prospects the team has been waiting for over the last few years are almost all complete flops at the NHL level.

-The coach, who is signed to an expensive long-term contract, has a system that doesn't match his roster and is already being tuned out in the room.

For the first time ever I'm thinking that Gainey needs to be fired. Unless you disagree with at least half of the statements listed above, how could you argue otherwise?

He's been here long enough to have shaped every single facet of the organization to match his vision and he's simply not getting results.

As far as I'm concerned Gainey should be replaced on the last day before the Olympic break in order to give his replacement a two week head start on preparing for the three day trading frenzy in March. He'll then have the rest of the season to begin implementing his vision for the future.

That replacement should also be given the authority to replace Martin in the off season should he so choose.

I don't know about you but I'm tired of investing so much emotional capital in a loser every season. Following sports is supposed to be fun. When you're starting to measure losing in decades, it's anything but.

Bram said...

GREAT summary, Silver24. My sentiments exactly. I love Bob Gainey and I am really sorry to have come to the conclusion that he needs to go. I will never forget how much hope he delivered when he came in... really, who didn't think we'd have the Cup back here within five years? I hope Geoff Molson has the cojones needed to bring in an aggressive GM, a tough coach who won't worry about hurt feelings more than he cares about winning... and let's get on with the rebuilding... again. I, too, am getting really tired of the horrid teams we keep fielding. For someone who attended every Cup parade from 1971 - 1993, this is really nauseating already.

kyleroussel said...

There's not much that I can add to this debate.

I initially thought Martin was a good choice, but by game #25 I was certain that I was wrong. At game 55, I'm even more certain.

It is time for Bob Gainey to go. I have so much admiration for him. But there's an odour coming from the 7th floor of the Bell Center now. Being in year 7 of a 5 year plan and having very little to show for it is long enough.

He's on his 2nd hand-picked coach, and though he was essentially forced in to this selection, he has to bear responsibility for it.

It's obvious that this team has a lot of problems, the foremost of which are the coach's system, and the players he has to work with.

We would have come to this conclusion a lot sooner if the goaltending had not stolen so many games early on. Look at games 1 and 2. Price utterly robbed Toronto and Buffalo of points. The Canadiens went on to lose the next 5 games on the road, and should have started the season with a sparkling 0-7 record. That would have certainly turned heads and get things moving.

Now the Molsons were reported to be at the Panthers and Lightning games. Why? Certainly not to take in some sun, though that may have been part of it. As you mention Arpon, now is the time that teams are evaluating what they're made of; if they are going to be buyers or sellers. I am convinced that they are getting a handle on things for themselves because they don't want to let Gainey pull any more triggers. Or at least not without their approval.

Tahir said...

I Think Gainey should Go. He's a Good Guy but lately his mind is messed up. I lost respect for him when he back stabbed and let Carbo Go. Under Carbo's regime we were #1 in the Eastern Conference division and really a strong team, now it seems the Wheels have Fallen Off with great players like Chris Higgins, and Alex Kovalev not salvaged, I don't know where's Gaineys head and his brain is cooked.
Being an Ex Montrealer, I have been a Habs fan since 1976 ever since I came here from East Africa and that Loyalty to the Habs Team will NEVER change, no matter what.
Leafs Suck!!!!
Go Habs Go
Thank You
Mr T.

leo said...

the Habs have no forecheck.they can't keep the puck in the offensive zone after thei initial rush.they need a couple power forwards to compliment the smaller skill players:#'s 13,14,21,@91.

MathMan said...

Fun fact about the Habs: right now, before tonight's games, they're a lottery team.

Assuming that everyone in the NHL finishes the season on the same point pace (so we factor out games in hand), then the Habs finish in 26th place. That gives them an 8% shot at Taylor Hall. Still despite this, they have a shot at the playoffs because of how inept the East is -- some team is going to make the playoffs with 86 points this year.

I guess that makes Montreal a seller, but they don't really have much to sell unless it's Plekanec. So yes, inasmuch as a coaching change is premature, the best approach at this point is stand pat, go for the draft pick, and try to do better next year. If they can add a budding gamebreaker to their roster and solve their coaching issues (one way or the other), they're golden.

@kyleroussel: I actually thought the Habs were a better team earlier in the season, when they were dominating puck possession and outchancing teams, but were done in by bad shooting luck and erratic goaltending. I was actually encouraged that they were headed in the right direction back then. But now that the Martin system has set in, they've become a bad team whose flaws are papered over by incredible goaltending. While the records are superficially similar, those are two very different kinds of .500 teams.

john deere said...

It's time to go for the lottery pick. If we don't get Hall (other teams are more deserving) we should at least get a mobile defenseman.

We have an advantage over most of the other teams at the bottom in that we have players that teams will trade picks or prospects for.

MathMan said...

On Gomez's comment: players aren't stupid. If there is a problem with the system and we can see it, so can they. I can't imagine playing in a system you don't believe in is the most motivating thing in the world. I hadn't read quite as much into Gomez's slip-up as you had, Arpon, but I can't imagine there aren't some players who are very unhappy with the way the coach has them playing. I'd be curious to find out how much buy-in Martin really has.

Arpon Basu said...

It's entirely possible that Gainey will be gone at the end of the season, especially if the Habs finish near the bottom of the standings. Honestly, that would be the best possible result for this season, to land a top-five draft pick. But, the reality of the standings as MathMan clearly pointed out is that the Habs are a 4-game winning streak away from being solidly positioned for a playoff spot. That's what makes the coming deadline problematic for the organization, because they have to believe that anything is possible in the playoffs, even if it isn't true.

Anonymous said...

I'm still hoping Gainey won't be there at the trade deadline.

LeMatheux said...

Arpon: As you point out, though, they don't have much room to buy and much assets to sell. I think Gainey will stand pat, and get blasted for it by miracle-hungry fans and TSN pundits who want more action for their big trade dealine media bash even though it's probably the right thing to do.

As for getting that top-5 pick, I think the Habs are quite capable of sucking their way into it, especially if that Gomez's comment is a sign that they've started to tune out the coach and his game plans.

pfhabs said...

Gentlemen:

-it's finally nice to have some company...my many bruises absorbed on this blog since last July haven't all healed but I guess I wasn't as crazy as first thought

-welcome aboard Sliver 24 !

-seven years of bubble status is not the kind of stuff to add to such a rich pedigree of this club. Bob the exceptional captain did not translate well to the boardroom in a cap era

-post Ottawa game on Hockey day and Cammalerri reported to have MCL issues after an awkward fall at boards