Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Oh Captain, my Captain?

So, it turns out that Andrei Markov wouldn't be all that averse to serving as the Montreal Canadiens captain after all.

When asked at the team's Brossard training facility today whether or not he would be interested in wearing the "C" in Montreal, Markov surprised everyone when he said, "Nobody’s asked me that. If they ask me that, I’m going to think about it."

Uhh, wait a second. Nobody's asked you? How is that possible? As the team's best player, it's longest-serving player, it's heart and soul and backbone all rolled into one, no one thought to ask Andrei Markov if he would be interested in the Habs captaincy? How can this be?

So, seeing as no asked him, he was asked by us stupid reporters if he would be the least bit interested in taking on the heavy burden of serving as the team's 28th captain, seeing as he would be the most obvious candidate for the job.

"Yeah, I think so," he said. "Obviously it’s a big responsibility. It’s not easy to be a captain in this city."

So am I the only one wondering why exactly Markov wasn't named captain sometime in July, shortly after Saku Koivu officially signed with the Anaheim Ducks? Is there any reason why he wouldn't be considered an appropriate choice? And don't start talking to me about Markov's quiet nature. Joe Sakic was not one known for his gift of gab, either with teammates or reporters, and no one would suggest he was a poor captain because he took care of his leadership responsibilities where it counts - on the ice.

Hell, the GM of the team was a strong silent type, but Bob Gainey's hold on the Canadiens during his time as captain was unquestioned.

And when it comes to dealing with reporters, I can tell you that Markov has embraced that part of the job over the past couple of years. On Wednesday, for instance, the Habs didn't practice and instead held some off ice workouts. The Canadiens PR staff made four players available to the approximately 20 media members on hand: Georges Laraque, Mike Cammalleri, Benoit Pouliot and Markov. Not only did Markov tolerate us, he hung around and welcomed wave after wave of reporters for about 20 minutes.

He's a different breed of athlete when it comes to dealing with the media because he doesn't simply throw out stock answers learned in media school during training camp. He actually thinks about the question posed to him and answers it.

But really, I feel the media responsibilities of the captain are overblown by the media, because we have a tendency to believe we're far more important than we actually are. Just look at what I wrote about Markov's graciousness today. He spent 20 minutes talking to reporters, and that was an eternity. Most of the time, interviews take about five minutes, and you're done. No big deal. Admittedly, I could see how doing that every day might get annoying, but to the point where you would turn down the captaincy of the Montreal Canadiens? I don't think so.

The most important people when it comes to picking a captain are not the members of the media, but rather the members of the team. And in that regard, if Cammalleri is to be believed, Markov's choice as captain would be a slam dunk in the Habs room.

“His leadership capabilities are evident whether or not he has a letter on his chest," said Cammalleri, who might not make such a bad choice himself. "He definitely leads by example and his play is inspiring for anybody on this team.”

Early in the season, it was reported that Markov had turned down the captaincy, something he denied at the time and continues to deny today. I just wanted to make sure I heard him correctly and that he wasn't joking when he said he would be interested in the job, and when given a chance to speak without a thousand microphones in his face, Markov said something that convinced me he is captain material.

"Right now it's not that important to pick a captain," he said. "Right now, what's important is our game. We need to play better and move up the standings."

If that's not captain material, what is?

Though Markov's revelation stole the show on a very quiet day in Brossard today, I was actually there hoping I would get to speak to Tomas Plekanec regarding Gainey's comments on his impending free agency and the ability of the team to sign him. Plekanec, through the Habs PR department, declined the offer to discuss his contract. Still, I managed to write something about his free agent status anyway, which is a skill you learn after a few years on this job. You can read what I wrote here, but what I couldn't write on a mainstream forum was my interpretation of what Gainey told reporters amid the security of downtown Washington D.C. Tuesday night.

When discussing the ability to fit Plekanec under the cap, Gainey had this to say: "We see the cap in terms of hard numbers, but things shift, whether it’s the cap going up or the cap going down, whether it’s a player leaving through a different fashion that opens up space or acquiring a player that closes up space. It’s a shifting target."

Did you see that, or am I the only one? That bit about "leaving through a different fashion" sounded, to my ears at least, like "leaving via buyout." Because let's be honest, Gainey will have to be very creative to find a way to get both Plekanec and Carey Price under contract while filling out the rest of the roster as well.

I don't think it's a stretch at this point to assume that Georges Laraque will fall prey to the buyout hatchet, but who else? If you're guessing Hall Gill, I would say you're guessing wrong because his value as a penalty-kill specialist is pretty valuable. It would have to be someone that could be considered expendable and who makes a significant amount of money, and the one person who fits that bill would be Roman Hamrlik.

With one year left on his contract once this season comes to a close, Hamrlik could actually be traded. But I doubt too many teams out there are seeking a 36-year-old defenceman, no matter how capable, making $5.5 million. If he were to be bought out, it would knock roughly $3.7 million off of Montreal's cap figure for next year, which wouldn't cover all of Plekanec's contract but probably enough to make sure both he and Price would fit.

Question is, what will the Habs blue line look like without Hamrlik there? Probably a lot better than the front line would without Plekanec.


Olivier said...

My guess is Hamrlik is pretty tradable. Take the Islanders. As of today, they have 31 millions commited to payroll in 10-11. They have 2 goalies, 5 Ds and 6 Forwards under contract, plus 6 other forwards as RFA who among themselves make a bit over 3 millions. Say they sign them all for 6 millions, that leave them what, 4, 6 millions *under* the floor?

If if he has a front-loaded contract, a useful but old guy can be even easier to move to a low-salary team *cough*Gomez*cough*.

We'll see.

Anvilcloud said...

Hammer would be a big loss, but there's a lineup down on the farm. Room has to be made pretty darn soon.

V said...

With three good prospects in Hamilton, moving Hamrlik makes sense and timing will be key factor. None of the prospects can fully replace what Hamrlik brings to the team, so moving him will open a hole regardless of who tries to fill it.

If the team pulls together and starts winning, expect Hamrlik to go after the season - if it doesn't, expect him to go at the trade deadline or before.

Paul said...

While some contracts seem "immovable", teams struggling to meet the cap "floor" are often good places to move them (as noted above). I think Gomez is movable in the last two seasons of his contract for that reason (he's especially attractive as his cap hit is significantly higher than his salary in years 6 and 7 of his contract). Hamrlik, so far, has shown that he's far from finished, even if he's not "elite" and I'm sure he'd be attractive to some teams looking for a veteran presence for a year (or a year and a bit) to stabilize a young D-corps. Nashville could be a conceivable destination, for example.

I've not given up on Gomez (though I'd not be heartbroken if he were traded) nor do I want to see Hamrlik leave anytime soon. However, if the options are keep Hamrlik (the most immediately tradable player with big money) and sacrifice Plekanecs and/or Price--sorry, Roman, it's time to go (even if my wife thinks you're the best looking hockey player she's seen, LOL).

I guess, though, the only way the Habs can keep Plekanecs, Price, AK and Markov over the next few years is to play the VERY long contract game that others have done (though I loathe such an approach in sports, at least if contracts are guaranteed). It will be interesting to see how Bob (or his successor) manages all this.

Anonymous said...

I think that Hamrlik could be expendable, given the progress of PK Suban in Hamilton. PK should be in a position to hold down a full time job on the Habs' blue line next season. It's nice to see at least one draft pick coming along nicely.

john deere said...

To me, it depends on what Hamrlik wants to do next season.

If he wants to play in the NHL wouldn't it be better, if he can't be traded to put him on waivers and then if no one picks him up then put him on recall waivers (for 50% of his salary). If no one in the NHL claims him then buy him out.

If he doesn't want to play then let him retire.

Is this feasible or is my understanding of the waiver rules still wrong? Sure 50% leaves us with less cap space but it seems to me like the better option for both parties.

Arpon Basu said...

Actually, the best outcome for both parties would be the buyout. The Habs would get that much more room under the cap, and Hamrlik would be free to choose his next team while still being paid by the Habs. I don't know if you saw Sean Avery's quote after lighting up his former team last night, when asked what was different about that game, "I was being paid by both teams." Besides, there's a pretty short window in June and July where teams can buy players out, so the Canadiens would have to move on this rather quickly after the playoffs finish.

Olivier said...

Didn't knew the Buyout implied a 1.8mil cap hit over two years, I tought it was 2.75 over two years. So they are allowed to buy his last year of contract at 2/3 of the total value? Wow...

So basically, you hamper 2011-2012 by 2.3 millions, but if you buy out both Laraque and Hamrlik, you go up to 4.8 millions less under the cap for 2010-2011.

Gary said...

Red Fisher said that Brian Gionta of our Canadiens should be the team's next captain. Many in the media, (meaning those who have complete and full access) agree. So until someone proves Red (and the others) wrong, Brian gets my vote.

john deere said...

I see what you're getting at. The buyout can only happen for a few weeks at the completion of the season (I didn't know that, thanks).

What happened to Avery was what I was talking about, the Rangers picked him up for 50% of his salary (The Stars pay the other 50%) off of recall waivers. Avery's situation was a bit different because of the mental health treatment aspect.

Even for a buyout I think you have to put the player on waivers first and he has to clear before the buyout can happen.

Olivier, my understanding is for the buyout it would be for two-thirds of his salary spread out over two years - one third each season.

Arpon Basu said...

Indeed, it is two thirds of the remaining salary for twice as many years that are left on the contract. So, for instance, if Spacek were to be bought out, it would be two thirds of his remaining two years of salary spread out over four years. But since Hamrlik will only have a year left on his deal, it would be two years.