Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Breathe deeply people

Tomas Plekanec caused a fair amount of panic in Habsland recently, and he probably had no idea he was doing it either.

First came his early departure from Monday's practice and the subsequent call-up of Ben Maxwell later that afternoon. Speculation ran rampant on Twitter the rest of the day and into the night as to what could possibly be wrong with him. That kind of hysteria is pretty justified, however, because if anything could put a crink in the Habs mojo these days, losing Plekanec would definitely do that.

But he was the first player on the ice at the Habs morning skate the next day, as is his habit, and all was well in Habsland again.

Until, that is, an RDS news item that Plekanec and the Canadiens will not negotiate until the end of the season caused an even greater panic later that afternoon, even though ESPN's Pierre LeBrun had reported exactly the same thing two days earlier.

This sent some people off the rails, thinking it meant the Canadiens would lose yet another player that they developed to the evils of free agency (an avenue the Habs have used to acquire nine members of the current team).

Why people jumped to this conclusion, I'm not so sure, because both reports stated that the talks were going well, with agent Rick Curran using the term "positive" in both reports. This just isn't the time of year to be talking contract. TSN's Darren Dreger later reported that it would be difficult for the Canadiens to negotiate without first knowing what next year's cap figure will be, while also mentioning he believes an agreement will eventually be reached. 

If the Canadiens make the Stanley Cup final and it goes to seven games, the last possible day they will be playing would be June 18, which would still allow 12 days to negotiate a new contract. That's more than enough time. Of course, I think we all know they will likely have far more time than that (because the Habs would sweep the Cup final, of course).

It's possible that both sides might have thought something would get done over the Olympic break, and then at the GM's meetings in Florida where Pierre Gauthier and Curran met for several hours. But I think it's the financial uncertainty that Dreger mentioned that hindered that outcome, because even though Gauthier doesn't believe the Canadiens cap situation is a tenuous one, it really is.

So let's just recap where the Canadiens are when it comes to July 1. In addition to Plekanec, Glen Metropolit, Dominic Moore, Mathieu Darche, Paul Mara and Marc-Andre Bergeron are all going to be unrestricted free agents. Among the restricted free agents we have Carey Price, Jaroslav Halak, Benoit Pouliot, Sergei Kostitsyn, Maxim Lapierre, Tom Pyatt and others.

There's also about $45 million already tied up in 13 players next season, so there's no doubt Gauthier will have his hands full, whether he thinks so or not.

While a lot of people are trying to figure out how Plekanec will be signed when there are all those other players to take care of as well, I believe Gauthier is thinking the opposite way. Once Plekanec is taken care of, he'll see how much he has left over to sign everyone else.

But just how much will it take to sign him? That's a tricky one.

I made an extensive stab at the problem on New Year's Day, back when Plekanec was among the league's leading scorers. He's no longer in the same elite company scoring-wise, but he remains a case with few - if any - decent comparables. I had mentioned Mike Fisher and Patrick Sharp as being two of the best ones, with a salary range of $3.9 million to $4.25 million. But the most perfect one can't be used as a comparison at all, and that's Minnesota's Mikko Koivu.

Plekanec is third among NHL forwards in shifts per game with 27.4, while Koivu is eighth with 26.3.  Both are used extensively on the penalty kill and power play and both have similar production numbers this season (65 points for Plekanec, 63 points for Koivu). While Koivu is far more efficient in the faceoff circle (57.4 per cent to 48.5 per cent), both are in the top-six in the NHL for number of faceoffs taken.

Koivu has a cap hit of $3.25 million. Sounds like a steal, right? Well, it is, because that is Koivu's second contract, signed as a restricted free agent, and therefore it cannot be used as a comparable for Plekanec. But you can bet the Wild's management and Koivu's agent will be very curious to see what the Habs do with Plekanec this summer. So will Ryan Kesler's agent and the Vancouver Canucks.

I could continue doing this for hours, which is what I think Curran and Gauthier did in Florida. But the fact is there is not one single player out there you can use to help establish Plekanec's value, one who is out-scoring $7 million men like Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier yet who is also an elite defensive player and penalty killer who is also hitting the unrestricted free agent market.

In my mind, Fisher's contract with Ottawa is the best comparison, and when adjusted for inflation you could come to a figure of $5 million per year on a five or six-year deal. I'm sure Curran is looking for more than that, and I'm sure Gauthier isn't even sure yet if he can offer it.

But if there's one thing the cap world has taught us is that teams have to enjoy the success of this year before worrying about the next one. Which means, if your team is on a six-game winning streak for the first time in four years, you should bask in its glow and not worry about what will happen to this player or that player at the end of the season. 

That's someone else's job.    

9 comments:

jkr said...

I'd feel more comfortable if they were still talking. Last year it was suggested that the UFAs on the team were distracted because they were not talking contract. Now this season, it's a distraction to be negotiating? I don't get it.

James Parent said...

Normally I haven't been in favor of long-term contracts (5+ years), especially given some of the crazy contracts that have been given out over the last couple of years...

But in this situation, taking into account of cap connundrum and the fact that Pleks is 'ours' (ie: drafted, promoted and developed through our organization, as opposed to a signed FA), I would offer Plekanec a real long-term deal.
Somewhere around 28M for 8 years... sounds crazy, I know, but I really think we can't go wrong with this guy, and the 1,5 to 2M cap hit we could save each year would allow us to lock up Moore into a decent deal instead of filling his spot with some 600k goon.

First time I ever endorse the idea of signing a guy to an absurd amount of time but I really hope we can keep Plekanec and that's one way I see that it could work.

Arpon Basu said...

If every other team is going to use those front-loaded long-term deals to circumvent the cap, I don't see why the Canadiens shouldn't as well. Frankly, it looks like they will need to in order to fit everyone in. And jkr, the difference between Plekanec and last year's guys is that there have already been some talks and some groundwork laid, so at least Plekanec has an idea of what the team is thinking. All those guys last year were completely in the dark, and when you're at such a crucial point in your career that can definitely be distracting.

pfhabs said...

Apron:

-the short term thinking you are proposing Gauthier do with the Plekanec and the RFAs is what got this team into the mess it's in; i.e., signing Gomez to $7.37 per annum for 5 years is why they are were they are...you can also throw a few more contracts that Bob signed last July in the push for the 6th year of a 5 year plan aka desperation.

-because of the cap system now in place you must project downstream and scenario the cap implications of contracts traded for or signed

-someone needs to worry about it and it's the GM's job to do so...it's folly to think 'sign what I can afford today and screw tomorrow until I get there' because they are going to have to dump some contracts now just to afford Plekanec and keep the two goalies, SK and Moore

-preplanning is the only way to survive the cap...surprised at your position

Marc-Philippe said...

Not sure why everyone in the media says it's 45 M already signed for next season. As soon as Laraque is bought out, the Habs will be at 42.9M for 11 NHL players (counting Laraque's buyout). It's not a huge difference, but still a 2M swing, which is big.

From capgeek.com:

FORWARDS
Scott Gomez — $7,357,142
Mike Cammalleri — $6,000,000
Brian Gionta — $5,000,000
Andrei Kostitsyn — $3,250,000
Travis Moen — $1,500,000
DEFENSEMEN
Andrei Markov — $5,750,000
Roman Hamrlik — $5,500,000
Jaroslav Spacek — $3,833,333
Hal Gill — $2,250,000
Josh Gorges — $1,100,000
Ryan O'Byrne — $941,666
GOALTENDERS
none
* Laraque buyout — $500,000
BUYOUTS
NONE
LOST VIA REENTRY WAIVERS
NONE
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS
ROSTER SIZE 11
SALARY CAP $56,800,000
PAYROLL $42,982,14

Arpon Basu said...

Fair enough Marc-Philippe, I forgot about the buyout. Good catch. PF, I'm not saying that Gauthier shouldn't be planning for the future, far from it. That's his job. All I'm saying is that fans and media should be focused on this tremendous run the team is on right now and not what will happen once the season is over. The wisdom of acquiring Gomez's contract was sketchy at best, but dwelling on it serves little purpose. That contract is here to stay because it is un-tradeable. You are right that it is the primary reason why the team is in the cap mess it is in right now, and you are also right a contract or two will have to be shipped out in order to get everyone signed. But let's worry about that in May or June or whenever the Habs get eliminated from the playoffs. That's all I'm saying.

Olivier said...

Gomez can be traded on the last leg of his contract when, as a 33 or 34 years old, he'll still drag the 7.3 cap hit around while actually making 5.5 or 4.5... If he is performing near his current level (not a completely daft proposition, but remains to be seen), it can be done if needed.

Pleks seems to be looking for a 4 years contract or something like that. I like it; I'm quite leery of those 7-8 years monsters. I guess you can pull something like that for Markov, but Pleks isn't the same caliber. He'll be a solid tough minutes outshooter wherever he lands and the Habs aren't commiting suicide signing such an effective contributor.

pfhabs said...

Arpon:

-understand your point but I get little solace in a 6/7 game winning streak knowing that meeting WSHDC or Pitt is frought w huge danger and then knowing that next year may be worse if the cap goes down or even stays the same

-the big picture is not good ! add in even reasonable increases for Halak, Price, SK and maybe Moore and a huge increase for Plekanec and the pic is worse next year

-if you're getting to or winning the Cup or even just getting into Conference finals I see your point--huge strides forward and a price was paid...to pay that same price and end up 12-15 overall, perhaps 1round win ...well winning 7 reg season games leaves me flat

-btw; want a "tremendous run" look up the the 1976-77 season; 60-8-12 in reg and 16-2 in playoffs...7 games in a row is chump change in comparison but I understand your position...enjoy it

Arpon Basu said...

Frankly, anything is possible in the Eastern Conference playoffs this year because every team has big holes. The Caps play run and gun hockey, not exactly made for the post-season. The Devils have a no-name defence. The Pens, well, I don't see too many holes on that team to be honest. The Sabres rely very heavily on Ryan Miller. The Sens stink. The Flyers have no goalie. The Bruins have no scoring.
I'm not saying the Habs are guaranteed to make a run, and they could very be knocked out in the first round. But in this landscape, winning a couple of rounds is not out of the question.