Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gone but not forgotten

Bob Gainey might be off in some New York jazz bar right now making a good living as a pianist, but his fingerprints remain all over the Montreal Canadiens.

Not knowing what to write about today, my buddies suggested after my Monday night basketball game that I do a comparative look at the players Gainey brought in to the Habs and the ones he let go. I thought it was a brilliant idea. Well, brilliant may be going to far, but it was at least interesting.

So let's look at how the new guys are doing thus far compared to the ones they replaced or, in one case, the player Gainey could have signed instead. I decided to leave out Marc-Andre Bergeron, because the player he replaced remains on the team, and also Christopher Higgins just because I didn't find a good comparable for him.

Scott Gomez
Annual cap hit: $7.36 million
Vitals: 63 GP, 11 G, 36 A, 47 pts, minus-2, 19:47 TOI


Saku Koivu
Annual cap hit: $3.25 million
Vitals: 56 GP, 12 G, 32 A, 44 pts, plus-5, 18:22 TOI 
(UPDATE 10:45 Tuesday - Koivu actually has 22 assists and 34 points)

The scoring numbers are virtually identical (UPDATE: In fact they're not, but it's a moot point in my argument) but this is a comparison that goes far beyond basic goals and assists. In Gomez's case, his salary cap hit is unfortunately the number that is most used to evaluate his performance, because you can't afford to have nearly one-eighth of your total payroll be a slightly above average point producer. You need a guy like that to be great. Right now Gomez is on pace to match his 58-point output of a year ago, which was his worst season his 55-point campaign of 2002-03. He might get hot at the end, but even then he won't get much more than 60 points this season.

Making less than half as much money, Koivu appears to be the clear winner here. But again, his departure from Montreal was also about more than numbers. With all the new people being brought in, some room had to be made for new leaders to emerge from the group. Having Koivu around would not have allowed that to happen, because his stature was so well established in that dressing room. I see a big difference in Andrei Markov in Koivu's absence, and new guys like Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri and even Gomez himself may not have felt as comfortable asserting their leadership qualities with Koivu still here.

But it's hard to deny that on paper, having Koivu or Gomez is basically a wash, except one costs more than twice as much as the other. Plus, Koivu was always at his best in the playoffs and around this time of year. While Gomez has a pretty good playoff track record (45 points in his last 42 playoff games), it remains to be seen if he'll continue that with Montreal.

Mike Cammalleri
Annual cap hit: $6 million
Vitals: 56 GP, 26 G, 22 A, 48 pts, plus-10, 19:33 TOI


Alex Kovalev
Annual cap hit: $5 million
Vitals: 63 GPO, 17 G, 30 A, 47 pts, plus-1, 18:36 TOI

I don't care how close the numbers are and that Cammalleri makes more money, I'd take #13 over #27 in a heartbeat. The number one reason is effort, and the consistency of it. Kovalev was a walking soap opera, one that I have huge respect for and who I would still pay money to watch play. Except I'd have to buy my ticket knowing full well Kovalev might not feel like playing that night. You almost never take that chance with Cammalleri. He's been the greatest free agent signing of the Gainey regime, and probably beyond. The first true sniper the Canadiens have had in over a decade.

Brian Gionta
Annual cap hit: $5 million
Vitals: 46 GP, 20 G, 16 A, 36 pts, plus-1, 20:43 TOI


Alex Tanguay
Annual cap hit: $2.5 million
Vitals: 63 GP, 9 G, 25 A, 34 pts, plus-1, 16:25 TOI

Gionta's numbers over an 82-game schedule translate to 35 goals, 28 assists and 63 points. Had he remained healthy all year and maintained that pace, it would have been the second best year of his career, behind only his never-to-be matched 89-point campaign in 2005-06. Plus, Gionta replaces some of Koivu's leadership in that he leads by example. When you see a man generously listed at 5-foot-7 go to the net with the reckless abandon that Gionta does, you can't help but do the same. So even at twice the salary, I would definitely take Gionta over Tanguay, who looks to be on a slippery slope clear out of the NHL.

Jaroslav Spacek
Annual cap hit: $3.83 million
Vitals: 62 GP, 3 G, 16 A, 19 pts, plus-10, 21:58 TOI


Mathieu Schneider
Annual cap hit: $2.75 million
Vitals: 17 GP, 2 G, 3 A, 5 pts, even, 15:14 TOI


Francois Beauchemin
Annual cap hit: $3.8 million
Vitals: 65 GP, 5 G, 19 A, 24 pts, minus-14, 25:19 TOI

Spacek was brought in as Schneider's replacement, a guy who Gainey thought could slide into the role of Andrei Markov's power play trigger man while playing a sound defensive game. But Gainey could have chosen to go with Beauchemin instead, considering he probably knew he was losing Komisarek as soon as the market opened.

First off, judging Spacek's performance has to be offset by the fact he is playing the right side for the first time in his professional life. Learning new tricks at 36 years of age is not easy, and will not always put you in a position to put your best foot forward. Another key point in evaluating Spacek is how he played in Andrei Markov's absence. Without Spacek, the Habs are far closer to a high lottery pick than the playoffs right now.

So signing him over Schneider is a no-brainer, even though Spacek has not brought that same offensive punch that was expected of him. Spacek was by far the Sabres top power play defenceman last year, both in terms of ice time and points, but it just hasn't worked out in that area with Montreal. Still, his all around game has been solid, yet I'm pretty sure Beauchemin would have been a smarter signing than Spacek, especially considering the near identical salaries but the big six-year difference in age between the two.

Hal Gill
Annual cap hit: $2.25 million
Vitals: 53 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 7 pts, 64 hits, 115 blocked shots


Mike Komisarek
Annual cap hit: $4.5 million
Vitals: 34 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 4 pts, 85 hits, 62 blocked shots

Gill has been the butt of jokes all over Montreal this season, but I think know truly observant fans have seen he's a valuable player when the chips are down. Yes, he makes molasses look like Usain Bolt, but he's a dominant penalty killer and shot blocker and has become an increasingly stabilizing force defensively. Essentially, he's everything the Habs wanted out of Komisarek, without the huge hit totals, but at half the price.

Good deal in my books.

Paul Mara
Annual cap hit: $1.675 million
Vitals: 42 GP, 0 G, 8 A, 8 pts, minus-16, 18:43 TOI, 50 hits, 68 blocked shots


Francis Bouillon
Annual cap hit: $750,000
Vitals: 64 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 pts, plus-2, 19:13 TOI, 126 hits, 75 blocked shots

Particularly at half the price, Frankie B. puts Mara to shame, plus he fights every now and then when he gets really angry.

Travis Moen
Salary cap hit: $1.5 million
Vitals: 67 GP, 7 G, 8 A, 15 pts, minus-5, 15:25 TOI, 136 hits, five fights


Tom Kostopoulos
Salary cap hit: $916,666
Vitals: 65 GP, 8 G, 10 A, 18 pts, plus-4, 12:38 TOI, 137 hits, eight fights

Kostopoulos in the playoffs, to me, was a huge asset. He did whatever it took, but Moen has a history of doing the same. This is yet another example of a player making more money with Montreal to essentially fill a role with the same effectiveness of the person who left. But having seen both of them at work, I think I'd rather have Moen if salary is completely disregarded.

Benoit Pouliot
Salary cap hit: $803,250
Vitals (in Montreal) : 24 GP, 13 G, 5 A, 18 pts, plus-7, 17:00 TOI, 1:56 power play TOI


Guillaume Latendresse
Salary cap hit: $803,250
Vitals (in Minnesota) : 39 GP, 21 G, 9 A, 30 pts, plus-4, 16:44 TOI, 2:12 power play TOI

Pouliot's time in Montreal has obviously been impacted by injuries, but on a per game basis, this remains a remarkably fair trade. Stretched out over an 82-game schedule, Pouliot's numbers with the Canadiens translates to 44 goals and 16 assists, while Latendresse would have 44 goals and 18 assists with the Wild. Incredible stuff, and very difficult to criticize from other side of the trade. I guess Latendresse could get the nod for now because he's been healthy, but I believe Pouliot has a far higher ceiling, one he's nowhere close to reaching yet.


S├ębastian Hell said...

Nice work, and good analysis.

How about Huet and Halak? (just kidding...)

Anonymous said...

Koivu's stats are wrong, he has 22 assists (not 32) and 34 points (not 44). That gives Koivu .61 ppg to .75 for Gomez. All in all, Koivu is a better deal.

Beeg said...

Would love to see this in table format, adjusted per $ and per 60 minutes of PP and even strength.

Also, it may be that the better Koivu comparison is not Gomez, but Plekanec, who signed for similar money ($500K less) and has stepped in to the all-purpose role. I think Canadiens fans undervalue guys like Koivu and Plek, who play on all units and take key faceoffs.

Arpon Basu said...

Oops. Fixed it. Thanks.

saskhab said...

Gomez is a notoriously slow starter. That doesn't justify his contract, but he's generally a PPG from January through the playoffs. It's the first half of the year that really hurts him. That happened again this year, and Gionta's injury didn't help.

I think a full year of Benny-Gomez-Gio would start to show the gap between Koivu and Gomez in terms of point production. The contract value still might not justify it, though... that's a huge gap.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Gionta is projected to be a 35 goal scorer and Pouliot a 40 goal scorer and their most common centre is Gomez. Those players need each other. Gomez can't make lesser players good, but he can make good players dangerous.

Rambling Johnny said...

I think no Habs fan would care about Gomez slow start or huge salary If he explode in the playoff and carry Mtl to number 25! Unlikely but I seen stranger things happen in the playoff especially when the Habs are concerned.

pfhabs said...


"I think a full year of Benny-Gomez-Gio would start to show the gap between Koivu and Gomez in terms of point production. The contract value still might not justify it, though... that's a huge gap."

-not so ! in the previous 6 seasons Gomez has scored 28 points more than Koivu while playing 27 more games than Koivu.

-Gomez played with better teams, w/o the injuries Koivu had and w/o the burden of being the captain and w/o the ever present MTL media.

-Gomez hasn't been and my view will never be a better player than Koivu. BUT he will make more money and will affect the building of the CH into a Cup contender