Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Land of confusion

That's where I figure Pierre Gauthier lives right about now.

He had the better part of two weeks to mull over his Montreal Canadiens, try to figure out what kind of team he has and also whether he wants to dip into this ridiculous trade market to grab some help at the deadline.

Of course, Gauthier would have no one to blame but himself for some of the silliness going on out there, what with his gift of a second round pick for rental Dominic Moore, but still. Just because he himself raised the bar so high doesn't mean Gauthier should continue swimming in the pool he helped create.

No, if I were in his shoes I would look at my injury-riddled bunch and hope that they all got healthy at the same time, and that the Habs could ride their two goalies into the playoffs and perhaps even steal a round. Nothing more.

But then there were a series of events that may very well have changed his mind, starting during the Olympic break and ending with tonight's 4-1 win in Boston.

First off there was the play of Jaroslav Halak for the Slovakian national team, coming within one bad period of earning that country's first Olympic hockey medal ever, and doing it essentially by himself in many of the games. Halak entered that third period with the Finns with a .921 save percentage in beating the likes of Russia and Sweden, and nearly pulling it off against Canada as well.

While this surely made Gauthier smile to some extent, knowing he has a goalie capable of beating teams that are far better than his, it also had to raise the interest of some of his rival GMs around the league as well. We won't know the answer to this question until Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m., but it's very possible someone like Stan Bowman in Chicago or Paul Holmgren in Philadelphia or even Doug Wilson in San Jose gave Gauthier a call at some point just to kick the tires a little bit.

Suddenly, if that were the case, Gauthier has to be wondering just what he could get for his young netminder, whereas before the tournament he was probably quite content sitting back and riding it out with both Halak and Carey Price. Another possible thought he may have had was, if he was convinced he was going to be ultimately keeping Price and dealing Halak, perhaps this performance changed his mind.

Further complicating matters for Gauthier was the news that the Nashville Predators had given their unrestricted free agent goalie-to-be Pekka Rinne a two-year, $3.4 million contract extension. Now, Rinne is an interesting goaltender, a late-bloomer at 27 playing only his second full NHL season who did have the significant bargaining chip of being a UFA. His 6-foot-5 frame makes him a prototype of the modern, long-limbed goalie. But still, Rinne has all of 50 career wins without a single game of playoff experience. His .917 save percentage of 2.38 goals against average last season was good, but this year those numbers are down to .902 and 2.80, neither of which puts him in the top-30 in the league.

If Rinne is worth $3.4 million as a UFA, what does that make either Price or Halak worth as RFAs? Halak has 47 career wins, but he's reached that number in nine fewer games than Rinne.  Halak's save percentage over last two seasons is .919, Rinne's is .911.  As for Price, he has 59 career wins, but it's taken him 129 starts to do it, or 34 more than Rinne. Price loses the save percentage battle as well, but the number one factor in evaluating Price has to be his age. At 22, he's two years younger than Halak and five years younger than Rinne. Potential like that costs money.

Maybe, and I highly doubt this, but maybe Gauthier was going into this thinking he had an outside chance at signing and keeping both his goalies this offseason. In my eyes, even though Rinne was headed toward UFA status, his contract makes that a total fantasy, if it wasn't already. Still, knowing how much it will cost to sign either one of the two goalies, maybe Gauthier will feel he can get better value for one of them at the trade deadline than he could at the draft, though I highly doubt that.

Adding to that financial pressure, potentially at least, was a further discussion between Gauthier and Tomas Plekanec's agent Rick Curran, a follow-up to their first conversation in late January. The two agreed to talk again after the trade deadline, which suggests that Plekanec will not be traded Wednesday. But if you want to read into it even further, it also suggests that the dollar figures being discussed remain out of Gauthier's price range, otherwise would he not have locked Plekanec up prior to the deadline?

As if that wasn't enough food for thought, Gauthier could not have been thrilled to watch Andrei Markov clearly labouring for the Russian team in Vancouver, clearly not recovered from whatever was ailing him for the final two games prior to the break, and quite possibly feeling the effects of his tendon injury from Game 1 of the season. I was at practice Monday and tried to corner Markov on the state of his health entering the Olympics, but he wouldn't bite, avoiding the questions posed not only by me but many others as well. Here's the story I came up with, the gist of which is that Markov says he's fine, with nothing more serious than regular wear and tear. 

Even though Markov insists he's fine, perhaps Gauthier is not so sure. He saw what happened with Markov out in last year's playoffs and probably wouldn't want that situation repeating itself, so perhaps Markov's iffy health situation would tempt Gauthier to test the waters for a top-four defenceman.

Finally, we get to tonight's game in Boston. If none of what happened during the Olympics convinced Gauthier to suddenly become a crazed buyer on Wednesday, perhaps this game did it. First off there was Price, allowing a softy to put his team down 1-0 but locking it down after that to limit the damage. Then there was Maxim Lapierre, who played like a man trying to get himself taken off the trade block. He skated, he hit people and he scored a goal. It was, by far, his best game of the season. All in all, the Habs supporting cast won the game by handling the scoring, but for the first time in quite a while the team looked like a team.

Maybe, just maybe, all of these factors or a combination of them made Gauthier turn into a buyer, as opposed to the "builder" he purported to be just after being announced as the new GM. But frankly, I would hope not. The worst possible thing Gauthier could do right now is trade away prospects and draft picks for short-term help, because the Canadiens are very far from being ready for short-term success.


Olivier said...

Palushaj? Well he's young and cheap and goes straight to the bulldogs so why not. But who the hell is that guy anyway? We'll see what Boucher can coax out of him...

I'm sad to see D'Agostini go, but between AKost, SKost and Gionta, he either had to become effective on the LW right now, which wasn't going to happen. All the luck to him and hopefully he finds his trigger back in StL...

Other than that, I guess Gauthier is ready to let go any one of Mara and Bergeron for the sake of making room on the roster. Maybe if someone wants to eat Gill's contract, make room for PK, but even then I'm not so sure.

Michael said...

I am getting confused about some of the coverage surrounding the talks with Plek.

I would assume that if PG chose to resume talks again after the deadline with Plek that they must be somewhat close to a deal. Otherwise, would Plek not be in play at the deadline? I am sure there would be plenty of teams who would take a 1/2 center for a cup run right now.

I think at least one D man has to move. Anything for Mara or Bergeron would be a bonus. Moving one of Spacek, Hammer, or Gill would also be nice. Doubt Spacek or Gill will be moved though.

The goalie situtation will be a tough one. However Price has a cap hit of 2.2 mil, I doubt we'll see that go up much. Jaro will get a raise for sure, and I would expect it to be in the 3-4 mil range, # of years will be limited to how big the habs go.

Sliver24 said...

I think you're underestimating the leverage being a UFA gives to a player and his agent. Rinne's signing actually gives me hope that both Halak and Price can be kept at reasonable dollar values.

To me, based on Rinne's contract, both Halak and Price will be forced to compromise on either dollars or term. On a two-year deal Halak should now come in somewhere in the $2.5 or $2.75 million range. That number might climb up to $3 million on a three-year deal and maybe $3.5 for a four year deal (which would mean he'd give up a year of UFA eligibility).

Seeing as Price is a year further away from free agency than Halak is, combined with the fact that he has been struggling for over a year now, I'm thinking he'd come in oven lower than Halak (though not by much).

Both players' leverage is further reduced by the presence of the other guy. Since both guys appear to be on the verge of becoming viable NHL starters, neither can hold the team over a barrel in negotiations.

I'm pretty sure that If PG decides he wants to keep both guys he'll be able to do so without making too many compromises.