Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cap issues hinge on Price

The Canadiens salary cap situation cleared up a bit Monday when Tom Pyatt and Benoit Pouliot agreed to one-year deals for the upcoming season.

With Pyatt taking the league minimum at $500K and Pouliot getting a raise to $1.375 million, Habs GM Pierre Gauthier has about $6.9 million to play with to fill five or six roster spots. July 1 being Thursday, it's still difficult to say just how much of that money Gauthier can use on signing a new player.

Why? Because of the sticky situation that is Carey Price, the team's No. 1 netminder who remains a massive question mark and a huge gamble for Gauthier. But just how far does he take that gamble? 

Price could simply be asked to sign his qualifying offer for about $900,000 and make things easy on the team's cap situation, but that's really not the way to go here, not right after anointing the guy as your starting goalie.

But at the same time, Gauthier can't throw gobs of money at Price nor can he sign him to a long-term deal that would buy some of his free agent years without knowing just what kind of goalie he's getting. A six-year, $15 million deal may look like the biggest bargain in the league by the end of the contract, or it could be a $2.5 million burden on the Habs cap halfway through if Price never realizes his limitless potential. By the same token, a two-year, $3 million deal means Gauthier may have to pay up extremely large when Price is only 25.

Therein lies the Catch-22 Gauthier finds himself in, but as far as I'm concerned he's already hitched his wagon to Price, so he may as well go all the way. Sign Price long term in the hopes that the contract will be a blessing rather than a curse.

Gauthier's decision - and Price's willingness to accept it - will go a long way toward determining how active the Canadiens are when the free agent market opens its doors Thursday.

The $6.9 million in available cap space does not include Maxim Lapierre, Sergei Kostitsyn and the other restricted free agents who received qualifying offers last week. I'm going to include Lapierre at $735,000 and also Max Pacioretty at $910,000 because I feel he figures large in the Canadiens plans next season.

That gets us down to around $5.25 million in remaining cap space, with Price, his backup and three or four more forwards to sign. Will one of those forwards be Dominic Moore? If so, that's at least another $1.3 million gone, leaving just under $4 million for two goalies and at least two forwards. If those other two forwards make the league minimum, that's $3 million left for the goalies.

So you see how this remains an extremely touchy situation for Gauthier, even though he was handed a gift when the salary cap was increased to $59.4 million for next season thanks to the player's association invoking their right to lose even more money to escrow.

Then again, there is always the possibility that Gauthier can shed some salary to make room for a move or two, and while many of you may be thinking of Andrei Kostitsyn, I'm not. He's only got one more year left on a deal that does not break the bank. He's been a maddeningly streaky player who takes forever to get going, but once he does, it can be special to watch. That month he strung together when his line with Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec was among the best in the league was good enough that Gauthier should take a chance it can happen again.

But a player like Roman Hamrlik could be intriguing to certain teams, especially with the news of the cap going up. Because as the cap rises, the salary floor rises as well and every year we see some teams scrambling to make it there. Next season, the floor will be $43.4 million, and by my count there should be five teams who will need to throw some money around to make it there: Phoenix, Nashville, Anaheim, Colorado and the New York Islanders.

Two of those teams jump out at me as potential trade partners for the Habs - the Ducks and Islanders. Anaheim just lost Scott Niedermayer and the defence could use a veteran presence aside from Lubomir Visnovsky. The Islanders, meanwhile, are known territory for Hamrlik, which is important because he has a limited no trade clause until Feb. 1 and would have to approve the team he is sent to.

If Gauthier can pull a trade like this off in the couple of days, then all bets are off as to what he does on July 1. But it's not very likely to happen that way, so Gauthier will probably have one singular focus on Thursday and that's to find a backup for Price. Because depending on whether or not the Chosen One grabs the reins of this opportunity and runs with it, that free agent signing may very well make or break the Habs season.


Olivier said...

For Price (not Gauthier or the habs), signing the offer sheet isn't ideal but it's not the end of the world either. He gets to arbitration earlier, has all the chances of putting together a strong year and can end up with a 2-3 year contract worh 3+ a year.

OTOH, I think Halak's trade tells us Gauthier isn't putting a premium on goaltending anymore. Having Price for three more years and then trading him before free agency might very well be the best bang for buck scenario from Gauthier's perspective. Have him give you above average goaltending for below-average wage and then send him away for prospects/picks. Price is of tremendous value to the club right now, but once his RFA years are over, it's a whole different thing.

I understand having Vesa Toskala in goal is annoying, but nowadays blowing 5 millions + on a goalie just doesn't sound like a good idea.

Including Brodeur and Luongo, yes.

But that's just me.

Btw, you've been on a pretty nice run lately, Arpon. Love your work!

Anonymous said...

I refuse to believe a Habs world where Max Pacioretty makes 900+K and Tom Pyatt 500K. How does that even make sense??

Btw, thank you for continually updating your blog... in a Habs-and-hockey-parched summer, you are a fountain of relief.

Nicolas said...

I don't see Patches starting the season with Montreal. He needs to get his confidence back, and I didn't see that when he played with Hammie at the end of the season (even before his injury).

gh said...

"Lapierre at $735,000 and also Max Pacioretty at $910,000"

Am I the only person who feels there is something wrong with that statement?
Pacioretty does not equal Lapierre, not even by a long shot.
There is no way he should get more than Lapierre.
Now I understand that Lapierre is a Montrealer, and if that means he will take a hit on his salary for the team, then so be it - but Mad Max needs to be rewarded for the heart/energy he brings to every single game.
Pacioretty to me is still a 2-way player who will spend some time in hamilton next year. I cannot imagine paying him 1 million dollars, and meanwhile paying Max less while he is playing full time in the nhl, for the team of his native city, and with as much heart as he has.

There is no-one - I repeat: NO ONE on the Montreal Canadiens who gets more of a buzz from scoring a goal, or laying out a big check, than Maxime - and this solely because he knows what the Canadiens are, and grew up dreaming about playing for them.

just my 2 cents.
we owe max.

Chezbody said...

I don't agree that we need 3 or for more players to sign after Laps and Pac. At my count that leaves us at 12 forwards...we really only need to carry one more. The rest would be buried in the minors. This gives us a bit more wiggle room.

Sliver24 said...

Why would Price even consider signing a six year deal at $15 million? If his agent even suggests agreeing to something like that Price should fire him forthwith.

All Carey needs is one above-average season as a starter and he'll be able to cash in for $4 or $5 million per year on a three or four year deal.

In my opinion Gauthier tipped his hand when he traded Halak without first having locked up Price. If I'm Price's agent I'm waiting for July 1st and the possibility of offer sheets.

Sure, there's a glut of UFA goalies out there, but you don't think there are GMs in the Eastern Conference that would relish the thought of signing Price at least in part to stick it to the Habs?

Trading Halak before signing Price is bad management, plain and simple. Gauthier is now stuck with a situation where he has to overpay Price or risk losing him, and it's a situation he put himself in.

Anonymous said...

Pyatt and Lappy are 1 way coontracts guarnteed $500k, and $735k respectively Patches on the other hand is a 2 way contract and only recieves a certain amount based on how many roster days he spends with the big club the 910,000 is the max he can get payed this year if he spends the entire season with the habs and reaches all bonus limits.

Arpon Basu said...

Just to clarify, the Lapierre salary figure I used was based on him signing his qualifying offer, but he is also arbitration-eligible so it's possible - likely even - he would command more money. I should have mentioned that in the story. Pacioretty, on the other hand, is on an entry-level contract and, as the anonymous commenter points out, except the $910,000 is his base salary and he has no bonus clauses attached to it, at least according to capgeek.com.

V said...

Thanks for your articles Arpon. Great to stay connected with the team in this way.

pmk said...

ak and sk to edm for cogs and a pick. Patches to chi for ladd.

Sliver24 said...

@ pmk: Is that a scoop or a wish list?

pmk said...

wish list or wishfull thinking I'm afraid. So done with the k bros!