In spite of a pretty remarkable playoff run, Maxim Lapierre still has a lot to prove.
Is he that motor-mouthed ball of energy we saw in the playoffs, or the passive, non-forechecking softy we saw in the regular season?
Lapierre revealed late in the regular season when his play began picking up that a lingering foot injury is what caused his performance to dip, and that once that had gone away, he was able to play his own game again.
Of course, that's a pretty easy crutch to throw out there as a reason, but you can only do that when you are once again an effective member of the team, which he clearly was in the playoffs.
The lasting image for me of Lapierre's post-season came late in Game 7 of the first round, chasing Capitals "defenceman" Mike Green for a puck deep in Washington territory and distracting him enough to allow Dominic Moore to swoop in, grab the puck and score far side on Semyon Varlamov. That would turn out to be the winning goal of the series and allowed the Habs to continue a magical spring ride that sent emotions sky high in Montreal and also put millions in pure profits in the team coffers.
So, like many of the decisions he's been forced to make this off-season, Pierre Gauthier had to decide which Lapierre he was signing to a new contract. Was it the one that clearly got under his opponents' skin to great effectiveness in the playoffs, the one that used his speed to force turnovers on the forecheck, the one that was very often one of the best Canadiens forwards on the ice? Or was it the Lapierre that spent most of the season peeling away from finishing his hits on the forecheck, that didn't look the least bit fast and didn't appear to have any impact on the outcome of a game?
It appears that Gauthier decided that he didn't want to decide.
Giving Lapierre a one-year deal for $900,000 tells me that Gauthier doesn't buy his post-season performance, that he wants to see it for 82-plus games before giving him a long-term deal that would keep him in his hometown for the foreseeable future.
Now it's up to Lapierre to go out and prove that last season's lethargy really was injury-related and that he is in fact the guy we saw in the playoffs and especially two years ago, when he was often times the lone shining light in what was a dismal season.
With Lapierre signed the Canadiens cap situation becomes even more clear, and it also explains what is taking Gauthier so long to sign Carey Price. According to capgeek.com the Canadiens have $4.7 million of cap space remaining, except that doesn't count Price's contract plus those of the Hamilton players who will make the team this year. Also, it does count the $425,000 in bonus money included in Lars Eller's contract, and I'm sure the Canadiens would rather not use the bonus overage if it can be avoided.
So, if we take for granted that there will be two players from Hamilton that will make the team this year and they will cost no more than $900,000 each, plus if we remove the overage for Eller's bonuses, that leaves around $2.5 million to get Price signed and leave a little wiggle room for the upcoming season.
That amount of cap space essentially rules out the possibility of getting Price locked up long term because Gauthier can't offer an average salary greater than $2 million per year. Considering the Canadiens have essentially handed the No. 1 job to Price and the team has no other viable options, it's hard to imagine Price accepting so little on a multi-year deal. If he were signed prior to the Jaroslav Halak trade, then maybe something could have been worked out, but not now.
So, like Lapierre, it looks as though it will be up to Price to prove himself this year and earn himself a big contract, because I'd be stunned to see either side agreeing to each other's terms on a long-term marriage.