Though Carey Price remains unsigned, the Canadiens salary cap situation this season appears pretty clear. And while there isn't a ton of room to spare, Pierre Gauthier should have some money left in the kitty to acquire some help at the trade deadline should he see fit.
But what about next year? Will the Canadiens be in any position to do some free agency shopping next summer? Will the situation become more flexible? Probably not.
Bob Gainey and Gauthier's spree last summer will still hamper the club next season, with Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Jaroslav Spacek taking up over $22 million between them. Add in Tomas Plekanec and Price (assuming he signs a deal for two or more years), and you may be looking at upwards of $30 million tied up in six players. Travis Moen ($1.5 million), Lars Eller ($1.27 million, including bonuses) and P.K. Subban ($875,000) are the only other players under contract for 2011-12.
If the cap for the 2011-12 remains relatively stable, the Canadiens will likely have about $25 million to fill out the remaining 13 or 14 spots on the roster, again depending on what happens with Price's contract.
A sizeable chunk of that money will likely be earmarked for Andrei Markov, assuming he's still around after the trade deadline. An extremely conservative estimate would have Markov re-signing for an average of $6 million a year, though I believe he could get considerably more on the open market.
But while Markov is the one who will likely get most of the attention, there's another defenceman on the roster who may present an equally difficult conundrum for Gauthier.
Josh Gorges will be a restricted free agent after this season, one of four Habs rearguards with expiring contracts (Roman Hamrlik and Hal Gill are the others). I highly doubt Hamrlik and Gill will be brought back, but I have to believe Gorges has been identified as a member of the core group that needs to be locked up long term.
Gorges just turned 26 on Aug. 14 and last spring established himself as a key penalty killer and shutdown defenceman for the Habs. Last year's playoffs provided a league-wide showcase for Gorges as he was matched up against the two most dangerous players in the world in the first two rounds and shone.
Over the past two seasons Gorges has missed only one game, tying for the team lead in games played both years. Durability is definitely worth something. As far as his penalty killing is concerned, he and Gill were the only two Montreal defencemen among the regular top six who gave up fewer power play goals against when they were on the ice as the team gave up when they were off the ice.
For those who may think that penalty killing prowess was largely due to playing with Gill, consider that Gorges allowed the fewest goals against per 60 minutes of shorthanded ice time on the team in 2008-09. In fact, his on-ice/off-ice difference in power play goals against per 60 minutes was 3.43 two years ago, and dipped to 0.33 playing with Gill this past season.
But his skill-set and potential for continued growth makes Gorges a difficult player to price, since his value is not measured in goals and assists, but rather the complicated, headache-inducing stats I referred to earlier.
Looking around the league for similar type players, I found three potential comparables for Gorges who all suggest it may cost the Canadiens more than they're willing to spend to retain him. They are Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers (26 years old, forms top shutdown pairing with Marc Staal), Jeff Schultz of the Washington Capitals (24 years old, team's top defensive player) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks (23 years old, same as above).
Gorges will be older than all three of these players when his contract expires, but in terms of games played he's in the ballpark with all of them (Gorges - 328 GP, Girardi - 280 GP, Schultz - 247 GP, and Vlasic - 309 GP). All three of these players were signed to four-year contracts hovering around $3 million per year. Vlasic is entering the second year of his $3.1 million per year deal, while both Schultz ($2.75 million a year) and Girardi ($3.25 million) each signed their contracts this summer. You could add Nicklas Hjalmarsson's four-year deal at $3.5 million per to the list as well, though that came as a result of an offer sheet.
Speaking of which, if Gorges' contract negotiations are handled the way Price's have been, could he be open to an offer sheet himself?
If indeed Gorges gets a deal worth about $3 million, and Markov somehow signs for a $6 million cap hit, that would theoretically leave about $16 million to sign four defencemen, seven forwards and a backup goalie. This is when you have to hope players on entry level deals produce big, guys like Eller and Subban this year and eventually Louis Leblanc, Danny Kristo, Alexander Avtsin and others.
Because even though Hamrlik, Gill and probably Andrei Kostitsyn will come off the books to free up nearly $11 million after this season, it doesn't look as though the Canadiens will get any cap relief for quite some time.
- CBC News reporter Michel Godbout caused a bit of a stir on Twitter today when he tweeted that Price plans to hold out unless he gets $3 million a year out of Gauthier. That led Quebecor's crack staff over at the QMI News Agency to write up a whole story based on a tweet. Brilliant. Later, RDS put out a story that Price's agent Gerry Johansson feels negotiations have progressed, but there is a long way to go (Uhh, Gerry? Training camp is a little over two weeks away. How long are we talking about here?). Frankly, I have little doubt that Price wants $3 million a year, but I have huge doubts that he would holdout. Or as Godbout put it, "strike."
- RDS also reported on Monday that Markov has begun skating on his own, which is an encouraging sign that perhaps his agent Don Meehan wasn't blowing hot air when he said his client may in fact be back in time for the start of the season. Basically, any time Markov returns before the calendar turns to November would have to be considered a miracle, so this news may make Markov's orthopedic surgeon a candidate for sainthood.
- Finally, my buddy Eric Engels made his case for why the Habs should reach out to Bill Guerin as a free agent. I can't say I disagree, assuming Guerin is willing to play for $1 million. He'd be a great addition to the team even if he's lost a step (you don't have to be particularly quick to play on the power play). He'd add some insurance against the strong likelihood that either Kostitsyn or Benoit Pouliot - or both - will not live up to their top-6 forward billing.