Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Relief for Plekanec?

Tuesday's announcement that cagey veteran Jeff Halpern agreed to a one-year deal with the Canadiens for the bargain basement price of $600,000 will cause various trickle-down effects throughout the organization.

Firstly, it essentially removes any and all drama for training camp as Bulldogs hopefuls like Max Pacioretty, Ryan White, Ben Maxwell, David Desharnais, Aaron Palushaj and others have very little chance of sticking with the big club. The Canadiens now have 23 one-way contracts, while the aforementioned players all have two-way deals.

(UPDATE, Sept 8, 10:27 a.m. Thanks to commenter Marc-Philippe for pointing out that the Habs don't have 23 one-way deals, they have 20. Lars Eller, P.K. Subban and Alexandre Picard are all on two-way deals, the former two the entry-level variety. However, I think Eller and Subban are both locks to make the team, while Picard's low cap hit gives him the inside track on a roster spot. The Habs could also choose to go with a 22-man roster and send Picard to Hamilton, which would save a lot of cap space. My bad. Carry on.)

Montreal is not so poverty-stricken that it would refuse to pay someone an NHL salary to play in Hamilton, but those guys are going to have to be far better than one of those players with one-way deals in order to make the team. It's not impossible that one of the Hamilton kids will see time in Montreal eventually, especially if injuries hit, but it's not likely to come out of camp.

Not only that, but Halpern actually saves the Canadiens about $250,000 on the cap when compared to the Bulldogs players mentioned above seeing as all of them except Desharnais make at least $850,000 in the NHL (Desharnais would make $550,000, which is basically a wash with Halpern's contract).

With Halpern signed, Pierre Gauthier has a little over $350,000 in cap space remaining if he doesn't plan on using the bonus cushion (which he obviously would rather not do). If one of the Hamilton kids had made the team, that cap space would have been at $100,000 or less. 

So, in addition to adding one veteran presence to the roster, this signing gives Gauthier the ability to add another veteran at the trade deadline should the opportunity or need arise. Working in highly theoretical terms, if Gauthier still had $350,000 in cap space available at the Feb. 28, 2011 trade deadline, it would allow him to acquire a player with a $1.58 million annual salary. Having only $100,000 in cap space, on the other hand, would get Gauthier a $451,000 player, which doesn't exist seeing as that's lower than the league minimum.

There's a long list of players who risk missing the playoffs and are due to become unrestricted free agents after the season making less than $1.58 million, including Joel Ward ($1.5 million), Anton Babchuk ($1.4 million), Karlis Skrastins ($1.375 million), John Madden ($1.25 million), Curtis Glencross ($1.2 million), Marty Reasoner ($1.15 million), Todd Marchant ($1.125 million), Milan Jurcina ($1 million) and Ben Eager ($965,000), among many others. I know none of those names will make any of you jump out of your seats, but would the thought of adding Dominic Moore at the deadline have sent you into a frenzy last summer? 

There's also the possibility that Gauthier could choose to use the bonus cushion if the team looks as though it will contend. That would bump the available cap space to nearly $780,000, which would allow for the acquisition of a $3.5 million player at the deadline.

But the ultimate effect, potentially, I can see from adding Jeff Halpern is getting some defensive relief for Tomas Plekanec.

With Halpern on board from the start of the year, as opposed to adding Moore just before the Olympic break last season, it's possible Jacques Martin will reduce Plekanec's workload in his own end and allow him and his linemates to concentrate their efforts at the offensive end of the ice.

Plekanec would never say this explicitly, and trust me, I tried as hard as I could to get it out of him at the end of last season, but I'm sure he wouldn't mind being freed up to save his energy for offensive shifts. Last year Plekanec started his shifts in the defensive zone more often than any other forward on the team, which severely hampers not only his ability to score, but those of his linemates as well.

Plekanec insists he has no problem with this, but I also know for a fact he gets very annoyed when his lack of production in the playoffs is brought up, as it was in the conference call following his signing a six-year, $30 million contract earlier this summer. He had two extremely difficult defensive assignments in the first two rounds of the post-season and still produced reasonably well, all things considered.

Now, if Halpern could help form a true shutdown line with, perhaps, Dustin Boyd and Travis Moen on his wings, maybe Martin would be more inclined to send those three out there in defensive zone faceoff situations than Plekanec.

Considering Plekanec spent most of his time last season playing with Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn - not exactly two of the more defensive-minded players on the team - just think of how many wasted shifts they had running around in their own end chasing the puck. Now try and think if the number of those shifts were cut in half because Halpern was taking them. Don't you think there would be some added benefit of Plekanec diverting that energy towards the other team's net? I do. It remains to be seen if Martin does as well.

Halpern could also take some of Plekanec's team-leading penalty-killing time away, further freeing some energy for offence.

It's also entirely possible that Halpern's arrival will have absolutely no effect on how Martin uses Plekanec, and that's fine as well. As I've tried to demonstrate several times here, Plekanec is one of the best two-way centres in the NHL and I see no problem with Martin using that versatility to its full potential. 

But it would be at least interesting to see what Plekanec would be like offensively if he weren't so burdened with defensive responsibilities, and I think Halpern's arrival could offer a glimpse into that scenario.

I'll conclude with what I feel could be the opening night line combinations at forward. Your thoughts on the matter are always welcomed:

Cammalleri - Plekanec - Kostitsyn
Pouliot - Gomez - Gionta
Darche/Pyatt - Eller - Lapierre
Moen - Halpern - Boyd


Alex said...

Hey Arpon, great read as always!

I'm somewhat skeptical of that third line though. There will be tons of pressure on Lars Eller right off the bat (solely because of who he was traded for) and (obviously) the Habs will want him to succeed. Unless he's the next Crosby, I don't see him having much success with Darche & Lapierre on his wing. The third line should support the offense, and provide secondary scoring... In my opinion, Darche, Pyatt Lapierre, Moen and Boyd all belong on a 4th line.

The only solution would be for Pierre Gauthier to make a trade, but I don't really see that happening... Maybe Gauthier could fetch a good 3rd line winger for Ryan O'Byrne, but then we have too many forwards. Anyways, only time will tell. 29 more days until the season starts!

Dann said...

I liked when they put Moen on the Gomez line. He was really effective there creating space and going to the net. He scores some ugly goals but maybe that's what the top six could use. I would put Pouliot on the third line with Eller and Lapierre for an energy line, pitching in for a few goals. The defensive shutdown line I would have Pyatt playing with Halpern and Boyd.

Brad said...

I have to disagree with Alex because I think Lapierre is a perfect 3rd liner and with a playmaking centre like Eller he could put up good numbers(15g, 15a) and I also think that Moen should be put with Gomez and Gionta as long as he knows what he suppose to do plant himself in front of the net. Drop Pouliot to the 3rd line and you would have a lot more scoring and he said he was going to put on 10lbs this off season so he should be more physical. I would also try Halpern on the wing with Gomez and Gionta.

pmk said...

I think your line up could be bang on although I think boyd would be better on the '3rd' line while darche and pyatt are more suited for "4th" line shut down duties. To start the season its AK and chicken in the top 6. It is their spots to lose. Although I think just about every guy in the bottom 6 will get a shot in the top 6 throughout the season ( I don't have that much faith in ak or pouliot - especially ak. But I'm hoping he can prove me wrong!) My sleeper pick for the top 6 is Laps. I'm hoping he can turn into our Alex Burrows (one can hope no?)

All Habs said...

Good read Arpon,

I agree with your assessment. Other than waiting for an injury callup, Halpern's signing has to be bad news for Pacioretty, Maxwell, White, ... It's concerning because once again questions will start about the way the Canadiens develop players. Are they creating healthy competition? Do they create opportunities to promote from within?

The first two lines are set although its possible that Pouliot and Eller may trade spots depending on production.
The third and fourth lines may have interchangeable parts. At this point, I don't see how Darche gets into the lineup.
You raise an interesting point about Halpern reducing the load on Plekanec. It's a good idea, and perhaps another coach would consider it, but it seems that Plekanec is Martin's go-to guy in almost every situation. We'll see if that continues this season.

Marc-Philippe said...

Alexandre Picard has a two-way deal, not a one-way deal. So it's 22 one-way deals (actually, it's 20 since Subban and Eller are also on two-ways). I am really not sure why everyone counts him as part of the team long-term when looking at the cap numbers (although he could start if Markov isn't ready to go).

With Picard on the farm and not using the bonus cushion, the Habs cap room is 953 K, right in line with what teams usually have to start the season.

Using the bonus cushion and with Picard on the farm, it grows to 1.378 M.

Also, Boyd and Eller need to play together in my mind since they are by far the most talented members of that bottom 6. I think Pyatt-Halpern-Moen could be a fine defensive line.

MathMan said...

A running theme I see in commentary about the Habs is complaints that come up about things where people have expectations that go by "gut feel" but don't really fit the reality of the NHL. The latest example is the "give-a-chance-to-the-kids" complaints that have came out of the Halpern signing.

The forward lineup listed by Arpon (which is likely to be the starting lineup, give or take a few line shuffles) includes one rookie, one player in his second season, and three more 25-or-under players. Add to that another rookie on defense, Picard who is 25, and a 23-year old starting goalie. That's really a lot of young-to-youngish players, and some of them will be leaned on for very key roles.

Seems to me the Habs have no trouble with playing kids. Two rookies in the starting lineup is really a fairly high number. If anything, there was the possibility of a lack of experience, especially in the bottom-6. I don't think that's primarily why Halpern was signed, but it may have been a consideration.

Arpon Basu said...

@ Marc-Philippe - You're right, those three are on two-way deals and I'll fix my story. My bad.

Just to explain myself a bit, I added Moen to the Halpern line because he's more an elite shutdown type than either Darche or Pyatt. If Halpern is to play against the other team's top line, he needs some good wingers and I feel moen best fits that role. So even though I listed the Halpern line fourth, it could be seen as a third line as well. However, the idea of playing Pouliot with Lapierre and Eller is intriguing as well and could make for a dangerous offensive line, especially since they'd be facing third-pairing defencemen for the most part.

Craig said...

The thing is, these lineups are entirely meaningless once the games start. Think about Martin last season! Debating whether Eller Pouliot AK46 or Moen should be on this line or that is irrelevant because they will likely all see every line once injuries, slumps, hot-streaks etc take hold. I certainly have my preferences as to who would play where - but there is not that big a difference between most of our forwards outside of the top 4 (Gio, Gomez, Cammy and Plex). Until someone else emerges - they're all plugs.

Olivier said...

As long as a kid doesn't outright dominate at the AHL: level, I don't see why the club should rush him to the big show. That tells me Desharnais might be the ne closest to the NHL, seeing what he did last year. Subban is a given and if Pacioretty has a strong start in the AHL (a strong possibility), he'll bump somebody off the roster.

Halpern looks set to take Metropolit's/Moore's minutes. M├ętro took a whole lot of defensive zone assignments, even with Gomez loosing only 6 games to injury and Pleks going the distance. When Moore came along, he simply replaced Metropolit, without affecting much Plekanec's workload. If Martin goes the same route than last year (nothing sayd he will) to start the year, this means a third line with a strong defensive assignment (I think Moen Halpern Pyatt are the go to guys for that) will mostly allow Martin to shelter the fourth line and play them less, maybe 8 minutes a night, but to great offensive effect, as was the case with Metro late in the season once Moore was taking the brunt of the remaining defensive assignations with Sergei and Moen.

Eller will have plenty of opportunities to gnaw at Halpern's minutes, but I think they'll slowly break him in for the first 20 games and then go from there.

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pfhabs said...


-just two things that puzzles me about the Halpern acquisition

-given his significant knee injury 2 years ago he's a lot slower than Martin likes his forwards. for example Chipchura offered a lot of good attributes but with a shredded achilles in last year of juniors he was deemed too slow. same knock on Latendresse in terms of skating ability.

-so we have a player good on faceoffs and PK but who is slower than the pace will dictate going into either zone...not normally a Martin type of player...

-perhaps he's this year's MAB but w defense and no offense ?

-on another note if you add the mysterious raise to Pouliot ($500K) and the $600K to Halpern you have Moore's salary

-Moore is a lot quicker as good defensively and offensively as good or better and you paid a 2nd round to get him...seems like we went backwards ?

-Gauthier genius at work again !

Milos Coko said...

Olivier is bang on in my opinion. Moen Pyatt Halpern are likely to be the choice shut down pairing, with possibly Lapierre shuffling in for Halpern occasionally (due to previously mentioned speed limitations on Halpern).

Eller and Boyd are a perfect match. I agree with Arpon's ideal starting forward lineup with the exception that Boyd should be on the same line as Eller. For those that watched a few Flames games over the years you'll know that we're getting a player that was consistently touted as "could be the next big thing if only..." similarly to what we had with SK but without the work ethic dilemmas. He's responsible in his own end, but I would never call him a defensive forward. He plays a skill game and at 23 years old it'd be foolish to write off the possibility of him becoming a top 6 forward. The only knock on him in Calgary was that he's too small and often loses board battles but with our team I'm not sure that'll be noticeable.

Sorry to ramble but I'm hopeful that Boyd and Eller get a chance to gel and push eachothers' careers along. I agree with Olivier that this line would likely not see over 10 min/game but considering their age and salary structures I think they can use this year to build something special for the future.

Joaquinda Park said...

Lineup looks good. The only comments I would make are that we cannot forget Jacques Martin's preference for a seventh defenceman/powerplay specialist. I belive there is a strong possibility that Yannick Weber will play fourth line, kill penalties and, more importantly, play the point on the second power play unit with Spacek or Hamrlik (the first pair being Markov Subban).

Lastly, let's not rule out Avstin. He may surprise a few folks.

Ming Eng said...

If you watch all of Halpern's goals, half of them are really smart positional goals, and the other half are grindy in front of the net. In the beginning, I wasn't too excited about the signing, because of limited cap space. But his "pros" changed my mind.
Good NHL experience,
A grindy forward that actually has a half decent shot,
signed for 600 thou.

I think this guy will have no problem fitting into the line up,
and he is nearly a guaranteed steal.

Open Crate said...

Great article! That's a very realistic line-up and one we'd probably see. However, I'd switch Pyatt to the fourth line, in exchange for Moen, who has seen so much success and played a key role last season. Actually, based on Pouliot's performance (or lack thereof) after he came back from injury, Moen can probably work well on the 2nd line, protecting Gionta.

BigT said...

Very well-thought out piece that looked into the obvious and not so obvious plus a lot of the intangibles in the signing.

I liked the signing because it clearly defines our bottom 6 and the price was fantastic (for once)!

Initially, I was disheartened with the idea of not giving our youngsters a chance to crack the lineup but as I was reflecting on who it was that we were not giving a shot to; (Desharnais, Pacioretty, White, Maxwell, Palushaj and Avtsin) I began to realize that it’s actually not necessarily taking away a spot from any of them except maybe one, Ryan White (explanation below).

Desharnais is probably the closest to being @NHL-level (speedy, offensively gifted but small). He's not a grinder or a shutdown guy and not suited to be in the bottom 6.

Pacioretty was drafted as our next power-forward. Gritty, good shot, not afraid to get into the corners. OK the Habs rushed him and then corrected their mistake. Let's NOT turn him into a grinder just yet. Let's give him a chance to rediscover his offensive prowess and half a season (that was injury plagued in the AHL) is not enough to do that. Projection: top 2 lines. So again, not his spot that Halpern took.

Maxwell is simply not ready for the prime-time and I’m not sure he ever will. Ben is not strong on the puck and can easily be dispossessed. Worse, he doesn't use his speed to his advantage and seems hesitant to make plays.

Ryan White's problem was inconsistency and if anyone was going to be turned into a grinder/plugger, White would be that pick. If he has overcome his issues, then this is probably our first victim of losing a spot due to Halpern's signing (and that's a big IF).

Palushaj, I don't know much about and haven't seen to fairly analyze But, we do know that he was MaxPac's linemate in college (where both were pretty successful) and as such, I think he was brought in to help Patches rediscover that scoring touch by bringing a sense of familiarity to him. His job is in Hamilton pushing and being pushed by Patches. He was not slotted for 3rd or 4th line duties.

Finally, Avtsin could definitely be the diamond in the rough, but they will not rush him. I'm positive that they will give him a full year in Hamilton to adjust to the North American game and to see how he reacts to it. Even if he lights it up in the first month, how will he deal with the long grind of a N.American schedule and the physicality of it game-in game-out. Lots of questions about this kid that need to be answered and he needs to be nurtured and developed properly (let's not repeat the mistake we did with Patches). So again, he didn't have a spot stolen from him.

So there we have it. Ideally, if we get an injury to someone in our top 2 lines, we give a Desharnais or a Pacioretty or whoever is destined for that role a chance to play that actual role. Rather than shifting the team lineup around and creating some sort of makeshift semi-scoring/semi-grinding AHL/NHL 4th line

A kid like Desharnais has been a point-getter/playmaker his whole hockey career, he shouldn't be brought up to play a "chip-it-out and change on-the-fly" type game just because he’s the top point-getter and he “deserves” it. This is professional sports! If anything, I'm doing a disservice to David to put him in such an awkward and unfamiliar role.
If we get an injury on our 3rd line, I can let it pass that you give whoever is the leading point getter in Hamilton a shot there. If our problem is on the 4th line, how about a Ryan White in that role (even if Desharnais is tearing it up). White would fit the role much better.
Let's allow these players to come up and get accustomed to what their actual roles will be with the big club. Let them come up and do what's natural for them and then grade and evaluate them on that relevant performance.

Dann said...


I agree with Moen being considered an elite shutdown player. I also think he's a vet and should play different roles effectively.

I think Pyatt should be given the opportunity to build on his success late last season in the defensive role. Pyatt would benefit from player with two tougher players (Boyd, Halpern) and he would bring speed to the 4th line.

TK said...

I like this lineup, although I agree with some posters that the club seems to have an abundance of fourth liners. Hopefully a few of them can step up their game to cement themselves as solid third-line players.

On an unrelated note: Does anyone know where I could stream Habs games online? I am willing to pay for the service. I know RDS and NHL.com was offering online streaming for awhile, but I think they put an end to it.

Dann said...

atdhe.net usually has some decent free streams.

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