Monday, June 30, 2008

Absolutes In The New NHL

A couple of days ago, I was told (via a Gazette article) that I could stop thinking about Vincent Lecavalier ever coming to Montreal.

Today, I am being told (via a Gazette article) that we should forget about courting Brian Rolston for a contract.

What will they tell me next?

It seems to me that the hockey media (including the Gazette) are having a harder time than some understanding the changes that have happened in the NHL over the past few seasons. They can't seem to wrap their minds around some of the salary cap issues some of the time.

Take Lecavalier:
Now I am not saying that it would improve our chances of ever seeing Lecalaier in Bleu, Blanc, Rouge were he to sign a 9-year deal with the Lightning, but let's be honest, don't we all know by now that a no-trade clause doesn't mean you can't be traded. A no-trade (or recently no-movement, for some reason) clause simply means that a player will be asked to approve a trade or his eventual destination, instead of having it thwarted upon him and his family.

There are precedents now from around the league where players will gladly waive their no-trade clause to move when the circumstances suit them.

It would certainly put the onus on Montreal to talk to Lecavalier and offer him something ahead of offering his GM something in return, but this is not an impossibility. Merely a little bit more work.

In the case of Rolston and other players whose rights are traded for a few hours before free agency, I feel it is almost an insult to our intelligence to suggest that the deal is done. It is almost certainly an insult to Rolston's intelligence. After all, why would he accept a deal just because his (former) GM might get a draft pick if he does.

As this business of trading for a potential draft choice becomes more commonplace, we will see more and more deals never come to fruition. Look no further than Sundin for proof of that.

So too the unsigned UFAs. Just because Ryder hasn't received an offer yet, does not mean he will be gone necessarily. Last season, Souray was not tendered an offer until after Gainey tried for Rafalski. A few days later, he could have (had he chosen to) been back in Montreal. I can see this happening with Ryder if both he and the Canadiens are jilted in the open market.

So you see, things are not as absolute as they seem in the NHL. Since we had a saying already – "If Gretzky could be traded..." – I thought we all knew this. Hardly anything about free agency is predictable, except that a few players will be grossly overpaid at the end of it (hopefully by Philly and Toronto). It is with this in mind that I would offer a short synopsis of my thoughts on tomorrow's free agency.

What (I think) the Canadiens need

Personally, I'm not restricting myself to a center here. Nor will I restrict myself by a player's stature (physical or reputation).

In my eyes, all this team needs is one more forward – one who prefers shooting to passing. Koivu is a passer, Plekanec is a passer, The Kostitsyns seem to prefer passing, strangely Kovalev does a lot of time, too. Higgins and Latendresse prefer to shoot, but it'd be nice if the preference to shoot came with a bit of whereabouts as well – someone who can shoot on target, or heaven forbid at a certain part of the net.

I think we were beaten by Philly in this area more than any other. Carter for all his unearned millions sure can pick a corner and Umberger did as well. Their shots were answered by chest-high specials from Latendresse, Begin and co. and unfinished 3-move passing plays from the passing boys.

Paradoxically, if we were another set of fans, I think we would look at Michael Ryder and call for (Gainey) to sign him. Ryder equivalents on other teams are few and far between, but realistic and fairly affordable shooters could include Selanne, Satan and Rolston. Hossa and Sundin being other obvious, yet less affordable choices. The wildcard entry in this list could be the Finn Niklas Hagman who ripped 27 goals while posting a Rick Nashesque 14 assists. He could be Koivu's long-lost outlet...

What (I think) the Canadiens don't need?

The Habs could very well improve this offseason by simply subtracting a few pieces of dead (or even broken) wood.

Lightening the roster of Brisebois would at once mean more playing time for developing (and frankly superior) defencemen and rid Carbonneau of the option to do something really stupid in the playoffs after a lot of regular season success. It would also make the burden of carrying Dandenault that much lighter.

Similarly, dispensing with Smolinski, who provided a nice veteran to look at on the roster sheet, but very rarely did so on the icesheet. Chipchura or Lapierre would benefit from that omission.

Finally, the main thing the Habs don't need in my opinion is a big multi-year contract just for the sake of it. I can't imagine malone for 7 years, for example. I hope we're not left to rue this July for Brunette 4 years, Vrbata 5 years or any of those guys I mentioned (for that matter) for more than couple to start with.

While the trend at the moment may seem to be long-term contracts. Lessons from the Canadiens own salary cap era show how prudent one- and two-year deals may create more work, but don't necessarily mean less success. Ryder detractors will be well aware of this valuable tidbit.

Who for a bargain?

Another well learned lesson is that a bargain in free agency goes a long way to improving the team and assets. Finding the biggest bargain of this year's crop is difficult.

Among the UFAs, I look down the top of the list and see a lot of overpriced older stars and overachieving contract year guys (e.g., Vrbata). Of the forwards, I don't see any phenomenal steals, but feel that Hagman would likely be had for a bargain and that Satan whose been a consistent shooter for a decade would accept less to reestablish hiimself for a year. Demitra could be looking for less nowadays, but I'd shy from another link in the never-ending passing play.

On defence, I see Redden. Potentially, Wade Redden is the absolute bargain of this unappealing crop. Sure, he had a bad second half, but who didn't in Ottawa? On the other hand, he is one year removed from being a Stanley Cup finalist. His stock has plummeted like nearby Nortel's did in Ottawa this past little while and could be a very nice piece of a 4-man all-star unit in front of Price. Get 4 D-men of that calibre and no one will be wondering about Sundin or Rolston anymore...

What will I be saying in a week?

I have no idea. Really none. If it's "Sundin could fit well in between Latendresse and Sergei...", then I'll be happy enough. Equally, if it's "Koivu finally gets a replacement for Mark Recchi..", I wouldn't complain.

My nerves are not concerned with what positive moves we might try and fail at, it's about which moves we might live to regret if Gainey gets swept along and signs someone who doesn't fir the plans.

Fingers are crossed here. Bob be sensible.

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