Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Needs And Wants

In the build-up to the ever-disappointing watershed that is 12:00 noon on July 1st in NHL circles, I have been reading more and more rumours. More and more speculation.

Not wishing to be the one blogger to shy away from putting forth my lopsided opinion, I wanted to weigh in on the issues of Canadiens needs.

A commonly held notion is that the Canadiens will lose Brisebois, Streit, Smolinski and Ryder and therefore need to find replacements for all of these players (JT said as much in his article on the topic a couple of days ago). While this notion is not altogether wrong – obviously someone will have to play those empty positions – replacing them with outsiders may be an unnecessary leap, at least in my humble opinion.

Brisebois – signed (for some reason) as a 5th-6th defenceman, he gradually slipped to 8th on the depth chart over the season. His place as 4th Dman was due to Carbonneau's folly and had little to do with merit. Replacing him is a matter of calling Hamilton. Any number of rookies could fit at number 8 for us.

Streit – a unique commodity, it would be nice to replace him, but also virtually impossible. If we need to replace him as a forward (I don't think we do) then it is a 4th liner now that we carry Tanguay. No need to get excited about signing a 4th liner today. If we replace him as a defenceman, then we could be stuck. Anyone who will offer as much offense (Campbell) will be far too costly, anyone who fits into the 2nd pairing as the 5th best D will be challenged to get even half those totals. Ron Hainsey is the only real match here, and signing him would beg the question: "Why didn't Gainey just sign Streit?" If he is to be replaced on the PP, finding the right free agent here is difficult. You might think Sergei Fedorov or Brian Rolston, but neither is an out and out Streit replacement. My thinking is basically that Streit cannot be directly replaced, so Gainey should not trouble himself trying to fit a round peg into a Streit-shaped hole.

Smolinski – call him insurance or veteran presence or whatever, but he was hardly a third line centre. I don't think Bryan Smolinski would need to be directly replaced at all. I think Lapierre has earned his stripes and Chipchura will have learned what it takes to stick this time around.

Ryder – if we accept he had a bad season and played little part in getting the Habs to top in the East, and remember that he didn't even set foot on the ice when we were getting outscored by Philly, then a case could be made that Michael Ryder doesn't need to be replaced. I, however, would beg to differ. I think Michael Ryder (at least the one from rookie to year 3) is the player we most need to replace. A scorer with scoring on his mind.

I hear it bandied about every few minutes (or seconds these days): What Montreal really needs is a number one centre.

I think there needs to be some clarification here. Montreal does not need a number one centre in the way that Columbus, Vancouver or Atlanta do. With a bit of analysis, in fact, there could be 10 or more teams in the NHL that would be glad to have either Koivu or Plekanec as their number one pivot.

No, Montreal would really really like a "number one/two/three" centre who's bigger than Koivu – that's all.

While signing Sundin would unquestionably be an improvement for the team, it would be silly to break up Kostitsyn and Plekanec, for example, just to make him the de facto number one. Would Sundin still be the number one with Latendresse and Sergei? Would it matter?

Furthermore, how much evidence do we need that Koivu can hold his own anyway as an offensive force in tough situations?

At the end of the day, a big centre would be nice – possibly even great for the team – but I don't think it falls under the heading of need.

Apparently, we are also in dire need of a veteran back-up goalie.

Even more ludicrous than the aforementioned, any team would be thrilled to have two good young goalies. Why should we be looking for someone on the downside of their career. I laugh when I read about Toronto signing (ahem) future hall-of-famer (ahem) Cujo. We should all be...

So what is it the Canadiens need, then?

At the risk of becoming very repetitive: A scorer who can shoot. That which makes Andrei Kostitsyn the biggest priority bar none this July.

As for a new guy, what we need is Higgins with hands, Ryder with drive, Tanguay with lower propensity for sharing.

Hossa, were it not for his looming multi-year 9 million+ deal, might be worth a look. Committing that kind of money to Hossa would mean committing the future to Hossa. Something which, we should note, neither of the two previous Stanley Cup contenders from the East, and even a team who looked like they would have nothing to lose in doing so, would do. Obvious alarm bells ring. Loud as those that were buzzing through this blog at Briere time last seaosn.

Yesterday, I think I suggested Miroslav Satan as a possible option (an obvious risk). Niklas Hagman is another, as is Rolston. And Teemu Selanne continues to scream out in the way he so obviously fits the position we need to fill. These are the next tier, the possible bargains.

If it's not one of those, what Gainey needs to look for anyone who can shoot over 10% with more than 200 shots (sorry Ribeiro). Check out the guys who meet that criteria on this list, and you'll see why. Getting a big centre who passes golden chances to others will not help while Higgins is shooting for crossbars all season. A sly point-man to feed pucks around the goalmouth on the PP will add nothing if Latendresse is expected to be the one to punctuate the plays.

I hope Gainey doesn't confuse needs with wants once the frenzy begins. Needs lead to desperation and desperation contracts (see Samsonov, Sergei). Fulfilling wants creates great feeling around the team, may even allow the team to progress that much quicker, but may just not be worth mortgaging the future (contracts beyond this year) for.

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