Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Don’t Hold Your Breath for Dan Ellis

Dan Ellis’ rights, acquired as part of the Sergei Kostitsyn trade were just window dressing as far as I’m concerned. Ellis is both too good and too close to a free agent payout to accept any sub-par offer for his services, no matter what his twitter account says.

Robert L is already penciling Ellis in at $1.8 million in his ideal world. But I ask why a goalie like Ellis, who earned $2 million last season, would sign a day early to become a certain back-up at a lower salary. If he is really a man with no ambition, then perhaps we’d be better with Cedrick Desjardins. If, as I suspect, he does have aspirations, then $1.8 million won’t do it. Nor will a promise of 14 games.

Bob McKenzie agrees with my take on this (or rather I with his), and thinks Ellis has much more attractive options elsewhere. Others agree too.

To make it attractive for Ellis to miss the free agency he’s so far been determined to test, the Habs will have to make an attractive offer. Playing time is nice, but in this world attractive means $$$. Let’s assume then that Ellis and his agent are looking for somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3 million. The Habs with their tax, and the pressure of a single day to trade would do well to lock him up at that price even. At $3 million, this potential acquisition looks a whole lot different.

Now I know Halak hasn’t signed yet. And I know we’ve been told that Pierre Gauthier assumes he knows the market, and that he assumes he knows what Halak will be asking for, and that he assumes he knows what he will sign for. But with a $3 million range Dan Ellis suddenly sitting on the books, this lays the non-call to Halak as an even greater nonsense from the wayward GM. If Gauthier has to make a deal to stay under the salary cap because Ellis and Price push him over, it also makes mockery of the budgetary argument for trading the better goalie in the first place.

Anyway. We all knew that was smokescreen from the minute it was proposed. That the Halak trade had less to do with cap room than it had to do with other considerations. So let’s get on with it.

Coming out of the Halak trade we all made our own assumption. The assumption, based on sound bytes from a GM, was that a good goalie was traded for prospects because the organization felt it had another good goalie, possibly even a better goalie, to throw its money and effort behind. We all thought Price is the bona fide number one goalie now.

This facet of the Halak:Price decision was panned in some quarters, but by and large lauded by the denizens of this fair site. It was lauded for the transaction of potential (one ceiling alleged to be higher than another) and most importantly for its cost-saving realism.

I need some convincing on the former theory, but I am relatively comfortable with the latter. After all, even if we assume Carey will show a consistent level of modesty to match his 3-year introductory period, he still won’t wrangle the biggest raise out of the Habs. Yet even his $2.X million could be a problem under the cap. Should Halak have been around, most commenters seemed to gravitate to the conclusion that this team could no longer afford to pay two useful goaltenders. One would assume the same thinking would logically apply to the perhaps slightly cheaper Ellis.

There's the rub. Price and Ellis together is not a league-cheapest goaltender combination, despite what optimists may dream. Two free agents holding all the cards does not generally result in fiscally responsible signings. My guess would be that the two of them together would not be a $4 million combination but closer to a $6 million one. At this point, my annoyance over the original Gauthier (Gainey) decision on back-end direction is coming to boil again. Price/Ellis wouldn’t be cheap, and though it would provide the necessary insulation against a year of growing pains ¬ I thought that luxury was too rich for the team.

Perhaps then the Ellis maneuver is more to do with an impasse with Price than it is to do with Ellis himself. Perhaps it’s not Halak or Price, but neither Halak nor Price. I think even the most embattled goalie supporters among us might agree that if that is the case, then the Habs management needs to be reined in.

So between the salary cap and pending free agency, I don’t think there are many scenarios where Dan Ellis signs a contract in the next few hours. Certainly not many where both or even one of the two camps - Halakkies and Pricites - come out happy.

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