Monday, July 04, 2011

Cole Shoulders High Expectations in Montreal

Two somewhat paranormal coincidences to report, one being my comment on Topham's Thursday post about my "dream signing" being Erik Cole; and him being signed hours later. The second is that I apparently agree with Jack Todd, for once. Eerie.

So why Erik Cole?

In my opinion, the biggest need for the Habs up front this off-season was clear: a proven top-6 winger with size. We've all talked before on many occasions about the need for a power forward, preferably a good winger to play with the albatross that is Scott Gomez. Someone who can battle in front of the net, and not have Andrew Leighton simply look over their heads if they set a screen. Someone who can score at least 20 goals a season; the more, the better. Having another RH shot among the forwards would also be a big plus, as only Gionta and Ryan White currently qualify.

Now, we knew we were fooling ourselves if we even dared think about Jaromir Jagr or Brad Richards; and wonder idly if there was ever any talk from head office to, say, the Sharks about Setoguchi or Pavelski when they were moved. The UFA pool was fairly shallow this year, so Montreal didn't have a lot of great choices. Once Philly wrapped up RFA Claude Giroux, the market consisted basically of Cole, Michael Ryder, and Jamie Langenbrunner.

Michael Ryder
We've been here before. Ryder was a Calder-nominated rookie for us back in 2003-04, scoring 25 goals and 38 assists. He had 2 straight 30-goal campaigns after the lockout, but a sub-par 2007-08 season (likely due to personal issues related to his brother) saw him benched by Carbonneau and left to free agency. He rebounded with Boston, scoring 27 goals and over 50 points again, but since has trailed off to 33 points last season and 41 this year despite around 15 minutes of ice-time. He's a proven scorer, and at 6' and 192 lbs is large for a Habs forward. Somehow I don't know that he'd welcome an offer from Montreal, nor that Montreal fans would be happy to have him back; and there's no guarantee he'll ever return to his 30-goal form. Dallas will pay him $3.5M per year for the next two seasons finding out.

Jamie Langenbrunner
The oldest of the trio at 35, Langenbrunner is a proven 2-way forward that's won two Cups (one with Dallas in 1999, and one with New Jersey in 2003). He fit in well with New Jersey's conservative style of play and Jacques Martin would probably love him for it. He's scored 20+ goals 4 times in 16 NHL seasons and twice came within 2 goals of the mark; and has 6 seasons with 50+ points. He's got good size at 6'1" and 205 lbs. Given that he's still unsigned, I'm left wondering why - he would have likely been a decent addition to many squads and his last contract was only worth $2.8M/yr. I am guessing Pierre Gauthier talked to him, but the fact he's still unsigned makes me think there's something a little fishy.

Erik Cole
At 32 years old and beginning his 10th NHL season, Cole has had his problems with injuries with an astonishing 86 games missed since the lockout. However, he's managed to clear 50 points 4 times in that span, and score 20+ three times (with another 18-goal season). However, he doesn't seem to play well with people who aren't Hurricanes: he had a pretty disastrous 27 points in 63 games with the Oilers in 2008-09 before returning to Carolina to put up 15 points in a mere 17 games. Still, he can be productive while playing tough minutes against hard opposition, and was one of only 5 players to score over 25 goals and deliver over 200 hits last season.

I reasoned that we need a big, RH winger that can hit and score. To me, Cole was the best choice. I think he's the biggest offensive threat of the three, he uses his size and at 6'2" and 205 lbs he's far from small. If he can stay healthy, and he did play 82 games last year, I don't think it's unreasonable to think he can put away another 25 goals and help Gomez pull his numbers up to reasonable levels - but I'm expecting a fair amount of line-juggling from Jacques Martin early on and the lines might not be what we're expecting. I was hoping to sign him for a little less than $4.5M for 2-3 years, but he'll be 37 at the contract's end and not exactly ancient. The reality is that we have to pay a premium to get players from the US that would rather not pay Canadian and Quebec taxes.

Maybe less like a "dream signing," and more like a realistic one. I guess I don't dream very big. But if Cole stays healthy, I think he can be the physical 25-goal scorer we could use so badly; and it least it's a dream that has a chance of coming true.

Let us know in the comments who I missed, and who you would have rather seen putting on the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge this past weekend.

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