Monday, July 25, 2011

The Habs' Quiet Summer

A mere two years ago, I was spending Canada Day in Trafalgar Square and entertaining discussions with Habs fans from around the world on the additions of Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri, the imminent departures of Alex Kovalev and Saku Koivu.

It was an overhaul to overhaul all overhauls. The core of the the team was torn out and millions of dollars were thrown at the repair job. For a twitter user, it was a busy few days.

Jump two years and here we are. It's July 25th already and the speed of news couldn't be helped by twitter -- there hasn't been any. I say none, that's untrue, but for fans used to reading and writing about this team a few times a day, the ten news items that have passed since playoff elimination put us in chat topic tundra.

It's hard to say whether I'd have been happier if searches on Google News had turned up more over these weeks or not. I'm sure a Gomez trade or a Brad Richards signing would have been hours of fun. But in many ways, I don't think I could be more pleased with the way the summer has gone to this point. Maybe that's because this summer I was hoping for relative lack of movement on many fronts, a sign of the content with the team of last season and the discontent with the markets (both free agent and trade).

So, on the heels of avoiding arbitration with a very modest contract, I present to you the top ten Habs quiet coups of Summer 2011:

1) Signing Andrei Markov to what he made before
The Habs could have been more aggressive with negotiation I'm sure. But the numbers they came to at the end made a lot of sense for a player they know and employ so well. There was no shenanigans, no Holmgrenisms in the contract. Just a straight vote of confidence in salary and term.

2) Winning over Alexei Emelin
We've known about this guy as a prospect for years. But he comes to Montreal now as one of the top defenders from the next best league in the world -- it's hard to imagine him not making a top 6. It sounded like it took some doing from Gauthier, perhaps wheels greased by some quality Slovakian Pilsener. A big addition without the inherent risks of dealing with other GMs trying to work you over.

3) Not blowing the budget right away
The salary cap went up by quite a fair margin making players out of many teams that may have thought themselves out, including the Habs. But it was good judgment to keep spending to a minimum on July 1, when the banks opened. The market was weak, and as we see now much of what was available at 3 pm that day is still on the shelves now.

4) Not trading up in the draft
Last year the Habs traded up in the draft and got Tinordi for the cost of two slightly lower picks. They came out with a bet on a tall player, but a step back in terms of depth (usually skillfully filled in second rounders). This year, the team must have considered doing the same when Beaulieu started being passed over. They got a player who dropped anyway and ended up with some bodies from the draft and picks for future years.

5) Repatriating Brock Trotter
Little fanfare for the move, but Brock Trotter was Hamilton's top scorer two seasons ago and he will be again. Both Hamilton and Trotter had got themselves into binds, and both found each other to get out.

6) Maintaining a presence in Switzerland
I harp on about the potential goldmine that could be mined in Russia by a more daring franchise. The Habs seem to be doing their mining quite well in Switzerland. First Streit and Weber, now Diaz and Berger through early free agent signings. Diaz comes with a pedigree and quite a reputation, while Berger is that big right-handed shot who scored as many or more goals in this year's OHL as lots of 2011's first rounders.

7) Resigning Hal Gill
Say what you want about the regular season, this guy is a playoff revelation. The guy who signed Rob Scuderi must be kicking himself now for missing the subtlety of Gill. His price is not a bargain, but a better package of mentor, shot blocker and cooler head is hard to find.

8) Shed no tears
The sentimental team rarely wins. So after good year(s) of service from Halpern, Auld, Pyatt and co. it was OK to watch them go. When the team felt there was a replacement coming up the depth chart, the player was not tendered. Simple. It's good hockey too.

9) Resigning Andrei Kostitsyn
A player who is big, talented and can score 20 goals on the Montreal Canadiens anemic roster. This was our hope from this year's free agency. Well, just ahead of that, Gauthier ignored the calls of the more melodramatic faithful and signed this very player from under his own nose. A good holding play.

10) Realizing a good top 6 requires a good top 7/8...
After Pacioretty and Kostitsyn were resigned, the team's intact top 6 from the healthy halcyon days of January was back. But with money in the pocket and a few seasons of watching temperamental forwards, Gauthier sprung for another to complement the group. Hopefully Travis Moen can earn his cheques with an off-ice view of Plekanec and Gomez from now on.

And the news that bore the story didn't make the list. The Gorges signing is a good solid move. But it was never going to be overlooked, it was never going to go to arbitration and it was never going to be exciting in terms of numbers, term or salary cap gymnastics. As he is on ice, Gorges quietly passed the puck to the next story without making much of a show of it...

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