Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Insert Headline:

The Spin and the Motive for the Erik Cole Trade

Canadiens unload Cole to the Stars.

Erik Cole has been traded to the Stars.

Erik Cole's contract traded to the Stars for UFA Michael Ryder.

Canadiens acquire Michael Ryder from Dallas.

Stars and Canadiens swap scorers.

There are a number of ways to spin this trade depending on your perspective. I was somewhat disappointed to hear about the trade and then learn more about it from the one-tracked crew at RDS. The tack they took was certainly to denigrate the player on the way out. I see little need for that.

They implicated Cole in disturbances in team chemistry (strange given the winning ways) and stated assuredly that he was a mere shadow of his former self (the former self that played his heart out as the player of the season only 10 months ago). I could spend a whole article criticising RDS and the ever-so-simple Benoit Brunet (still on TV?), but I've given them more attention than they deserve already.

There'll be time to examine what was lost in Cole and what was gained in Ryder, but for now, I wish to suggest the reasons I think as to why the trade might have been made.

1) Corey Perry

Bergevin was left with a difficult salary situation that he didn't make immediate moves to improve. Had he not bought out Gomez, this team would be over next year's cap, so even with that move the GM and team had little room to maneuver in what could be one of the more interesting summers (lower cap after meaning moves from others). I cite Corey Perry as a one example of a player that could become available on July 1. When a player the likes of Corey Perry becomes available, teams are wise to make preparations to be in the running. Cole's salary wasn't massive and it wasn't an overpayment, but it was after all $4.5 million on the books. Ryder's after this year will be nil. The flexibility that could be gained to make summer pursuits either is a prime suspect for me as to the reasoning and timing for this trade.

2) 2014-15

I'm going to give Bergevin a little credit here. Though he talks about the PP now, he can't be disclosing an entire reasoning in the statements of last night. While a valiant commitment to a continuation of this good start is the right thing to do, the wise thing to do is stick with the strategic plan that was set after the planning sessions prior to the season.

Any GM taking over the last-place outfit of last season would have been foolhardy to envisage or count on a turnaround 6 weeks into his new tenure. My feeling, based on the moves that reveal long-term intentions, is that Bergevin has the year 2014 very much in mind in his strategic rebuilding efforts. 2014 will be the year that several key contracts come off the books, including the captain and most of the defensive corps. If flexibility for this summer lends to intrigue, flexibility in that summer will be a necessity. Cole's contract, with an expiration date of one summer later was out of step with this plan, and one cannot be sure that an opportunity to have him waive his right to denial would present itself again.

Strategically, one building this team really does have to be looking past the age of Gionta to start thinking Cups. By that time, questions of Subban's poise and maturity will be resolved and Carey Price will be in full prime. The current rookies will have experience under their belt and one can only hope that they will be joined in their exuberance by the likes of Collberg, Kristo and others.

3) Dallas called

I'm going to fly in David Archambault's face here and suggest that this doesn't feel like Bergevin was looking to unload Erik Cole. I would not be in the least surprised if this trade was instigated by Joe Nieuwendyk out his desire to pursue his own strategic vision. He was in a very different predicament with several forwards set to come off the books in the summer and the prospect of an extremely young core to remain. It makes sense to me that he would be seeking a player like Cole that could bridge a couple of extra years should negotiations with all his free agents get difficult. What's more, he very much needed the leverage to hold over his free agents -- that he does have enough players to ice two NHL-ready lines.

So, if Dallas called, I'd suggest they called about Cole specifically. And that the choice to make the call during a slow period for Cole was not coincidence. In such a situation, the leverage is with the seller (at least until he reveals his wishes) and Bergevin appears to have done OK in gaining a younger, Montreal-ready player with a record for scoring 30 goals a season. My bone of contention if this was the scenario is that Bergevin should have held on for Jagr (aka Plekanec's soulmate).

4) Fixing the PP

This is low on the list. I'm sorry to those who take GMs at face value, but get real. First of all, the Canadiens PP is not ailing. Second of all, the Canadiens PP is not ailing. No, it is not as high-flying as it should be with Andrei Markov running things. But this is because it takes time to resolve the tampering that a fidgety coach couldn't resist. The Canadiens can count on two truly dangerous point units and the passes they provide the forwards could have easily been (and were) put in by Erik Cole.

The tenuous story here is that Bergevin is really worried about replacing Rene Bourque, who had been thriving on the PP early on, and so sought a sniper with a similar release and tendency. It's possible, but not my favourite option. I can see why this is the story given to the press (who can't grasp planning for next Wednesday, let alone 2014-15), and I can understand that this is a consequence of the move. I don't buy it as motive.

5) Getting rid of Erik Cole

This has to be very low on the list. If it is not, beware the years ahead with this GM as he would have waited only days before following in the tracks of his ousted predecessors. It simply makes no sense to seek to unload a player who a year ago was the engine of a team and in this season was a contributing member (if not always on the scoresheet) to a first place team. Question those who come up with this as the primary rationale.

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