We regularly strive to feature diverse opinions at All Habs Hockey Magazine for you, the reader. To that end, our staff contributors write from differing perspectives using a variety of styles. I invited Iain Carnegie to share his thoughts with you on the Canadiens additions through free agency. Iain is a friend and the sole writer of the blog Bleed Bleu, Blanc, Rouge.
I’m sure that Iain would appreciate receiving your comments.
MONTREAL, QC. — With only a few days to comprise a “rest” between the NHL Entry Draft, and the July 1st free agent deadline, it’s clear that taking some time off to bask in the glory of signing the likes of Nathan Beaulieu, Olivier Archambault, and Daniel Pribyl was not in the cards.
Instead, as the free agent deadline came and went, it became clear that Pierre Gauthier, and the rest of his front office had been busy at work, in an attempt to build a stronger contending franchise for the coming 2011-2012 season in the NHL.
Rumours abounded as talk about Jaromir Jagr returning to the NHL ramped up to an unworthy and heightened level. Questions escalated as to whether the Habs would make a concerted effort to acquire the likes of Brooks Laich (Washington) or Ville Leino (Philadelphia).
The teams needs have been recognized for some time now – whether by the MSM, the fanbase, or writers spanning across the blogosphere. After all – everyone’s a GM. Everyone knows what’s best for the team.
In the end, I prefer to leave it up to the powers that be; and that hammer sits squarely on the shoulders of Pierre Gauthier.
So what actually happened on July 1st?
To begin with, the Canadiens dodged their first bullet by not chomping at the “Jagr” bit. There is no need to tarnish the illustrious career of one such as Jagr. He’s been a powerhouse to watch over 17 NHL seasons; but the fact of the matter is this. At the age of 39, a team aging like the Habs, have no place in signing him. Especially not to the tune of $3M US on a one season contract.
There is no secret that Jagr has always some-what fancied himself either. I suppose one might argue that having that type of talent enables a person to feel so highly of themselves. But that is an attitude that is neither needed, nor wanted in the Montreal dressing room.
Veteran presence from Hal Gill, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, and Andrei Markov does not need the disturbing presence of a selfish player.
Instead, Gauthier turned to a player where a team need could be fulfilled. He turned his sights on Erik Cole.
Cole, who was born a stone’s throw from Montreal (Oswego, NY), brings a few cards to the table that La Flanelle have been in search of for quite some time. At 32 years of age, the 6’2” 205lb power forward has had a strong career. Playing predominantly with the Carolina Hurricanes (where he won a Stanley Cup), as well as a one year stint in Edmonton, Cole has had multiple 50+ point seasons.
But you have to look deeper than his past stats to uncover what acquiring him will do for the forward lines of the Canadiens. Adding a second sizeable offensive player to the top two lines will drive far more depth and scoring opportunity. Cammalleri, Plekanec, Gionta, and Gomez are all visionary hockey players with great speed, and agility. They are more than capable of cycling the puck down low in the offensive zone, but their size makes it difficult for them to open passing lanes to the front of the net.
The addition of Cole means a sizeable body that can hold the zone and allow his speedier line-mates to get themselves open. He will be tough to move off the puck, will be strong along the half boards, and when needed, can also provide a strong net presence for the sniper personalities of Plekanec and Cammalleri.
There’s also the fact that he’s always had a desire to play in Montreal. One of Cole’s first phone calls after he heard Montreal had an interest in him was to Brian Gionta (who he played with on the US Olympic hockey team in Turino). He wanted to know about everything from regular play, to the practice facility, to the standard of life he could expect.
I assume he liked what he heard, and his own words regarding him coming to the Habs say it best:
“I’m thrilled. It’s just the feeling when you’re in the city and the passion in the arena – I don’t think it’s matched anywhere else in the NHL,” he added. “To come to a franchise that’s so storied it’s going to be a thrill to get out there and play in a Habs uniform.” ~ Erik Cole
I know there are many fans that feel we’ve paid far too large a premium, for someone of his age, but reality is the UFA market has allowed players to price themselves far above realistic contracts; not to mention that there is a price to be accounted for due to the high tax status of playing in Quebec. Put those points together, and realize that Jagr (at 39!) got a cool three million. That alone is enough o make me feel we got a good deal.
Besides, no one said he would necessarily be here for the full four years. Just ask Mike Richards and Jeff Carter about that.
As much as I have praised Gauthier for his off season movements, he has done something that struck me as odd.
Last season, Alex Auld started 12 games for the Habs and put up some solid numbers (SV% .914 and a GAA of 2.64. with a 6-2-2 record). He was only costing le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge $1 million USD per season. More than anything else, he seemed to have the perfect symbiotic relationship with Carey Price. Goaltender controversy dissipated, and Auld sat on the bench – day in and day out – never complaining about the role he knew he was here to fill.
So what possessed the front office to let him walk, while they added an additional $150K to a new contract for Peter Budaj?
Many will say that Auld didn’t have what it takes to start the number of games that would be required of him this year. Somewhere, many speculate, will be in the area of about 20 games. But I fully disagree with that. Auld could easily have started another eight games in the upcoming season, and I’m sure would have posted significant wins while doing so.
Budaj has had a single team career in the NHL – all six seasons being served with the Colorado Avalanche. Last year was a struggle for Budaj as he suffered from the H1N1 virus and was fully isolated from the remainder of his team-mates until the beginning of November. He managed a record of 15-21 in 45 starts and posted a GAA of 3.20, and a SV% of .895.
So why the move? In my opinion, Gauthier has traded away a sure thing for a gamble. He also ate up more cap space. It became very evident that it was not a matter of money between both camps, when Auld turned and signed back with the Ottawa Senators for the same $1 million that should have been offered to him here.
All in all though, I’m pleased with the building process that I see occurring with the Habs. They have added depth and size, re-signed youth which they are developing throughout the organization from the ground up, while managing to ensure we have cash available for the Subban and Price contracts next season.
I only have one request for Mr Gauthier now – Go get Josh Gorges and Ryan White.
Then make that Cup run we’ve all been waiting for.