Canadiens Free Agency Depth Plan

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.

written by Iain Carnegie, special to AllHabs.net

610xecole 300x238 Canadiens Free Agency Depth Plan

AP Photo/Gerry Broome

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.

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20 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Uncle Leo says:

    Well said, Iain.

    I like Erik Cole, especially now that he is no longer a Canadiens-killer. I like the size and grit that he brings, which, as I’ve commented before, is a huge need for the Habs.

    But…

    …I would’ve felt a lot better about the signing had it come 6 or 7 years ago, before his neck and head injuries. The Canadiens now lead the league in roster players with previous neck fractures. The money Cole got is fodder for debate. Yes, it’s a lot for a guy of his age and injury history. But when you look at Leino’s contract, Joel Ward’s contract…hell, ANY of the contracts that were just handed out, you see that it’s not an issue confined to Montreal. The Habs have always had to overpay their players that much more to offset Quebec’s high taxes.

    The no-trade clause he got was a big surprise, injury history or not. Cole himself said that he didn’t think teams were doing that anymore. Gauthier scares me when he does dumb things like that.

    But, I’ll say it again: I like Erik Cole, and I’ll grin and bear his contract while I wish him continued good health, for his sake and the team’s.

    Like you, though, Iain, the signing I don’t get is Budaj’s. I’ve got nothing against him personally, but Auld was a good soldier and a textbook teammate with a reasonable contract. On the surface, shunning him to sign Budaj is odd. But when you look deeper, it’s more than odd, it’s downright bizarre, irresponsible and potentially damaging.

    Like it or not, we live in a salary cap era where every dollar counts. The cap is always a concern, but it will be an even bigger one at this time next year when Gauthier will have to find a way to sign Price and Subban, obvious cornerstones of the organization, to long-term deals. The $300,000 more that Gauthier is giving Budaj may not sound like much now, but it could be crucial later. Of all the places to spend extra money, why would you do it on the back-up goalie when there was an alternative? That position should be the first one considered when looking for places to cut back.

    I guess I should be happy that it wasn’t worse because, with Gauthier, you just never know.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read Leo. And even more-so for taking the time to leave your thouhts. It’s nice to hear from solid dedicated hockey fans who put more than just emotion into their comments.

      I agree with your thoughts on the no trade clause as well. Why PG would include that baffles me. The only thing that comforts me regarding that point is, I know that even if Cole’s play deminishes slightly over the 4 years, he will make a great veteran 3rd/4th liner if he can’t sustain play in the top 6. A much better bottom 6 player than we’ve had in years – outside of Mathieu Darche.

      You’re spot on with the $300K. It sounds minute in the salary world that we live in … but it’s still money that could have been spent elsewhere. It is abundantly clear that PG and JM didn’t have faith that Auld could win them every game, but I still think it was a mistake. I hope we both get proven wrong on that.

      Thanks again for the time you took to read and leave your comments. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to do this again sometime.

      • Uncle Leo says:

        Hi Iain,

        Thanks for your reply.

        It’s clear that you and I are of like minds, at least on the subject of these two free agent signings.

        The one point that would make for an interesting debate is Erik Cole as a 3rd/4th liner. It has been mentioned by you and others that, if his play diminishes over the course of his contract, he would hypothetically make a valuable bottom 6 forward.

        Personally, I don’t think this will happen, and I don’t think I want it to happen. If his play does deteriorate like that, I can’t believe that the Habs management team will allow a bottom 6 forward to be making $4.5 million a year. They’d be smarter and better off trading him, and bringing up a cheaper alternative to fill the 3rd or 4th lines. He has been handed 1st/2nd line money.

        Price and Subban are going to be expensive, and deservedly so. I don’t see where Gauthier, if he’s still employed by that time, will have the ingenuity to be able to afford an $18 million bottom 6 forward.

        Then again, with Coach Jacques Not-So-SMartin making up the lines, Cole could find himself on the 4th line (or in the press box) at virtually any time. (I wonder how much French Erik speaks?)

        Thanks again for your insightful article! I’m looking forward to your next contribution to AllHabs.

      • Xavier says:

        Great article, Iain.
        Any thoughts on who will be the # 3 centre next season?
        It’s a make-or-break position for a Stanley Cup contender- and in my opinion, it’s the biggest issue facing the team, yet it doesn’t seem to be getting it’s due attention.

        • Glad you enjoyed the read!

          Great question. I don’t doubt for a moment that Desharnais falls into the category of the man who takes Eller’s spot should he not be ready for opening night. Which begs the question – who rounds out the bottom 6 then?

          I can only see 2 possibilities there. Either PG goes out and finds a new body to fill the hole, or Engqvist finds himself playing with the big boys. Something tells me the latter is the route we’ll take.

          Thanks for the question – I agree – it needs some serious thought.

  2. ChrisGrenon says:

    Great post Iain,
    I agree that PG has done a good thing signing Cole. Some will argue he is overpaid, that the contract is too long, that he is a risk because o previous injuries. I think he has shown last year that he is back for good, and can back that up with solid production, something the Habs desperately need. Finally, a big body that doesn’t have to be Moen on that top line…

    Budaj is more of a surprise, but one that I am now convinced can improve under Pierre Groulx’s supervision. Budaj once was touted as the Avs #1 goalie but floundered. Sure, there were injuries and sickness, but his biggest downfall might have been the lack of a dedicated, full time goalie coach in Denver. I like that he is signed for 2 years, for peanuts more than Auld, but could win up a better back up than Auld. PG actually stated that BUdaj would give them a chance to win every game, which clearly conveys that he and JM did not feel the same about Auld. I’m just not yet convinced that he will be satisfied with a #2 role, while Auld was. Time will tell.

    I’m even more impressed with PG’s decision to walk away from some players: Hamrlik, Picard, Halpern, Moen, etc., and not to pick up old guys like Kovalev, Jagr, etc. PG clearly feels he could do better without those players, and I agree, with the exception of. I think that if PG had been able to move Spacek, we would have been better served by Roman at the blue line. But one if the two old warriors had to go.

    Overall, i see the changes as positive. Let’s hope that translates into a good season and an even better Cup run. Time to get banner #25 up in the rafters.

    • Chris – I can always count on you to follow me wherever I may roam! Thank You Sir!

      I’m not the least worried about Coles injury (neck) either. As you noted, he had a clear come-back season last year (so to speak) playing his first 82 season game, and posting solid stats. It’s more than just the goals and assists as well. This guy can hit, and isn’t afraid to do so. Something the Habs have clearly been missing.

      I see your point regarding Budaj. I’m never one to say that I’m right – but I’m skeptical. I still believe that Auld could have done the job, even starting more games. It may even have improved his play. But you make an excellent point regarding what Budaj could become under the watchful eye of Pierre Groulx. My con ern still stands mostly in the way he will see his own place here in Montreal – as a back-up, and not someone vying for the starting position.

      Skipping Jagr! Probably one of the best moves so far. Glad you’re on board there!

      Now let’s get to October so we can see how it all stacks up!

  3. ChrisGrenon says:

    Not sure how I got Moen in the list of players PG walked away from (since there is a year left on his contract)… what I meant was that Moen will be dropped to 3rd/4th line duty, which is where he belongs, and where he is most effective.

  4. eric says:

    I think Budaj was signed in case Cary went down with a long term injury. I can’t see Auld holding the fort if Cary went down long term.He might be more tradable also if a team was desperate for a goalie at trade time. The habs still have Drew McIntyre and Stanford with the dogs.

    • Definitely valid Eric. I’m sure that’s exactly the frame of mind that PG and JM had when they decided not to re-sign Auld. As Chris said (above), the management and coaching staff of the franchise did not have a belief that Auld could win them more games, so they went shopping. But as I stated before – I’m worried that the chemistry will not be anywhere near the same. Budaj was heralded as a starter before, and I’m not sure that he’ll be as satisfied as Auld was in the number 2 role.

      I’m actually happy though, that if Auld was not going to be their man, that they didn’t give the call up to McIntyre. He’s good – at the AHL level. I don’t see him as a long term solution to an injured Carey Price. As a goalie that is peaking, but with no NHL experience to speak of, he’s better off in Hamilton on standbye if needed.

      Thanks for reading and leaving your thoughts! I agree that Budaj might have more potential future trade value – a good point that I haven’t heard before, until now!

  5. Andy Frank says:

    Love the moves so far. Curious about Tinordi, what’s the scoop there? Is he ticketed for AHL this season? .. and surely some team out there can use #11 to bring their salary cap to the minimum, go GHOST – as for Budaj, good move, nothing to lose, and yeah, a 10-20 game stretch with Auld as #1 was very scary. Budaj has done that recently, much better option.

    • Pretty sure we can see Tinordi in the AHL. As for the Gomez contract – I grow weary hearing about it. He’s here for at least another year (IMHO). He’ll have an improved year if JM get’s his lines right – and leaves Pacioretty with Gionta and Gomez (Top line being Plekanec, Cammalleri, and Cole).

      Wish I shared your opinion on Budaj. As i say – it’s not that I don’t think he won’t be able to handle the workload, but I’m not convinced he’s a good fit with Price (content being #2).

      Thanks for the comments Andy – glad you stopped by and took time to read and leave your thoughts!

  6. Good piece Iain, hard to argue when we share pretty much the same thoughts.

    In the case of Budaj, from the start, i’ve seen this as a vote of non-confidence towards Auld that they signed him. What perplexed me more was the two-year contract vs. standard one year you usually see with backups. The conclusion I came to is that Pierre Gauthier doesn’t want to have to sign two goalies next year, with Price’s contract coming to an end next year.

    If Carey Price ever god forbid were to suffer a long term injury, I would think the Canadiens would opt for a trade, I don’t particularly see Budaj as a potential replacement, just a backup who might play more games.

    Uncle Leo: You said you would have wanted Erik Cole before his neck injury, but i disagree, because that would mean he’d have an upcoming neck injury we would have to deal with. :)

    Eric: Both Sanford and MacIntyre were UFA and signed with other teams. Hamilton now has newly acquired (today) Nathan Lawson, and either Peter Delmas or Robert Mayer in goal for next season barring further changes.

    • Uncle Leo says:

      Touche, Stevo! That’s not exactly what I meant, as I’m sure you know, but touche just the same.

  7. Karen B says:

    Difficult to disagree with any of your post!
    The thought of Jagr when it was mentioned was interesting and intriguing, but I’m glad he didn’t sign in Montreal. The fan/media focus would be likely be on him and we don’t need that when the current roster is clearly full of TEAM chemistry…he just wouldn’t fit.

    Can’t say much about Budaj as I had to check to see who he was when the signing was announced. If he accepts the backup position, has the same positive attitude and supports Price 100% as Auld did, then okay. A winning record in the few games he starts would also be helpful…

    I’m pleased with the signing of Cole (although I wanted Laich, originally) More than his size and stats, I’m impressed with his attitude. His quote about playing for Montreal shows that he understands he’s not just playing for another team…he’ll be playing in front of a very passionate (and often unreasonably judgmental) fan base where expectations seem to be much higher than normal!
    Gorges, White and a few random additions and we’re set to go!
    We have a great team and fingers crossed that there aren’t any season ending or long-term injuries… Now, bring on October!!

    • I think I nay have to take a screen shot of your comment and print it for the fridge Karen. I don’t remember the last time someone said it was hard to disagree with me! (I type while chuckling)

      I too scrambled for stats on Budaj when I read the signing. I knew vaguely about who he was, but I didn’t know that much about him – so the signing took me completely by surprise. I agree – the key to his success here in Montreal will not lie in his stats alone. He will need to be an understanding goalie who knows he’s only here as a back-up.

      Cole, as you say, has more to offer than just his skill set and size. I agree with you about his attitude. His desire to play here will make him an even better acquisition. People often overlook the “human factor” of players. Heart and desire can go a long way on and off the ice. Just look at Mathieu Darche.

      So glad that you enjoyed the post, and even happier that you left your thoughts. Thanks Karen!

  8. eric says:

    I think they should have kept McIntyre as the main goalie in Hamilton and used Delmas as back up. Lawton could have gone to the ECHL as their starter. If Cary did go down with an injury and Budaj became starter they have to trade for a back up or bring up Delmas.That probably means losing a draft pick or prospect.Also losing players like Boyd , Dawes etc imo is not good as they can be throw ins on trades. It’s going to be interesting to see how the ‘Dogs do this year

  9. My says:

    Hi Iain! I liked it and agreed with most of it. I like you was taken a back when they didn’t resign Alex Auld. He was Carey two seasons ago to Halak. Never complained, he knew his role on the team and when he did play, he was good. He was a sure thing and I still don’t understand the logic to it. (However after reading everyone’s posts I can see some methods to the madness. But I think it’s because he knew that he was going to be #2 and never publically complained about it is why I’m still confused but again… I guess we’ll have to wait and see) I do wish Alex all the best. I’ll def be keeping my eye on him. Now I’m just waiting for Ryan White. He played exceptionally well when he was called up and even during the playoff run when he was sent back down for the Dogs was great. I liked seeing him on the ice (both on the small screen and at the MTS Centre.) This will be an interesting season indeed!

  10. Iceman says:

    Cole is a decent acquisition but that said, he is not all this team needs. We have 1 winger with a right shot. This team has too many left shooting players trying to play on the right side of the ice. It puts you at a great disadvantage on the boards fighting for the puck because you need to use your backhand to chip pucks out of your zone or into the corner in the oppositions end and the curve of your stick works against you. Bad for wingers and defense men, yet we ignore this and expect them to adapt. Yes Cole likes to play the right side but not all left handed shots can do the same. Andrei Kostitsyn is a Left shot that should play left wing but gets duty as a right winger too. But this is worse for defense men as we only have 2 right shots there, Subban and Weber so someone has to play on the wrong side. This makes it extremely hard to fight against the board and get the puck out. We need another defense man with a right shot another right shot right winger and a center. I feel Eller would benefit from a year in the AHL as did Max. I’d like to see PG sign Zherdev a right shot right winger with tons of talent and for $2 m or less a good value for the 3rd line with the possibility of him moving up. Then Prospel for a 3rd line center, or Morrison. Bottom line PG’s work is not done and good UFA’s are getting harder to find.

    • Hey Iceman. I won’t take issue with your arguments at this time but wanted to offer two points of clarification. Andrei Kostitsyn is a natural right winger. He played on the right side until he joined the Canadiens. He has proven to be effective on either side but needs a center who can get him the puck. Lars Eller has already played 70 games at the AHL level for the Peoria Rivermen. Eller has nothing left to learn in the AHL and has shown (especially in the playoffs) that he can be very effective when given ice-time and wingers who can complement his style of play.

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