Saturday, 30 June 2012

FREE AGENT: Blitzkrieg? ****UPDATED****

I'm going to preface this story by talking about my philosophy for running the current edition of the Montreal Canadiens. This doesn't necessarily mean that GM Marc Bergevin thinks the same way I do.

To me, the Canadiens have some young talent, and for the most part I would keep that young talent in junior or in Hamilton as long as possible. I would let these young players not only build their chemistry together, but build a dominant winning culture together.

Players like Blake Geoffrion, Aaron Palushaj and Louie Leblanc would not be finding their way onto the NHL roster this season - barring injuries. I would instead fill those roster spots with aging NHL veterans who are willing to take a 1-2 year contract maximum.

I would keep under performing players like Scott Gomez, Rene Bourque and Thomas Kaberle on the NHL roster. I would rather not have them take away playing time from the next generation in Hamilton, nor possibly polluting the young talent with bad habits. I hope they perform at the NHL level, while keeping in mind that if they don't, more strong draft picks are headed my way.

A 23-man NHL roster, is generally comprised of 13 or 14  forwards, 7 or 8 defensemen and 2 goalies.

What do the Canadiens currently have, and what are they looking for?

Currenty the Canadiens have 11 forwards with the big club: Erik Cole, Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Travis Moen, Lars Eller, Ryan White, Scott Gomez, Petteri Nokaleinen and Rene Bourque. That leaves room for 2 or 3 more forwards.

They have 7 defenseman: PK Subban, Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Tomas Kaberle, Alexei Yemelin, Yannik Weber and Raphael Diaz. That leaves room for at most 1 more - likely Frederic St.Denis.

The Goalie situation is pretty clear-cut. Carey Price and Peter Budaj are set.

Once all the RFA's are signed (C.Price, PK Subban, F. St-Denis, R.Diaz, A.Emelin, A.Palushaj, B.Geoffrion, L.Eller) The Canadiens are left with about 7 million dollars to spend on the UFA market. According to my thought process, they are looking for 3 forwards. 1 to play in the top 6 and 2 to play in the bottom 6. Who would I target, and what will they cost?

1. Jaromir Jagr - RW
Jagr is a fading future Hall-of Famer. He has international experience with Thomas Plekanec. He has won a Stanley Cup. He brings a wealth of experience to the organization. He is no longer the player who was once winning scoring titles year after year, but he is still a dangerous offensive force. Last season he put up 54 points in 73 games. Good enough for 3rd on his team in scoring, 79th in the league. Is he still a superstar? no. But his point totals were better than superstars Dany Heatley, Taylor Hall, and Vincent Lecavlier put up last year. He is big and strong. He is not speedy - but then again, he never has been. Estimated Salary:  $3.5 million.

2. Brandon Prust - LW - SIGNED BY MONTREAL
Prust is a rugged bottom 6 forward. He kills penalties (averaging 1:40 per game on the PK in 2011-2012), He can fight - having been charged with 20 fighting majors last season, but he can also play hockey. Prust averaged over 10 mins a game last season - for a Rangers team that finished 1st in the NHL. He threw 144 hits, took 156 mins in penalties, and scored 2 game winning goals. He is only 28 years old, would take some pressure off of Travis Moen, and is an upgrade on Brad Staubitz. Estimated Salary: $1.8 Million. ($2.5 million - 4 YEARS)

---. Paul Gaustad - C - RE-SIGNED BY NASHVILLE
Gaustad is the elusive Big Centreman the Canadiens need. He can play 3rd or 4th line minutes - averaging over 14 mins per game last season with Nashville/Buffalo. He won 56% of his faceoffs while taking 4 fighting majors and throwing 114 hits. He averaged 2:45 per game on the PK last season. He is 30 years old. Estimated salary: $1.8 million ($3.25 million - 4 YEARS)

3. Zenon Konopka -  C - SIGNED BY MINNESOTA
With Paul Gaustad being re-signed overnight, the Habs should turn their attention to centreman Zenon Konopka. Konopka is 6 feet tall, and like Gaustad can play 3rd or 4th line minutes. He averaged about 8 minutes per game last season with the Ottawa Senators.He is an excellent faceoff man, winning  59.65% of his draws in 2011-2012. He can kill penalties, averaging just under 1 min per game on the PK. He took 18 fighting majors last season, but threw only 54 hits. Konopka is 31 years old. Clearly not the same player as Gaustad, but a cheaper option who is able to fill in many of the same role-playing characteristics the Canadiens lack. Estimated Salary: $1 million ($925 k - 2 YEARS)

Signing Konopka, Prust and Jagr would not only make the Canadiens bigger and stronger, it would also alleviate various pressures off some of their forward group. Konopka and Prust are both game Penalty Killers, which would allow Tomas Plekanec to not be as needed on the PK. They are also both able to fight, which would alleviate the need for Travis Moen and Ryan White to always drop the gloves. Adding them to the bottom 6 forwards also allows a rotation to happen based on varied opponents for players like Petteri Nokelainen.

Jagr brings an immediate threat to a forward group that lacked scoring punch last year. I'd play him on a line with Plekanec and Eller - and drop Gionta onto a line with Gomez and Bourque. Gomez and Gionta have played well in together in the past, and maybe Bourque picks up his game and works for them the same way Pacioretty did 2 years ago.

Addidng these 3 players would give the Canadiens more options for their day to day lineup. It gives them more balanced scoring, more toughness, and more size. Most importantly however, it allows players like Geoffrion, Palushaj and Leblanc more time to dominate in the AHL, and players like Galchenyuck to play another year of Junior.

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