With the Montreal Canadiens’ surprising playoff run over, management faces some crucial off-season roster decisions.
GM Pierre Gauthier doesn’t intend to stage another significant overhaul as his predecessor, Bob Gainey, did last summer when he changed half the lineup. Gauthier said he’s pleased with his core players and based on the club’s performance this spring, believes it’s headed in the right direction.
Still, Gauthier does face some choices this summer regarding his free agents, with UFA center Tomas Plekanec and RFA goalies Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price topping the list.
The Montreal Gazette reported Plekanec, 27, has been compared to Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, who recently signed a six-year, $30 million contract with the Canucks.
Plekanec produced 70 points this season to lead the Canadiens in scoring, but his struggles in the post-season could affect his bargaining position, although his offensive decline this spring might be attributable to a nagging hip injury.
Plekanec said he wants to remain in Montreal, but he’ll be seeking more than just the security of a long-term deal, meaning he’s going to look at getting market value.
As for Price and Halak, Gauthier may re-sign both and said he would protect them from being signed away by rival clubs.
However, given the Habs’ cap constraints this summer, it’ll be difficult to retain both goalies, re-sign Plekanec and fill out the rest of the roster. The expectation is Gauthier will end up trading one of them.
For his part, Halak said he’d be willing to return even if he was still battling Price for playing time.
Given Halak’s stellar performance this season, which carried the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference final whilst pushing Price into the backup role, it’s widely believed Price may be on his way out. The Ottawa Sun’s Chris Stevenson, however, believes Halak, who also holds arbitration rights, has more trade value and it’ll be he, not Price, on the move this summer.
That would certainly be a bold move on Gauthier’s part and he’d have to be getting more than a “good prospect and/or a high draft pick,” as Stevenson suggests, to part with Halak.
Gauthier also has to consider his options with pending UFAs Dominic Moore, Glen Metropolit, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Paul Mara and Mathieu Darche, as well as RFAs Sergei Kostitsyn, Benoit Pouliot, Tom Pyatt and Maxim Lapierre.
Sean Gordon of the Globe & Mail believes re-signing Moore and Pyatt should be priorities, given their post-season play, but noted limited cap space won’t leave much for the rest of the role players.
Gordon also suggested moving defenseman Roman Hamrlik (one year, $5.5 million) along with the Kostitsyns to free up some cap space. He also reported rumors the Canadiens already have “the bare bones of deals” in place for Plekanec and defenseman Andrei Markov, who becomes a UFA next summer.
Markov, meanwhile, told reporters he’s currently not thinking about his contract status as he’s focused on recovering from knee surgery.
It’ll be almost impossible to move the aging, expensive Hamrlik and the underachieving Kostitsyns, so buyouts might be in order, except for Sergei Kostitsyn, who has been rumored to be on his way to the Kontinental League this summer. Georges Laraque, who was told to leave the team at mid-season, also has a year remaining on his contract and will certainly be bought out.
Those buyouts would free up more than $7 million in cap space this summer, which could be put toward other signings, but it’s also possible the Habs will consider demoting Hamrlik and the Kostitsyns, or perhaps loaning them to European clubs.
That, along with the Laraque buyout, would free up more than $9 million and wouldn’t put the Habs on the hook for the remaining one-third of Hamrlik’s and Kostitsyn’s salaries in 2011-12.
Gauthier will likely re-sign Lapierre, Pouliot (despite his disappointing playoff performance) and Darche, but Mara, Bergeron and Metropolit probably won’t be back.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.