Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Milling the rumours

So, Bob has spoken. Admittedly, he hasn't really said anything concrete, so it's up to us to take what he says and glean from it any gems of hidden wisdom the bare words may be hiding.

At the GM meetings in Detroit yesterday, a couple of French reporters asked Gainey for an update on what's happening behind the scenes as draft day and July 1 approach. He specified Andrei Kostitsyn as his number one priority, which is not surprising considering Kevin Lowe's precedent on poaching restricted free agents. Kostitsyn scored 27 goals in his first full NHL season, which is not too shabby. He'd be prime bait for an offer sheet, so Gainey really needs to lock him up for several years. I'd originally thought the Habs would offer Kostitsyn a similar deal to the ones Chris Higgins, Mike Komisarek and Tomas Plekanec signed last year...around two million a year for two years. Now, considering the possible encroachment of the Russian league and the possibility that Kostitsyn will score thirty or more in the coming years, I think long-term might be better. Five years for three to three and a half million a year would give the Habs a chance to score a bargain if Kostitsyn manages to pot thirty or more in the next few seasons. It would also end his deal while his brother is still RFA. If Sergei re-signs, the chances of keeping Andrei for a second long-term deal after this one improve.

Gainey also specified he's talking to Mark Streit in the next couple of weeks, although he hasn't opened discussions yet. In his comments to the media, he hedged a little bit on his desire to re-sign Streit, qualifying it with a comment about it depending on Streit's salary fitting into the cap. This is where speculation gets fun. The Habs currently have a very healthy cap situation. They could easily afford to re-sign Streit for the 2-3 million his production deserves for the next three years. Unless there's a serious plan afoot to sign a big-name free agent for seven or eight million dollars a year. A big, bald centre who currently resides somewhere in the vicinity of the CN Tower would be just perfect.

Of course, Gainey's hedging on Streit could be for a simpler and less dramatic reason than that. He mentioned in yesterday's interview the decisions he's making in these next few weeks will be part of a long-term financial plan for the team. His noncommittal response on the Streit front could merely mean he's going to lock up Higgins, Komisarek and Plekanec on long-term extensions after he signs Kostitsyn, and paying more than two million or so...as well as offering multi-years...for a guy who's not part of that long-term vision doesn't work for him. If he's looking at which players will be fitting long term and which won't, of course he's also trying to figure out whether he needs to extend Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev in the next year, and for how much and how long. I think considering those concerns, offering Streit more than a couple of million for a couple of years starts to look a bit unpalatable. And considering that...I think Streit will leave the Habs this summer.

I say this under the assumption that Streit, like most of us, wants to set himself up for life. He's thirty-one years old and will likely play another five or six years before he sees a marked decrease in his skill level. This contract will be the one that makes his sacrifice of the earnings he could have been bringing home in Switzerland these last three years worth it. With that in mind, unless he decides playing in Montreal is more important than more money, Gainey will make him a respectable offer that won't compete with the big money he'll draw from other GMs. I would expect that some team will offer Streit four million a year for four years, and that Gainey won't match that. The body language is different too, between the way Gainey talked about retaining Andrei Markov last year and how he's talking about Streit. Last year, all he said was that Markov was an important player and how re-signing him was the team's top priority. At the same time, he was talking about how Sheldon Souray did good things for the team and how Gainey would be glad to see Souray back, if it fit into the cap. The way he's talking about Streit now sounds more like the way he talked about Souray last year. And we know how that ended up.

Another difference between this year and last year is the way Gainey's talking about the other free agents. He says he's going to be talking with Brian Smolinski, Patrice Brisebois and Michael Ryder. Last year he summarily announced he would not be offering contracts to Mike Johnson, Radek Bonk or David Aebischer. So by that I suppose we can assume there's a possibility one or more of those three may get offers from the Habs.

Anyway, I guess the only two pieces of information we can take to the bank at this point are that the Habs will make Andrei Kostitsyn a very competitive offer and likely retain his services, and Gainey has identified players who have proven themselves enough to be paid as corner stones of the franchise. We can also assume he's going to try and lock up these assets while saving enough to bring home a big fish from the free agent pool.

The fun part of this time of year is that there's always grist for the rumour mill. And the millstone never stops turning.

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