Thursday, February 4, 2010

Habs Notebook

Random Habs-related thoughts for today:

-Most people agree the most effective way to build a really good team is to draft great young talent and hold onto it as long as possible. That's the argument behind the theory that it's not bad to tank a season or two and gather in some top picks. The common anti-tank example is the Detroit Red Wings. But that team didn't have to tank because of extreme good luck in picking Datsyuk and Zetterberg in the late rounds of their drafts. The Wings have pretty much ignored the early rounds of the draft for years, often trading their picks for deadline help to keep the team competitive. The problem they have now is that Lidstrom is old and the younger stars have had injuries. Their luck with finding late-round superstars has ended and now, without a strong core of young talent they've drafted, their depth is questionable and they're a bubble team like everyone else. As far as the Canadiens are concerned, I think it's pushing things to cite Detroit as the shining example of how to build a team without any top-five picks. No other team has managed to be that lucky, that's all.

-Michael Ryder is on the trading block, just a year after signing his big free agent deal in Boston. All the things Habs fans complained about, like the fact that Ryder's a one-trick pony that ends up lame when his shot isn't finding the back of the net, are the same things Bruins fans are complaining about now. It brings up an interesting fact. Most of the players Canadiens fans panicked about letting go to free agency have never actually managed to duplicate their best years in Montreal with their new teams. Sheldon Souray has been injured frequently and seems to have lost the accuracy of his cannon in Edmonton. Mike Komisarek is hurt and a minus in Toronto. Mark Streit is a good defenceman on Long Island, but has never matched his Montreal point production. Ryder's never scored thirty goals since he left Montreal. Alex Kovalev started to heat up with thirty games to go in Ottawa, but probably won't crack fifty-five points this year. Saku Koivu's been hurt again and won't make fifty points, possibly not even forty. While I agree those guys would have brought some assets back at the trade deadline, the team was in contention for a playoff spot every year it had notable pending UFAs. In that situation, it's almost impossible for a GM to admit his team will get killed in the playoffs and sell assets. Gainey stood pat and hoped the lineup he had could surprise people, then he lost those guys to the market. In the end, it appeared Gainey might have got nothing for them except free cap space. On the plus side, though, it seems Gainey knows when a player has peaked out in Montreal and has rarely regretted a decision not to keep a player.

-Kovalchuk to Boston would be the best thing that could happen for the Habs. The Bs would have to give up one of their possible two lottery picks as well as assets to get him. It's debatable whether one player, even one as good as Kovalchuk, could turn their season around. And the chances are decent-to-good that Kovalchuk will price himself out of Boston this summer anyway. I think a Kovalchuk deal could hurt the Bruins more than help them, and anything that's bad for Boston is good for Montreal.

-If there's a market for Jason Blake and if Dion Phaneuf's contract can move, surely there must be some team that can take on Scott Gomez. Gomez' contract is the big stumbling block to moving the Canadiens fortunes forward. I know what Gainey was trying to accomplish with the trade. He hoped Gomez would revive his career with Gionta and both would return to their New Jersey form. With big doubts about Plekanec's ability to rebound as a top-line centre, the Habs were looking at starting the season with nobody in that role. Of course, it hasn't worked out for Montreal. Not that Gomez is a bad player, but his salary is unbearable. As a modestly-priced second-line centre, he'd be a great asset, but that's not the reality of the current situation. I'm looking at teams that will have money and will need a good centre to complement a star winger. Nashville has cap space, but the quality of its wingers isn't enough to make Gomez succeed. The Isles have space and might need to upgrade on Doug Weight at centre. Phoenix has room too, and you have to think Gomez would look pretty good with Doan on his right. Ironically, the Thrashers will have lots of space with Kovalchuk gone, but will have traded away the player who'd work best with Gomez. If Gainey's willing to take anything for Gomez, I can't believe the contract is untradeable. There *are* possibilities.


Topham said...

New Jersey are a good example of a team built from later picks and good development.

Calgary did alright without top picks. And I'd say San Jose has done it mostly via other avenues. Anaheim's Cup had little to do with any top 5 picks.

Just saying.

James Parent said...

Agreed that if a deal can be cut, it'd be in the best long-term interests of the team to trade Gomez. But as it is now, even if Pleks maintains the pace as a #1 center, we have no one who can even hope to be the #2. That would have to be part of the deal.

Personally I'm not yet sold on Plekanec as a bonafide 80 pts center. I really hope he stays here and I'm even willing to consider him center #1a, with the #1b job currently being held by Gomez. But if we get rid of Gomez, who despite his horrendous contract is an extremely talented offensive center, we have to replace him with a guy who's at least as talented. Otherwise you shift too much offensive responsibility on Plekanec and I'm just not sure he can take it.

So from there, any deal involving Gomez would have to land us a suitable replacement, even if it's an older veteran (ie; Jason Arnott) to hold the fort until Leblanc is ready (at LEAST 3 years from now). As far as I know we have no one else that's remotely qualified down in Hamilton to become a top 2 center... That makes Gainey's life more difficult even if a deal for Gomez comes along.

DB said...

To win the Stanley Cup a team needs a couple of elite players. A top five draft pick is the most likely spot to get an elite player, but it is not the only source. Detroit got Datsuk, Lidstrom and Zetterberg with late picks. Anaheim got Getzlaf and Perry with late first round picks, Pronger through a trade, and Niedermier as a free agent. Tampa picked Vinnie numer 1, but Richards was a third round pick and Boyle was an undrafted free agent.

Atlanta, on the other hand, is an example of a team with a lot of top five picks that has never won anything.

While I understand the desire to tank for a couple of years to get a couple of elite players. I recognize that just drafting a couple of elite players is not enough to win the cup. A team has to draft well at lower levels, develop talent, and fill key holes through trades and free agents.

Gomez may not be untradeable, but any team taking on Gomez's contract would likely want the Habs to take back similar dollars. And that wouldn't help solve Montreal's cap issues.

V said...

I get the Gomez salary is an anchor and if it's any consolation, he would not be here if it wasn't. We got him at a very reasonable price because of his salary.

And his salary is the only thing wrong with him -give him quality wingers like Gionta and Pouliout for a season and I think the results are going to be very, very good.

His salary can be managed or Gainey would not have traded for him... I don't know how BG tends to deals with salaries next year but I have 100% more confidence in whatever plan he has than 99% of the people who regularly post about the Canadiens cap challenges (with respect to you and Topham).

One of the reasons we don't know what Gainey will do is because of the very thing you write about in this article... his nose for players is better than most. He has knowledge and data that informs him when to sell - he's more right than wrong - and he has already made calls on members of the team that we don't/can't foresee. I don't know what he will do, but it will be something out of left field that will surprise us and will likely bring incremental improvement - which is what I am looking for.

Kyle Roussel said...

There's no rush to move Gomez now. Of course, if the opportunity was there, Gainey would be silly to not look at it. But not having a potential 2nd centerman is a huge problem. Why would a team take Gomez, and have to send back a 2nd line in return?

Would Columbus take a look at Gomez, in return for say, Antoine Vermette? We'd have to sweeten the pot a little as well, but they could afford him. Just how much sweetening would we have to do? A 1st rounder?

Bah, I'm probably being nuts, but Vermette would fit the bill for the Habs in terms of talent, and price. And Gomez would look awfully good with Nash, no? Even Umberger would fit the bill, and he'd then not be able to sink us single-handedly in a playoff series.

I'm very surprised at how Ryder has fallen off again. I wonder how much of this has to do with his brother's legal issues?

Souray...yeesh. He had a big year last season, but Gainey was wise to let him walk. In the case of all these free agents walking away, you're always going to have hard liners on each side. One group says to get rid of pending free agents and stockpile youth because all of those Canadiens teams were not good enough to make runs. Of course, says the other camp is you'll never know unless you go for it, and Gainey is mandated to make the playoffs. In this case, Gainey sacrificed young picks/prospects, for a shot at the playoffs and cap space.

As for the Red seems as though the structure of the NHL is finally catching up to them. Holland has his philosophies, and he's had some very solid cornerstones for years, but it's coming to an end. The young kids are either injured, and not the diamond in the rough that Zetterberg and Datsyuk are, and Holland's theory of not spending too much money on goaltending has also hurt them. Let's also recognize that the Blues, and Hawks, who have been punchlines for a decade until recently, are not starting to tear strips off of them here & there, and in the case of the Wings, they were able to snatch Hossa from under them.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with V. I think Gomez could put up some good numbers next year with two wingers his is comfortable with. He is durable, good on the PK, and carries the puck through the neutral zone and across the blue line as good as any in the league. He gives the puck away too much and he needs to shoot more the keep the goalies and defenders honest, but overall he is a legitimate top two centre.

There is no doubt he is over paid, but by how much? Looking at other centres in the league who get around $5M, (Langkow, Nylander, Ribiero, Koivu, Jokinen) Gomez is worth at least that or more. So the habs are over paying by $2-3 million, what would that get them? Maybe one more player. So the question really is if Gomez is worth a marginal centre, like the ones listed above, plus marginal winger/defenseman.

Gainey had a choice, overpay for Gomez, but get one of the few legitimate top two centres in the league, or do without and try to compete with one line, hoping Koivu still had something in the tank. Plekanc was a BIG question mark at the beginning of the season. I think Gainey made a good choice, especially since he must have known that it would be criticized heavily.
If they get rid of him, who would replace him? Anything coming back in a trade would be less of a player. Quite simply, the Habs are better team with him than without him. At that is more important than getting good value for money.