Sunday, May 30, 2010

Offseason Tweaks: The Goalies

For most of the media who follow hockey, the Montreal Canadiens are reprising "Sophie's Choice" this summer, with Pierre Gauthier in the Meryl Streep role. Jaroslav Halak versus Carey Price has been raging in the media and among fans all year, and many believe Gauthier has to make his choice by draft day.

The three biggest reasons why most people believe a choice is inevitable are: 1) It's too expensive to keep both of them, 2) Both of them want to be number-one goalies and don't want to share the net in tandem fashion again next year, and 3) One of them would be great trade bait to use in strengthening a weaker position on the team.

I don't buy those reasons.

First, If Halak is offered the three million or so I'm expecting to see him make next year, he still needs a backup. A reputable, reliable backup is going to cost about a million, to a million and a half. There's no way the Habs are going to come in much under 4.5 or 5 million for two goalies, regardless of whether they keep Price, so trading him for cap savings doesn't make sense. It's conceivable Halak could be traded for cap reasons, as he's got the better numbers right now, and, as we know, the NHL is all about "what have you done for me lately." Because of that philosophy, Halak stands to make more money this summer, so, would be a better salary dump if it came down to that. The question is, how much more important is it to save money than to ensure your netminding is secure? It's very tough to buy reliable goaltending for less than five million, and the Habs have an opportunity to do that.

Second, although both goalies have made it clear to management that they believe they're number-one netminders, the fact is, only Halak has proven he can back up those words so far. He's older, more experienced and has performed better under pressure. He has played himself into the number-one goalie position, and, for now, Price has slid into the backup job. Halak also has the greater leverage in negotiations right now, with his right to take the team to salary arbitration. He has earned himself the right to be considered first when it contract time rolls around. Price may believe he's good enough to be a number-one goalie, and, in a couple of years he may very well live up to that belief. Right now, however, he has proven to be inconsistent; all-star quality one night, a sieve who smashes his stick in frustration the next. His numbers for the last two seasons have been decent, but his performances have been inconsistent. In short, he's not in a position to demand anything. He's a restricted free agent, and his immediate future is still in the hands of Pierre Gauthier...early-career hype notwithstanding.

Third, the trade value of goalies isn't great and hasn't been since the lockout. The things the Canadiens need: a tough, mobile defenceman with a heavy point shot who's good in his own end, a big, gritty two-way centre, or a scoring winger with some size, are things every team needs. The thing is, when it comes to trading a player like that, very few teams will do it unless they get something comparable in return. There's always the idea that there are other ways to get a goalie. There are more experienced netminders out there than NHL jobs, and when a cap-pressured GM has to decide if he'll go cheap on defence or in goal, he'll almost always choose bargain shopping for the backstop.

So, I don't think the common reasons why the Habs need to dump a goalie are good ones. The reasons why they don't are much more compelling. The money saved, as already argued, wouldn't be great. The trade return stands a good chance of being of less value to another position on the team than the goalies already are in theirs. Most importantly, however, is the basic fact that there's not enough evidence one way or the other to definitively decide who should stay and who should go.

Halak has been the little goalie who could at every level of hockey, and he ably demonstrated his competitive nature again in this year's playoffs. He's earned respect and a place with the Habs. But (there's always a "but") next year, goalie equipment shrinks to be size-specific for each guy. A player like Price, who's already wearing larger equipment because he's a big man, won't feel too much difference. Halak, however, being a smaller guy who'll now no longer be able to compensate by wearing bigger gear, might. I don't necessarily believe it'll be a big deal, but what if it is? What if those few inches leave just that little bit more net open for snipers to take advantage of?

Then there's Price. He's got the size, the skills and the expectation of greatness on his side. He's never shown he's got the mental toughness to be the number-one guy in an NHL net...yet. But what if he gets it together in the next year or two? He's not that far from finding consistency, and if he does, he's going to be really good.

There are still questions about both goalies; enough to keep both of them around long enough to see them answered. There's no huge pressure on Gauthier to move one of them right now. I'd like to see him offer both goalies two-year deals, with the understanding that, barring injury, one of them will win the job long-term and the other will be traded next summer. That way, a lot of questions will be answered and the extra year on their contracts raises their trade value.

Of course, this all flies out the window if a really fabulous trade offer comes along, but how often does that happen? Unless it does, both goalies should stay.

Meryl Streep never had it so easy.


Anonymous said...

The salary cap doesn't come into play until the season starts. The Habs should sign every asset they have and then work on trades. So sign both goalies and Pleks. Letting players go for nothing is something you don't see Philly, Chicago or other top flight organizations do. They sign everything but the kitchen sink and worry about the numbers later.

I'd love to see Gauthier trade Markov while he still has a year to go on his contract and get some youth in return. He'll only play half a season next year and I wouldn't want to have to sign another contract for him at 33 when his best years are behind him. Also, he was too hurt to play at the Olympic break but was fine for Russia. Time to part ways.

Anonymous said...

Tweaks is not a word to apply to the Habs. The playoff run not withstanding, the Habs are a bubble team. If it wasn't for Fleury's softies and Halak's heroics, the Habs wouldn't have gotten past Pittsburgh and if the Craps had an NHL goalie, the Habs would have been gone in the first round. The Habs MUST sign both goalies and then work on a second line or else it's bubble time again.

Anonymous said...

Blue Jackets will probably sign Guy Boucher and the Habs are stuck with JM. That idiot is going to ruin O'Byrne's career in Montreal. I'm depressed already and it's still May!

V said...

Agree completely with everything here. You see, as long as you don't talk about Martin, we are like peas in a pod.

Thanks again and please keep them coming. Your site is one of the best when everyone is writing - with so little being written about the Habs since season end, if you stop posting the rate of depression will double in Canada overnight.

Anonymous said...

You are dead on. I've been saying it too. In fact I'd go further: Tell Price he can chill, he's the backup next year. No embarrassment in that, the way Halak performed in the playoffs.

Halak knows he's out in 1-2 years with a great UFA deal, or stays as number one. Price works on his game for a year with no pressure (finally!) and maybe steals the job.

Easy Peasy. If Gauthier f-ucks this up, it will tell us a lot about him.

Very good post.

Anonymous said...

I'm prety sure Gauthier will sign both goalies. It's the safest bet as it is way too unclear with which one the Habs should go. I'm more worried about our defence:
Why is it that everyone seems happy with our defence? Weren't we the giveaways recordholder last season? Weren't our goalies getting shelled the whole time? Wasn't our team the one spending 3/4 of most games in their own end?
I know we need people up front, we have a team of "tire-pois", as we say in French, but we definitely need help on defence otherwise we are in trouble again next year. A lot of people want to trade Markov...what would we do without him? Our defence is not a good one, it's old and unefficient. Our goalies made them look pretty good a lot of times.
I expect a couple of good moves from Gauthier in the next weeks.
A lot of fans get attached to players in their team and it is quite understandable. For example I kinnda always liked Bergeron, he was giving a good show... hockey is entertainment, right? But I am more than willing to let him go if our defence gets better (I know JT it automatically does right?).
Gorges, Gill, Spacek, Hamrlik, Markov, O'Byrne, Bergeron. We have to ask ourselves, do we want those guys to be our defencemen next season and get rolled over again? I am convinced that something is wrong with our defence. You?
By the way JT, any way to know more about the person behind the skillful writing? Not that I want to open the Pandora's box here....
Thank you for the blog!


DKerr said...

Agree we should keep both. As Murray Wilson used to say (I will miss him on my internet broadcasts) the goalies are not the problem. Both had stretches where they played well, Jaro did a great job over the long haul. As you pointed out, build the D around Markov, Subban and Gorges and try to beef up the rest of the roster. I like one of the posts who said to sign everyone and then deal. If they can keep a guy like Moore for the 3rd line, that 2nd rounder they gave up would be worth it. Letting guys walk without getting something in return does nothing to restock the pantry (even the Dags trade brought something in return).

Anonymous said...

Scouting department gutted. Too late for this year maybe good for next year. Maybe Gauthier won't be so bad after all.

campattendant said...

....Yet! That's correct about Price, a must keep solid goaltender 1 or 2.Farm teams have solid goalers coming...must hold on.

pfhabs said...


-re the one, with the exception of the CH, wants a 37 year Hamrlik at $5.5 nor a 37 yr old Spacek at $3.83 nor a 36 yr old Gill at $2.25. so not many changes there

-expect O'Bryne to be plying his trade elsewhere given Pearn preferred the human sieve, soft no defense MAB over a younger, stronger developing 6'5" 240 pound O'Bryne

-as for MAB the franco media has already commenced a drive to re-sign wonders if they ever saw him play 5-on-5 and his last 17 games on the PP...AHL level at best

-as for being old and inefficient weren't they that way last July 1st when Gainey made his "bold moves" to make the D more durable and more experienced

-Gorges, Markov & Subban are the only ones I'd keep of the current bunch...but given age and cap hit we are stuck with them all except Mara who's contract is over and O'Bryne is probably traded--my guess

MC said...

Looking at comparable contracts like Leclaire, Hiller and Rinne, it is going to cost around $3.8-4.5M to sign Jaro. If they get creative with a longer term they may reduce the cap hit next year for more money later, but that is always risky. I think it will be well north of $5 to sign them both, which will put Montreal in cap trouble, and put Sofie to the test. Dumping salary cap will not be easy either. Who would take Hamrlik at $5.5M? If they want to keep both, they will need a lot more entry level contracts, and find a way to dump salary. Or maybe not sign Plekanc...