Thursday, February 17, 2011

Will You Mara Me?

A lot of Habs fans will spend this morning wringing their hands and crying about the Canadiens late-evening re-acquisition of Paul Mara from the Ducks yesterday. While it's true the guy's been a Ducks' healthy scratch for pretty much the last month, and was no great pillar of D in his abbreviated stint with the Canadiens last season, Pierre Gauthier wasn't nuts to trade a fifth-round pick to get him back.

There are two facts fans need to consider when evaluating the trade. First, the Canadiens are in deep, deep trouble on defence. Second, Gauthier has neither the assets nor the motivation to make a blockbuster deal to fix the problem.

To the first issue, the admirably steady play of P.K.Subban and Yannick Weber has masked the seriousness of the defence's problems. While it's impressive that the Canadiens sit in fifth place while missing Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges (imagine the Wings missing Lidstrom and Kronwall as a comparison), they've been surviving on veteran depth. Removing Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek from the equation leaves Roman Hamrlik as the only experienced blueliner who actually plays solid defence. This is a D-corps in big trouble. It's nice that young Brendon Nash (who, incidentally, Gauthier got for nothing more than a rookie free-agent contract) handled his 12 minutes of NHL ice time very well. It's also reasonable to expect he'd be a bit more exposed against a top team like the Canucks.

On the second front, we have to expect that, with so many injuries on defence and important pieces of the team in various stages of early development or mid-career suckage (yeah, you, Gomez), the Canadiens are not favoured to win a Cup this year. The kids are blossoming into what could be the core of a really good team in a year or two, but they're not there yet. The Habs are a good team. Philly, Vancouver, Detroit and possibly Boston are better. Considering the trade bait available to Pierre Gauthier right now, which basically consists of whatever prospects haven't yet been called up, draft picks or underperforming veterans, there's not a whole lot available to deal for the kind of player that would make the Canadiens contend.

Since contention via trade isn't really possible, Gauthier will tweak and hope the horses he has have enough heart and strength of character to outplay their limitations. That's where Mara comes in. He's a veteran defenceman with some size, who's capable of playing a steady, if unspectacular, game. He's a better bet than the untried Nash, or the wildly unpredictable Alexandre Picard. He's also a good teammate who won't rock the carefully-developed chemistry in the dressing room.

For fans who bemoan the 2012 fifth-rounder Gauthier paid to get Mara, just consider the pick started out as Anaheim's fifth in the first place; the one they paid for Maxim Lapierre. And, knowing Gauthier, he'll probably pick up another draft choice to replace it before next year anyway.

The Mara acquisition was made out of prudence and desperation. Considering the driving factors, Gauthier could have done a lot worse. Fans who will spend today screaming about how they wanted more, or ridiculing the move because Mara's not what they expected, should take a step back and ask themselves whether they really think the Canadiens are contenders for the Cup this year. If they're honest and admit that the Habs are probably a dark horse at best, they then need to ask what they'd be willing to give away for a slightly better chance at the brass ring. Would they move a first-round pick that could be part of a contending team in the next few years for a soon-to-be-UFA like Kaberle or Phillips? Gauthier has already done something similar in giving up a second for Wisniewski, and there are only so many assets a team can afford to give up just to stay afloat.

Paul Mara's got a great attitude, and he'll be servicable. When you're bargain shopping for emergency repairs, sometimes that's enough.


Jay in PA said...

Well-said, J.T. When I first saw news of the trade, I admit that I was a little dismayed. But on the other hand, he's a good insurance policy and at least we (and the coaches) know what to expect.

Moreover, the 5th rounder we gave up to get him was the one we acquired for Lappy, which amounts to a trade of Lapierre for Mara--one spare part that was no use for us for another team's spare part that could be serviceable. Viewed in that light, you could hardly say we got ripped off.

Anonymous said...

Team USA? With Mara, the American count to where the CH is now at seven!

JF said...

Exactly my sentiments, J.T. We gave up nothing tangible, and Mara adds some veteran depth on defence at a critical moment. The idea of facing Calgary and Vancouver with one veteran Dman is frightening. Gill is skating, but we don't know the extent of the injury to Spacek.

Mara was not terrible last year, and by the time the team had come together and was playing well, he was out for pretty much the rest of the season, so it's not really fair to draw conclusions from his early-season performance with us.

Mara knows the team, the system, and Jacques Martin, so he should fit in well. Also, he said at the end of last year's playoff run that he would give anything to play for this team this year.

RetroMikey said...

We've heard this before about how excited we are about our prosepcts even back in 2003 when we praised Michael Ryder, Mike Komisarek, Josef Balej, Jason Ward to name a few and then 4 years later with Sergei Kostitsyn, Maximw Lapierre, Ryan )'Byrne, Mikhail Grabovski, Ryan )'Byrne, to name a few. So it appears we are on a trend. Expect an exciting competitive team in the regular season and just hope we squeak into the second round playoffs to make the playoffs. I say we totally retool this team if we all want a Cup in Montreal in the next 5 years. And if it means to trade Weber, Cammalleri, Gionta, to name a few, so be it.

Ian Cobb said...

Your on the money J.T.

Martin C said...

I think Mara is a good addition to this team. He is going to be looked upon as a 6th/7th defencemen which is exactly what he is. He can provide some solid minutes over the next few weeks to give some of the other guys some rest for the playoff run. In regards to whether this team is a contender or not. It's hard to say. Vancouver and San Jose have been called "Contenders" the past number of years with 0 cups between them. I would hate to see us give up some prospects/picks for a single run. This is a new era in the NHL where picks/prospects have to be treated like gold. I think if we can get Gill and Spacek back, our defence really isn't that horrible. Everybody is familiar with the system and as long as everyone buys in as they did last year, you never know what will happen. I think that only Kostitsyn and Gomez should be moved. Kostitsyn has been invisible all year, which is too bad because he has so much potential and such a lethal shot. He should be able to fetch a good prospect in return. Gomez, unfortunately for all of Habs nation, he is very much UNTRADEABLE. Put him in the minors next year and free up some space.

Anonymous said...

If you think Spacek has been playing solid defense this year you're watching a different team than I see game in and game out. Spacek gives away the puck about every third pass he makes. He has slowed down so much that he is constantly being caught up ice when the other team breaks out.I would play any of the young D-men (well except Picard) over him. If it were my choice, I'd give Nash a chance to show what he can do and leave Spacek in the press box.

And when it comes to that, Subban and Weber are the only blueliners that don't consistently give the puck away (and Hamrlik on his good days). Gill has been passing to the other team since he arrived, regardless of whether he is under pressure or not. Wisniewski passed to the Islanders 3 times in about 15 seconds on one shift (maybe he forgot he was traded for a while) but at least he has a serious offensive upside to make up for his extremely poor defensive game.

I would consider bringing Hamrlik back next year for the right price, but they should buy Spacek out (no other team would trade for him). And the reason they never offered Mara a contract after last year was because he never did anything to justify it. He'll do as an emergency fill-in, but really he didn't play a physical game for Montreal, had no offensive game and he wasn't all that effective inside his own blueline. I'd rather see Nash get that ice to develop.

Martin C said...

Agreed, I would also like to see Nash given a tryout for at least 4-5 games.

dusty said...

Like the Mara pickup. He was injured in Montreal so we never got to see the player he was in New York. If healthy he'll help Habs stay in the playoff picture. Don't want Kaberle at all and not crazy about Phillips, so good job Goat.

Anonymous said...

Calm & mature analysis, JT (well, except for the gratuitous Gomez-bashing)--really appreciate the helpful context.

Unknown said...

What's the big deal? We didn't give anything away that would prevent us from making a bigger deal (which we are not making anyway) and we did not lose a prospect. It's a pretty good thing to have another Dman like Mara and he should have some motivation to prove he is still an NHL defenceman.

noko said...

While I agree with moving Gomez, it presents a problem because he's the practically the main setup man for practically any sort of powerplay after Pleks. I honestly don't believe Desharnais can fill that role just yet.

Mara coming back to the Habs is a great depth move. Considering ANA gave up Festerling as well for basically Max Lap.

Hadulf said...

Fully agree. Mara's not the superstar people wanted to get but to me, he's a decent addition. I'm glad he's back and he provides a good bandaid for the Habs.

Now, can PG move AK46, please? I don't care if he does like SK and produces like a maniac...I'm just tired to see him suck in the Habs uniform.

Gomez we are stuck with, so lets just stop talking about it...I know he's expensive, not producing, untradable (sp?) etc but he seems appreciated in the dressing room. That has a lot to say about the team chemistry, which, you don't want to mess with as a GM and/or coach.

I've read rumors coming from Columbus...I hope they are false. I think we should stick it out with what we got now, unless other injuries hit the team.

God forbid Price gets injured! I like Auld but he's no Price, nor is he #1 material (as far as we have seen).

Anonymous said...

It isn't that complicated. Nash auditioned. Picard auditioned. Markov and Gorges are out. Spacek is hurt. Mara is back. All of them shoot left.