Sunday, May 11, 2014

Questions and Answers

Going into the 2014 playoffs, there were many unanswered questions swirling around the Canadiens. How much will GM Marc Bergevin be willing to pay to keep Thomas Vanek? What kind of deal does P.K.Subban deserve? Will Andrei Markov be re-signed or not? Who will be captain if Brian Gionta is let walk away? Now, on the brink of elimination, management should have a very good idea about the answers to those questions.

On Vanek, there's no doubt the man wants his last big NHL pay day this summer. He's 30, and knows from now until the end of his career, he'll be fighting to maintain what he's got, rather than keep improving. He'll want the maximum seven years teams other than Montreal can offer him and he'll want significant coin. The temptation to sign him is significant because the Habs could definitely use his skill. He's able to put up anywhere from 60-80 points a year if he stays healthy. However, at his age, his ability to keep producing at that level will inevitably begin to decline. If he were signed for five years, one could reasonably expect him to maintain his output for three or four years, with a bonus if he can do it for all five. However, Vanek doesn't want a five-year deal, and anything beyond that is risky for the team that signs him. The Canadiens are looking at a window for Stanley Cup contention opening in the next couple of years, and can't afford to have a giant contract with small return on the books then. Of course, Vanek may surprise and be a legitimate producer for the next ten years. There's a better chance he won't, if you look at his compete level in these playoffs, so if he's not willing to sign for five years, he should be let go to Minnesota or whatever other team will commit its future to him.

P.K.Subban, on the other hand, has proven, beyond a doubt, that he's the real deal. He has managed to raise his game significantly when it really counts, and he has proven he can handle adversity by taking the high road in the face of racism and petty garbage like Shawn Thornton's spraying him with water from the bench. He didn't fight back when Michel Therrien benched him for mistakes other players were forgiven, or when Therrien talked about making him a "better person." He handles all the crap that comes his way with dignity and aplomb and still faces every day with a smile. He accepted a low-ball bridge contract last time he was up for renewal, then went out and won the Norris. Subban has more than earned his pay day. The team has the option of signing him for eight years, and Bergevin should grab that option with both hands. Subban is the team's best player and its future and if he wants eight million dollars a year, he's worth it.

Andrei Markov has proven this year and through these playoffs that he's still a worthy defenceman. His game is cerebral and durable, so even if he's not as fast or mobile as he used to be, he still has a lot to contribute. Also, the Habs could use his experience and leadership as young players like Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi learn the ropes next year. Markov has said he wants to finish his career in Montreal, and rumour is, he wants three more years. However, at 35, any contract he signs is a risk for the team. For that reason, Bergevin would probably like to do a one-year deal. Considering the contributions Markov has made over the years and can continue to make, it would be fitting if the two sides can compromise and agree to two years at his current salary. Markov's too smart and too good to fall off steeply in the next two seasons, and he would be a great mentor for the kids.

Brian Gionta is a different story. The playoffs have shown he's really not the same player he used to be. He takes too many low-percentage shots right at the goalie and his speed, which has always given him a much-needed edge, is showing signs of dropping off. If, as it appears, he's becoming a third-line penalty killer, there are guys out there with a size advantage who can fill that need. Gionta has been a respectable captain and has given the Canadiens his all, but his run in Montreal is over.

Now the question is, who should be captain when Gionta is gone? Based on everything we've seen in these playoffs, the answer can only be one person: P.K.Subban. At 25, Subban has punched four full NHL seasons and has demonstrated an ability to raise his game when required. As mentioned earlier, he's the best player on the team, and, if there's any justice, will soon be the highest paid. Most importantly, he's a huge personality. Claude Lemieux said earlier this week that winning starts at the top and it's contagious. In the dressing room, the top is your captain. If you've got a captain who's upbeat, energetic, competitive, durable, classy and dedicated as well as supremely skilled, the other players on the team will be able to look to him for inspiration and example. A team that competes like P.K.Subban is a winning team. He's handled himself with such maturity this spring he's showing he's ready to be a leader. Other captains in the league have been named at younger ages than him, and not all of them have the kind of ability Subban can boast. If you want someone who can give an underachieving teammate "The Look" when needed, Subban can do it. He can challenge any player to be better because he demands it of himself.

It's funny how the playoffs work. You can spend a whole season asking questions, then have them answered in the space of a handful of high-pressure games. The Habs season may end prematurely this week, but management has seen enough to resolve some very important issues.


Anonymous said...

Agreed J.T.! The playoffs are the ultimate litmus test.

At some point, every player's best years are in the rear-veiw mirror. A youth movement can re-energize the vets or push them to a level they forgot they had. If the vets fail to respond or presume that their position is granted through divine right, then the path forward becomes obvious.

The successful GM will stock his team with more players whose best years are ahead of them (see Subban, P.K., Price, Carey) and veterans in key positions (see Markov, Andrei) who can still make a difference.

You also must have a coach who is smart enough to let that youth develop. That means using them in key situations throughout the regular season so that they are battle-hardened and trustworthy come playoffs(see Bowman, Scott). If not, the potential remains untapped, the bar gets set to "mediocre" and cynicism rules the dressing room. All due to an over-reliance on veterans who are either unable or unwilling to step up yet still get a free pass(see Martin, Jacques).

With any luck, management will have some answers and will have the good sense to respond accordingly.

Harry said...

J.T. I agree with you and Coach K about the next captain and the need for a new coach.I do not like MT and never have,he is stubborn and will never try anything new.If he doesn't change the lineup for tonight's game it will be too late.
Thanks again for the blog,we all need it.

A Habs Fan in Toronto said...

J.T. What do you think about making Gallagher the captain? He's always going and he's not devoid of skill either. While I heartily enjoy Subban as a leader and have no doubt as to his skills, he might be too controversial a player to make captain IMO.

Mike Safoniuk said...

Another great article. I agree with your analysis of the players.

I'd love to see Vanek sign but when I look at what it would take it simply is too much in terms of years. I hope his stay here has led shown some players how going to the net can get results (although we're doing better in that regards than in years past).

Subban will and should get money thrown at him. My only worry is that he realizes how much in taxes he pays in Quebec and decides to sign minimum term and move on (although he does seem to like the spotlight and where better than Montreal?).

Gionta is either going to have to take a huge home town discount or move on. It may take him testing the marker to see what is out there to recognize that though. Is there really a demand for him? The only place that comes to mind is New jersey because of his history with them.

Markov is probably the most controversial one of the lot. How much is he worth and for how long. I think he'll be in more demand than one might expect as a UFA. I'd give him the three years if that's what it takes and keep my fingers crossed but hope he takes 2 years.

Who should be captain? I think giving it to Subban after a long term deal has been signed might help get that deal done. But I am not sure tat having such a lightning rod as a captain is best. It might require someone with a much steadier and calmer presence. Plekanec is always a possibility in my mind. Gorges does a lot of talking in the locker room (from what I see on CH24) but I am not sure anyone is listening.

J.T. said...

@Habs Fan in Toronto: I like Gallagher very much. Who wouldn't? But I see his career path playing out with him as a secondary player. In ten years, he'll probably have had a very nice dozen years in the NHL, barring serious injury. He'll be heart and soul as long as his body holds up.

In ten years, however, I see Subban as being a dynamic, multi-nominated Norris contender. He's a superstar.

As for him being controversial, I like it. Gallagher is just as chippy in his game as Subban is, but P.K. gets all the flack. Perhaps it's got something to do with his race, or perhaps it's jealousy from fan bases who'd love to have him. Either way, I say bring on the controversy and embrace it.

He's always going to be criticized by small-minded people, but you know what? For many years, the Habs have had a couple of lovely gentlemen as their captain in Saku Koivu and Brian Gionta. For the most part, they've been a respectful, gentlemanly team. If P.K. sets a new example of brash confidence, which he can totally back up with his play, I think it would be good for the team. Maybe the Habs would have a bit more swagger and surety on the ice.

It's kind of like when the Canadian Olympic Committee brought in the "Own the Podium" campaign. People were kind of surprised that the nice Canadians were going around saying they planned to kick butt. In the end, it worked and the athletes loved it. They were done saying all the politically correct things and going for personal bests. They wanted to win, and they enjoyed having the COC back them up by saying it out loud. I think Subban could do that for the Habs.

UK3X said...

Nice one JT - his goal in game 5 said all you need to know about Subban. You can see him almost jumping up and down waiting forms puck. He got it and no goalie in the world was stopping that shot. A captain needs a certain amount of swagger. Be cocky - you're the best player on the ice so why not! I agree on Vanek too - 7 years is way too much and he's done basically sweet FA in this series to warrant the big payday he's dreaming of. And as far as the coach...don't get me started...!

Steve said...

I join the crowd in agreeing with everything.

I would also shop DD and Patches as a package deal. They have not proven to be playoff effective. This may be one step back next year but two steps forward getting Galynechuk at Center and building a playoff powerhouse. That said I hope Patches and DD make me eat my word to nite.

Mike Safoniuk said...

Have to respectfully disagree with Steve.

Why in the world would you shop Patches? Where else will you find a 25-year old (or so) 39-goal scorer signed to a few years at a cap hit of 4.5 million? He might not be doing great in the playoffs but 1) you have to get to the playoffs first and 2) the fact that the other team is focusing on defending him does open up the ice for other lines. I simply do not think they would get anywhere near equal value in a trade for him.

As for Desharnais, he can be expected to manage about 50 - 60 points in a a season. Not bad for 3.5 million. Given he's a francophone as well, from a purely marketing point of view I doubt he'd be moved either.

Steve said...

@spirit of cook, your words were backed up by the action in game 6