Montreal Canadiens Defense, "Russian" to Success
At the end of the 2010-11 season the management team of the Montreal Canadiens will once again have to deal with a large number of free agents players.
Of particular interest is on the blue line with Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, James Wisniewski, Hal Gill and Roman Hamrlik all without contracts for the start of the 2011-12 season.
With five of our top seven defensemen facing uncertainty the question then becomes, what should we do?
Who Comes Back?
I am sure it comes as no surprise to you all that I am personally drawn to the more physical players of the NHL.
If given the choice between a purely offensive player and a player with a little bit less offensive ability but with a physical side to his game, then I am almost always choosing the latter.
I also believe that when building a group of six defensemen you need an elite top-four with a bottom-two consisting of a grizzled veteran and rookie.
Ideally, both of the bottom-two players should be making $1.5 million or less.
Given these two fairly simple philosophies I would therefore decide to cut one of the five above mentioned players and ultimately retain the rights of Josh Gorges, Hal Gill, James Wizniewski and obviously Andrei Markov.
These four players represent the two main components to the power play and the two main components to the penalty kill; which given the current coaching staff’s dependence on special teams, are vital to the Habs' success.
In my ideal world I would love for the organization to somehow shed Jaroslav Spacek and his $3.833 price tag. Getting rid of such a salary would open the doors of possibility for the Habs.
Wanting something to happen and ultimately believing it could happen are two entirely different things however.
With Spacek almost guaranteed a roster spot at the start of next season, unfortunately, someone has to pay the price and that someone is Roman Hamrlik.
Hamrlik is a very good defensemen who can play at both ends of the rink. At 6’2 and 210 lbs, the former first overall pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning has been one of our most consistent and reliable defensemen since signing joining the Habs.
Like any true warrior the big Czech has always been there to fill in the minutes, and remain effective when one of the other players has gone down with injury. The problem with Hamrlik, however, is that he comes with a $5.5 million price tag in an era where every dollar counts.
Essentially Hamrlik is being paid top defensemen money for a player who is likely nothing more than a number three, at best, on any team. Certainly Hamrlik would be willing to accept a pay cut, however given the current needs of the team I would find it unfair to pay him anything more than about $3 million per season.
An amount that we likely can eclipse on the open market.
What does the Salary Structure Look Like?
Andrei Markov: Andrei is currently our highest paid defensemen at $5.75 million per year. Given the recent run of injuries coming off two back-to-back season ending knee surgeries, it is perhaps too big a risk to retain Markov unless he is willing to accept a pay cut in the neighborhood of $1 million per season.
The risk of losing him is far too great however. Negotiations will be tough.
Estimated Salary: $5 million per season
James Wizniewski: I think it is safe to say that the Wiz will not continue to rack up points at the current torrid pace he is on. What Wizniewski does do, however, is provide a steady offensive threat while being more than capable in his own zone. In addition, he brings an element of toughness to the back end, despite his 5’11 frame. He is playing extraordinarily well this season and will likely look for a substantial pay increase?
But how much?
Estimated Salary: $3.75-$4.25 million per season
Josh Gorges: Finding a comparible for Josh Gorges is not as easy as it seems. Gorges is reliable in his own zone and can chip in with the odd points here and there, but he is neither a stay at home nor a purely offensive guy.
Gorges is simply a good old fashioned, reliable defenseman.
A quick scan around the league and I see Gorges much along the same lines as a Steve Montador or an Andrew Ference, but more reliable defensively. When healthy, Gorges is used more than any other player on the team, with the exception of Markov.
He's an RFA at the end of the season, but locking him up long term is important.
Estimated Salary: $3.0 million per season
Hal Gill: Unlike most, the moment he was signed by the club I was ectastic.
He is big, he takes up space, clears the front of the net, excels on the PK and provides much needed leadership. Given his continued excellent play on the PK and in the playoffs, allowing him to walk away would be a tremendous mistake.
Gill as your No.5 D-man will help to build a successful team.
Estimated Salary: $1.75 million per season
Who else do you sign?
As I had mentioned earlier, I'm an advocate of a defensive line-up that has size and an element of toughness to their game.
With the likes of Markov, P.K. Subban, Wizniewski, Gorges, Gill and Spacek this would certainly seem to contradict my earlier sentiments. Of the above mentioned six defensemen, only Gill measures in at more than 6’0 and none of the above are prototypical physical defensemen; so what gives?
Truth be told, a team is only as good as the depth of the players on the roster. With injuries almost a guarantee in today’s NHL, the seventh defensemen is certain to be getting ice time.
With such certainty in life, Pierre Gauthier basically has two options: obtain the services of a veteran or give a roster spot to a rookie. So do we sign a player or give a chance to someone in the organization?
In my opinion there is only one answer to this question: give the job to a rookie.
Look within the organization and no further than Alexei Yemelin; the Russian defensemen who has been rumoured to be arriving in North America for two to three years now. Yemelin is not a big bruising player at 6’05 and 190 lbs, but he plays a very physical game while being more than dependable in his own zone.
According to recent reports on RDS, the only thing holding him back from coming to North America is a small clause in his contract which would allow him to return to his Russian club in the event that the highly touted Russian does not make the big club.
So there you have it folks; a seven man defensive unit which I believe can be considered among the Eastern conference elite.
A unit which combines the physicality of Yemelin, Gill and Gorges with the offensive prowess of Markov, Wizniewski and Subban. A mix of grizzled veterans with NHL experience and the youthful exuberance of players making their mark in the NHL.
Essentially, a seven-man unit which can lead this team to a deep playoff run!
Check out the She Said counter-piece.
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)
Willey was the shinning light among the wicked growing up as the lone Habs fan in Toronto. Pray to Holy Ghosts of the old forum and all shall be answered I was told, and just like that my family was transferred back to Montreal and away from the damned. Olé Olé Olé.