Mar 31, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Colby Armstrong (9) against the Buffalo Sabres at the Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Sabres 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Montreal Canadiens Free Agents: Letting the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good

Canadiens rookie GM Marc Bergevin has made a number of decisions since July 1st, adding three new players and signing star goaltender Carey Price to a 6 year 6.5 Million dollar deal.

 The Signings

Colby Armstrong: 1 year/1 million dollars

The first July 1st decision was eminently sensible. Armstrong has been a top nine winger in the past but had his career derailed by injuries in Toronto. A one million dollar deal for a single season is a nothing contract in NHL terms. Armstrong immediately fills the same role Darche did. Veteran winger that might be the 13th forward but could move up the depth chart as needed. Armstrong could easily be a good third liner in MTL

Even Strength

Games

Goals

Points

Corsi Qoc

RelCorsi

Zone Start

Goals/60

Points/60

TOI

Last Season

29

1

3

0.153

-7.9

50.4

0.23

0.69

8.95

4 Year Avg.

60

10.5

21.5

0.357

1.45

46.0

0.74

1.61

11.64

Armstrong had a brutal season last year, but the previous 3 he showed himself to be a very capable top nine winger. Good offensive production, verging on the top six level for 5 on 5 (1.7 points per 60 min) and played mid-level difficulty minutes basically even. A return to form could give Lars Eller a nice linemate for the upcoming year.

On special teams, Armstrong has not played significant powerplay time for 3 seasons so that can be discounted. He’s had two significant penalty kill seasons in the past 4 (2009-11).

Penalty Kill

Minutes Per Game

Goals Against per 60

RelCorsi

Corsi

Points per 60 Min

4 Year Avg.

1.97

7.495

10.45

-69.245

0.545

On the PK, Armstrong looks decent. His goals against are horrible, but his possesion rates show that was due to horrid goaltending in Toronto and Atlanta. He looks like he could be another decent 2nd unit PK winger for Montreal.

Armstrong is an ex-Michael Therrien player who has a good relationship with the Habs coach. I believe we are seeing that the teams coach will have a significant effect on roster moves for the Canadiens in this new regime.

Role: If healthy a solid 3rd line RW. If like his last season, pressbox material.

 

Brandon Prust: 10 Million/4 Years

Even Strength

Games

Goals

Points

Corsi Qoc

RelCorsi

Zone Start

Goals/60

Points/60

TOI

Last Season

82

3

15

0.153

-7.9

33.7

0.22

1.08

10.20

4 Year Avg.

67.25

4.25

13.25

-0.560

-2.3

43.4

0.40

1.16

9.18

Montreal’s biggest UFA signing is not confidence inspiring. Prust has had significant improvement to become the player he’s been the past 2 years. The thing is, that player is a good 4th line winger on even strength who serves as something of a defensive specialist. He doesn’t score much and doesn’t play defense against top units thus far in his career. His even strength upside is to be Travis Moen, good chance he’s worse.

Penalty Kill

Minutes Per Game

Goals Against per 60

RelCorsi

Corsi

Points per 60 Min

Last Season

1.66

3.08

3.4

-79.62

0.88

4 Year Avg.

1.68

4.125

1.2

-76.9

1.95

Prust’s best situation is the penalty kill, which he has played significant minutes at for the past two years. Overall, his minutes are 2nd PK unit and he has had a strong goals against with relatively middling penalty kill possession stats. He looks pretty much equivalent to Moen by the numbers (better GA but worse shots). He’s also a threat to score short handed, which is always a help.

The only thing special about Prust is his fists. He is an accomplished middle-weight fighter, going 20 bouts last season with an 11-6-2 record (See Hockey Fights). Those looking for a pugilist will applaud. Those who were not will like that at least he isn’t a total liability on the ice.

Role: 4th line Left Wing, defensive and penalty kill specialist. Middle weight fighter who can play hockey.

 

Francois Bouillion: 1.5 Million / 1 Year

Even Strength

Games

Goals

Points

Corsi Qoc

RelCorsi

Zone Start

Goals/60

Points/60

TOI

Last Season

66

4

11

-0.352

-0.35

46.5

0.17

0.51

15.96

4 Year Avg.

61.5

3

8.25

-0.124

-5.7

46.8

0.18

0.49

15.63

Bouillion is a mediocrity. He plays 3rd pairing levels of competition and generally comes out slightly behind on the play scores a middle range of points from the blueline and eats a decent amount of minutes for ~60 games a year. At his age is a major risk to breakdown and fall out of the NHL. His price point reflects this fact. I’m not sure how necessary this was because the Habs had plenty of bottom pairing defenders already although Boullion is a bit more defensively focused than the ones currently on the depth chart. It appears to be like the Armstrong signing in getting a Michael Therrien favourite into the fold. Unlike Armstrong I’m not of the opinion that its a move that helped the team.

Role: 3rd pairing/depth defenseman

 

 The Top Six Winger Option

As a first outing by a rookie GM, I was not impressed by what Bergevin did. The teams biggest need if playoffs is still the goal was to find a new top six winger and improve the scoring depth. Instead the goal seems to have been to shore up the depth and see what happens. There was a diverse group of options that could have been pursued for that role depending on what the GM’s plan was:

Short term fixes:

Players who could have improved the team for a season or two while the organization developed young internal options included:

Jagr: Signed for 4.5 Million in Dallas

A total free agent that has expressed interest in Montreal before. One season for about the money spent on Prust + Boullion would have improved the scoring depth considerably.

Whitney: Signed 2 years 4.5 Million per in Dallas

If a flaky European isn’t your thing then you could have gotten an older North American for the same money. A two year contract at his age is a risk but he just came off a monster 77 point season. On the balance of probablities he’s well preserved like Selanne or Recchi of recent years. Would have replaced what was lost in Cammalleri entirely.

Long term assets:

Parenteau or Hudler: 4 years, 4 million per year.

I like these two less as they are complimentary players on their old teams that required a longer-term commitment. But if that’s what your looking for they were out there.

Alexander Semin: Not signed 6? Million expected

This was the big fish if Montreal wanted it. Semin’s two way play is underated and would be an immediate 25-30+ goal threat even playing Plekanec’s shutdown minutes. His reputation has managed to deflate his asking price into pretty reasonably range for a player of his talents. I would have gone hard for Semin if he was interested in MTL. He fit the hole the lineup has.

A Kostitsyn: Unsigned 3-4? M

Kostitsyn is another undervalued asset still out there. He has consistently been a 2nd line level scorer in the NHL and has worked with Montreal’s center’s before. Also as learned backcheck after a few years of Jacques Martin coaching. Plus reported to actually be well liked fellow in the Montreal dressing room despite his poor media reputation. He apparently wanted to re-sign in Montreal rather than be traded. A new regime in MTL should give him that chance if they don’t plan on going big game hunting. He’s better than Bourque at least and could be traded for another 2nd rounder later.

 

 

If Bergevin does a good move to fix the team’s biggest hole right now during the summer, obviously this criticism is wrong. But he claims to have been un-interested in even pursuing Jagr, Semin and Parenteau, claiming that they weren’t the right fit. This leads me to suspect he is making a mistake by allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

This means he is looking for ideal solutions to problems that can be solved with a “good enough” approach. None of these players out there are perfect for Montreal. This is obvious. But perfect solutions are rare in NHL management, most of the time you’re looking for “good enough.” A player that can fill the role you need him to play for your team that is available to you. I think there were a number of good flavours of good enough out there this summer for Montreal that management has elected to not even attempt getting.

The flip side of this was shown by signing Prust. Prust is a perfect 4th liner. He fights and plays physical for those who like that and plays respectable defense. Pretty much every team could use him and apparently 12 GM’s wanted to sign him. Montreal won that bidding war, but the fact that Montreal was in such a bidding war seems like a mistake to me.

4th line players are the pinnacle of “good enough” style acquisitions. Their main purpose is to be cheap so a team can afford better, higher in the lineup. Search the 4th lines of competitive teams and you’ll find they are pretty much filled with players making minimal salary.

Prust is a perfect 4th line winger with all the bells and whistles. But the thing about the perfect 4th liner is that he’s still a 4th liner, because he’s not good enough to be on the 3rd line. By winning the Prust auction, Montreal committed .75-1.5 M too much against the cap for such a player. Not to mention he doesn’t even play center, where the Habs at least had a positional need on the 4th line.

Bergevin IMO committed the basic rookie mistake of getting too attached to a player and bid progressively higher, past the point where the money bid made sense for the team. Pursuing the perfect instead of the good enough ended up costing resources that are needed elsewhere and leads to sub-optimal decision making.

The long and short of it is, if Prust at 2.5 Million was your top move this summer, I think you’d be better off keeping your money and waiting for better opportunities. People who think getting a good fighter in the lineup will change things significantly for the better are free to disagree with me on that. I acknowledge my opinion that having a fighter does very little to help a team win in the modern NHL is not universal.

 

Addendum #1: Its been suggested to me that the plan for top six LW is Rene Bourque. With the idea that Therrien would be able to whip him into shape. After all, he’s not far removed from a 27 goal season isn’t he?

I disagree for a number of reasons. Firstly, as been well catalogued by Kent Wilson of Flames Nation (who should be anyone’s go to source for information on the Calgary Flames) Bourque underwent a severe decline even as he was in his last 27 goal year. The offense was still there but he lost the ability to drive play at even strength and began to bleed chances against. This was the catalyst for him losing his top-six role in Calgary prior to the Cammalleri trade. Bourque does not resemble a player in need of some pep talks and conditioning training to bounce back. He resembles a player past his peak years on a long term decline.

The other is what poison Bourque was for Tomas Plekanec when they played together. Plekanec is normally a beautiful possesion player that routinely is above 50% in possession metrics and a defensive ace simply bleed defensively when paired with Bourque. Comparing Plekanec and Bourque together to how number 14 was with Gionta, Cole or Pacioretty is to compare night and day.

To be fair, so was Kostitsyn who I’ve advocated re-acquiring, but they’ve had a fruitful partnership in the past and Kostitsyn is also a great option for Eller’s wing.

Bourque is presently two seasons from being an effective even strength winger and he may have been carried by his center Langkow even then. Expecting top six winger quality play out of him is not a bet I’d be willing to take. If he does turn around, the new coaching and organizational staff of the  Canadiens deserve major praise.

Addendum #2: This is not to suggest that I believe Bergevin is a bad GM at this point. Really, before he gets a full summer in its too early to say much of anything about him. I give him top marks for the draft, liked the Price signing, liked beefing up the organizational development staff and liked getting Armstrong. Dislikes so far are hiring Therrien, the Prust contract (the contract and not the player) and thus far not addressing what I believe is the team’s most crucial current weakness in LW.

Semester has just started for Marc Bergevin, its a long ways away from final grades.

Addendum 3:

Friend of the blog Oliver Bouchard of http://enattendantlesnordiques.blogspot.ca/ had a good piece on the new forwards here for those who can grok french or use Google translate.

Tags: Brandon Prust Colby Armstrong Francois Bouillion Habs 2012 Off-season Montreal Canadiens

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