With the dust finally settling on free agent frenzy, a day where NHL players signed contracts that totaled more than half a billion dollars, the Montreal Canadiens lineup for next season is starting to come into focus.
Gone are veteran leaders Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges, as well as hired gun Thomas Vanek, Daniel Briere, Ryan White and Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon depart the blue line. In their place on July 1st, the Habs brought in Manny Malhotra, Tom Gilbert, picked up European free agent Jiri Sekac, dealt for P.A. Parenteau from the Colorado Avalanche and retained Mike Weaver.
Malhotra and Gilbert fill necessary holes on the Habs depth chart, while Sekac could find himself anywhere from second line right winger, to looking for ice time with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Parenteau’s playmaking skills will be a welcome addition to one of the Canadiens top two lines, and he will show up much more frequently than the enigmatic Vanek.
What was most impressive about general manager Marc Bergevin’s roster shuffling, was that he did not overspend for any of his acquisitions. At a time of year when everyone gets paid too much money, Bergevin filled several gaps with players who came with the right price tag.
First off, he dealt for Parenteau, who could very well find himself on the top line with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. To pick up the former Islander and Avalanche winger, and his 4 million dollar cap hit for the next two seasons, Bergevin sent Briere and his identical cap hit to the Avs. Parenteau had more points (33 to 25), in less games (55 to 69), but Bergevin was also able to add a 5th round draft pick in the deal as well.
Sure, Parenteau has one more year remaining on his deal than Briere does, but to get a 31 year old top six winger in exchange for a 36 year old fourth line center, without even adding to their payroll is a huge win for the Canadiens.
Then on July 1st, the biggest day of overspending on the NHL calendar year after year, the Habs identified the need for a fourth line center and a second pairing right handed defenseman. They immediately jumped on signing Manny Malhotra, the first announced signing of the day, and got their fourth line center for a mere $850,000 on a one year contract.
Malhotra is the best faceoff man in the entire NHL without question. He will fill in admirably in his role as a fourth line center who wins draws, kill penalties, and handle tough defensive minutes, giving Tomas Plekanec a bit of a break in that department.
Other fourth line centers to sign shortly after Malhotra included Jesse Winchester, who got a two year deal at 900,000 dollars, Joe Vitale will be paid 1.1 million each season for the next three years, Dominic Moore will get 1.5 million for the next two years, even Cody McCormick got a three year term, and at 1.5 million per season.
What I am trying to say here, is that Malhotra was the best bargain of the day, followed by Jay McClement who left the Toronto Maple Leafs for 1 million on a one year deal from the Carolina Hurricanes.
As for the second pairing right handed defender, the Habs ultimately landed Tom Gilbert, for the very reasonable price of 2.8 million for each of the next two years. Other defenders who fit the same job description include Anton Stralman who will earn 4.5 million for the next five years in Tampa Bay, Dan Boyle who is ancient and will also get 4.5 million for two seasons from the New York Rangers, Stephane Robidas who is 37 got a three year deal worth 3 million per season, and Mark Fayne, the most anonymous defenseman on the market got a four year deal at 3.5 million per season.
To put into perspective how big of a steal the Gilbert contract is for the Habs, the 31 year old will earn 2.8 million, while Derek Engelland, the defenseman so good he was turned into a right winger, will make 2.9 million dollars on a three year deal with the Calgary Flames. That is an extra year, and an extra hundred grand per season for an enforcer, while the Canadiens signed an actual puck moving and decent skating defender.
So on the biggest spending day of the NHL season, Bregevin was able to fill two weaknesses on the Canadiens roster. Instead of going mad over the biggest trend to hit the market, Bergevin cut his coupons and made a few savvy deals in order to fill out the Canadiens roster for next season.
The salary cap is king in the NHL these days, as the countless number of buyouts will tell you, and Bergevin appears to be well versed in the business side of the game. While most other GMs ignored their cap and spent boatloads of money this week, Bergevin sat back and methodically chose free agents that are the right fit, and the right price for the Canadiens going forward.