Less than three days to go before one of my favourite times of the year.
The opening of Free Agent season is always an exciting time for hockey fans, each of us desperately clinging to the hope that our respective GMs will manage to sign a star player and turn their team into a contender overnight. Never mind that this hardly ever actually works, we all still get excited when we hear a new player is coming to town.
Montreal hasn’t really had the best of luck when it comes to recent free agent signings. Samsonov turned out to be a spectacular flop, and Kovalev hasn’t exactly been on anyone’s favourites list lately. This is especially frustrating for Habs fans after weeks of rumours and speculation about big-name players like Shanahan and Elias. How can we forget the sick feeling we all felt when Shanahan, after weeks of stringing us along, decided on New York over Montreal? Yes, I think we can all agree that Free Agent season tends to be anything but satisfying for Habs fans. There is only so much "Plan D" we can take.
But this doesn’t really stop the speculation, does it?
I feel this year may very well be different. I truly feel that this time, The Canadiens are serious about signing some top-end talent, and Bob Gainey will deliver. That being said, we all know that Gainey’s mind works in mysterious ways, so predicting what he’s going to do is near impossible and will probably make you look quite silly in the end. Hence, instead of trying to make predictions, I’ll simply state what I would do in Bob’s position.
DISCLAIMER: Before I begin, I’d just like to clarify that I’m going to try and keep this as realistic as possible. It would be easy to simply jot down the names of a bunch of stars like Forsberg and Smyth but realistically, I doubt they’d sign in Montreal. However, being that realism isn’t much fun, I’ll still try and keep it exciting at the same time.
On to business!
The first Free Agent I would sign is C Scott Gomez.
What? No Briere? Yes, that’s absolutely correct. “Gomer” is the perfect fit for this team. Young and entering his prime, and coming off a bad season so his salary demands won’t be too outrageous. Most importantly, however, he’s spent his career playing on a defensively-minded New Jersey team and would fit in perfectly with Carbonneau’s similarly structured system. Plus, he’ll be significantly cheaper than Briere, who I personally feel is a bad fit for The Canadiens.
Next would be LW Paul Kariya.
Okay, so I admit that this is partly due to all the rumours saying he wants to play in Montreal (I’m a sucker for the hype). But truthfully, I’m a big Kariya fan and I simply want to see him in on The Habs. It’s risky, of course, because Kariya’s defensive play may get him the Samsonov treatment by Coach Carbonneau, but I feel his speed and scoring ability is badly needed on this team. He’s a solid 5-on-5 player, which is what The Habs need to improve the most on.
My next signing would be F Pascal Dupuis.
Dupuis would be my choice to replace Mike Johnson, who I feel will not be returning. I’m a huge fan of Dupuis and feel he is highly underrated. He’s a local boy who will be an excellent checker, and who can contribute to the score sheet as well. His energy and feistiness will be appreciated by the fans in Montreal, and he has the ability to play on the top 2 lines in case of injuries. If Bob doesn’t land any of the UFAs I listed above, I do hope he at least can bring Dupuis aboard.
My final Free Agent signing was a tough decision. To be frank, I could not decide on one guy in particular, so I’ll simply list them all. Ideally, I’d like to see Gainey retain Souray, but if he becomes too pricey, I would sign any one of D Tom Preissing, D Cory Sarich, or D Mat Schneider.
I don’t want to see Souray go, but if he commands a salary upwards of $6 million, I can’t justify keeping him aboard. The other defencemen I listed will be significantly cheaper and all extremely useful in their own right. Preissing is a smart player who will be an asset on the powerplay and an overall solid d-man. Sarich, while never being much of a goal-scorer, would replace some of Souray’s physicality and is an upgrade on Sheldon defensively. Schneider is, well, old, but he can replace Souray’s offensive production while providing a veteran presence for much less of a cap hit.
Aside from these UFA signings, I’d also shake things up on the team internally. I was once a huge Kovalev fan, but I feel the time has come for him to go. I simply do not see him being able to play under Carbonneau, and there are better options available. Whether he is tradable or not is another story, but he is not in my plans for the future of this team.
Neither, for that matter, is Frankie Bouillon. Yes, I know a lot of people out there love him, but if this team is to move forward, he needs to go. Everyone wants to see the little guy succeed, but his fat contract does not justify what he brings to the team. I’m aware he was coming off an injury this year, and that last season he was pretty good, but what people need to realize is that last season was the only season he’s ever looked like an actual NHLer. His big hits look nice on TV, but his shoddy positioning is extremely frustrating to watch, especially live.
On the topic of internal movement, there are several rookies that I feel deserve a shot in the big leagues this season. Namely, Andrei Kostitsyn, Kyle Chipchura, Jonathan Ferland and Ryan O’Byrne (I did not include Maxim Lapierre and Jaroslav Halak because they have already earned their spots on the team). Whether they can prove their worth at training camp remains to be seen, but I remain confident.
So what does all that movement give us? Here are the lines I’d put together if I were in charge:
Kariya – Gomez – Ryder
Latendresse – Koivu – Kostitsyn
Higgins – Plekanec– Dupuis
Lapierre – Chipchura – Begin
Ferland, Murray (yes, I’m keeping Murray, suckers!)
Markov – Komisarek
Souray/Preissing/Sarich/Schneider/ – Streit
O’Byrne – Dandenault
Gomez, an elite playmaker, would be benefited by having a pair of pure scorers on his wings, and Kariya’s defensive shortcomings won’t look as bad with Gomez and Ryder covering for him (contrary to popular belief, Ryder is actually pretty good defensively and one of the best backcheckers on the team). Overall, this would be one of the fastest lines in the East (again, contrary to popular belief, Ryder is quite fast indeed).
Bumping Saku down to the second line is not a slight to him. If anything, Koivu will greatly benefit by playing with less pressure on the 2nd and might even surpass last year’s point totals. He has great chemistry with Latendresse, and Kostitsyn’s amazing shot is what a playmaker like Koivu dreams about.
Some may be upset about me bringing Higgins down to the third line, but by no means does this mean I want him to be a checking forward. Simply put, Higgins and Plekanec are the best two-way forwards on the team, and if anyone can put up numbers while being defensively responsible, it’s these guys. Add in a feisty Dupuis, who has the potential to put up respectable numbers, and you have a pretty deadly trio, in my opinion of course. Ideally, I'd like to see Carbonneau roll the above three lines.
The fourth line should be fun to watch as well. Lapierre impressed the hell out of me, and I’m hoping Begin can make it through the season healthy/alive. Chipchura deserves his chance, and will work his way up from the bottom like all rookies do. This will be a line I’d hate to play against and I personally can’t wait to see these guys raise hell on the ice. Ferland will get his shot here when Begin needs a break, and Murray, well, I’m keeping him just to be controversial.
My defensive pairings are pretty straight-forward and do not differ much from last season. I feel Streit deserves a shot as a permanent fixture in the top four, and he’s primed for a breakout season. Streit, in my eyes, is the next Markov, and his overall seamless play will soon turn him into a household name. As for O’Byrne, his performance during the Calder Cup playoffs has made me a believer and I can’t wait to see him (hopefully) make the team. Dandenault gets a lot of flak, but once he’s separated from Bouillon I think we’ll see a new side of him, one that was too busy covering for his partner’s mistakes to show itself.
While some feel that Carey Price is ready to make the jump, I’d prefer to start the season with Huet and Halak splitting time in nets. Huet was at his best when he split time with Aebischer, so a similar set-up with Halak is the best scenario I can see.
And just like that, my team is complete. I’ve gone in depth as much as I can, and tried to justify every move in a hopefully convincing manner. This is what I would do, or at least try to do, if I were Bob, and look forward to seeing how things play out in reality. Who knows, I may just be able to figure him out after all.
As always, comments are encouraged.
29 June 2007
Less than three days to go before one of my favourite times of the year.
Goal scored by waffledave at 1:57 PM
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