Habs Contractual Outlook
I based it on the numbers from the Habsworld.net chart, and filled in my estimates for newly signed contracts with unknown terms, and anticipated/expected RFA and UFA signings.
Dandenault - A lot was expected from the Habs major Quebecois signing last summer. Crazylegs has size, wheels and experience with a winner. I was afraid he would turn out to be a bust - one of those players who looks great when playing twelve minutes a night paired with a HOFer, but whose warts show when placed on a lesser team. Sure enough, he struggled through 60 games and was collecting an incredible number of New NHL minor penalties. Late in the season when a playoff spot appeared to be in doubt, Dandenault looked around the dressing room, saw no Lidstrom or Chelios to carry the club into the postseason, and decided he had better pick up his game. Dandy's play drastically improved down the stretch and in the playoffs, which should bode well for next year. His pay isn't completely out of whack given that of some comparables. $1.7M per for the next three years looks A-OK.
Markov - Unquestionably the #1 d-man. He's built for the new NHL with quick feet, a quick stick, and fine diving skills. The Habs struggled mightily when he was out of the lineup. Speaking of which, his back spasms raise questions about either his conditioning or his ability to play big minutes. That said, he's still one of the league's best-kept secrets. Let's hope his low profile continues through next season, because it would be sweet to get him signed long-term.
Rivet - Last Fall, he appeared to be overpaid due to his vestigial pre-New NHL contract and observers were worried about his ability to adapt to the New NHL. He did struggle with the stricter officiating, but also showed a knack for putting the puck on the net on the PP and put up 34 points - good for 41st among defensemen. What Jason Smith is to the Oilers, Craig Rivet is to the Habs: imperfect, but a popular guy and the leader on the blueline.
Souray - As some of the more analytical bloggers say, it is easier to go from bad to average than from average to good. The Montreal defense is, in my estimation, average or slightly better. Any new acquisition would likely replace Bouillon - one of the best bang-for-the-buck guys in the league. Is, say, Kubina at $3.5M going to make the team much better than Bouillon at $1M plus $2.5M to spend elsewhere? Obviously, to get this bunch up to 'Good' status, other changes will have to take place. Which brings us to Souray. It saddens me to say it, but to see a significant improvement on D, Souray would be a good candidate to move. He's a movable asset. An entertaining player, tough as nails, and his killer shot seemed to be the Habs' only offensive weapon in the playoffs. He also got beat 1-on-1 several times last season - something that should not happen to an NHL defenseman. He just doesn't seem to have the feet to stay with a skilled forward, especially when backpedaling. Surely, his tools will intrigue Doug MacLean or whoever is GM of the Islanders these days. Given the rest of the Habs defense, Souray might be the best option to parlay into another asset.
Streit - Signed for two years this spring. He looked much better in international competition than he did in the NHL. Maybe his first year in the league was just a warm-up. At worst, he'll be a #7 with PP potential.
Begin - This Greg Graffin lookalike recently signed for three years at just over $1M per. Steep, as expected for a deal that reaches beyond a player's UFA trigger year. Begin is probably worth it. He said all the right things too ("It's never been about the money... The important thing is that I'm going to be here for at least three more seasons. I love this team. I love this city. I love the fans.").
Bonk - One more year at $2.4M. Then Gainey can make room for someone who actually wants to play centre ice for the Habs. I would suggest he might be a candidate to move because he's not a terrible player, but I can't imagine anyone wanting to squeeze this contract into their plans without sending a similar problem the other way.
Downey - Signed, it seems, for $475k (I thought the minimum wage was going to be bumped up to $500k this year). I would prefer a better skater in this role, but Gainey seems to have a toughness fetish.
Koivu - Three more years at $4.75M. Koivu's production slowed considerably over the final quarter of last season - disconcerting, given the softer opposition Montreal faced over that stretch. He's pretty high mileage for a 31-year-old with fewer than 600 games played. So his contract gives me some jitters. So does the eye situation. At least we're not talking about some $6M or $7M+ guy.
Kovalev - Three more years at $4.5M. Given Kovy's habit of completely losing interest with a couple of other franchises, this deal scares me more than Koivu's. Comparables universally earned less than Kovalev last year. This contract will look even worse if the parade to the penalty box ceases next year, as Kovy is becoming a bit of a PP specialist.
Murray - Garth signed for two years, probably at a modest raise from his $502k salary last season. Gainey loves his grinders...
Plekanec - One of the bright spots for next year. The Habs best hope for team improvement is to see their young forwards continue to improve individually. None of them appear to have that standout star potential, but they could be on their way to a balanced attack like that of the Sabres or Hurricanes. Plekanec's skating and solid, smart play at centre should provide quality icetime at a good price ($690k next year).
Ribeiro - Frustration, thy name is Ribeiro. So. We have a new NHL that rewards skill. Offense is the word of the day. Smaller forwards can no longer be grappled into submission by ogreish defensemen. This should be perfect for Ribsy, right? Wrong. He had a far worse season than '03-04. The bugger just can't skate. For a team that competes by skating, Ribeiro is a square peg in a round hole. The team already has enough slow PP specialists in Kovalev and Ryder. It's time to move Plex into the #2 centre role and find a new home for Ribs.
Zednik - Everyone points out the marginal clutch&grab defensemen as the biggest losers in the New NHL. There are also forwards who were less successful. Iginla, St. Louis and Zednik suffered surprising drops in production. In Zednik's case, he has been a good even-strength scorer. The stand-still attack of the PP doesn't suit him - he's at his best when skating full speed with the puck, draped in defenders. An early groin injury also hampered his skating game. I'd like to see Zed have another kick at the can next year. Obviously, he has to score more than 16 goals to earn his $2M.
Komisarek - He didn't take the anticipated leap forward last year. Not being an undersized pacifist, he isn't built to play defense in the New NHL. These big rangy defensemen often take time to develop (see Pronger, Chris), so we might still see a solid NHLer emerge. He will be qualified, and his salary should be under $1M.
Higgins - The title of 'Habs top rookie of '05-'06' was a horse race with many lead changes. After game #82, consensus was that Higgins was the winner. Ryder inked a $1M contract after his Calder-nominee effort in '03-'04, so I highly doubt Higgins would ask for more. His agent, on the other hand...
Perezhogin - The third member of the Canadiens' trio of greenhorn forwards, and the one with the most potential to produce a dazzling individual effort on any given shift. Unfortunately, his individualistic game is at odds with what the Habs were trying to achieve and his minutes suffered. There are clubs in the NHL that encourage freedom of on-ice expression, and give players the freedom to play a wide-open game. The Montreal Canadiens are not one of them, and haven't been for twenty years. It makes you wonder why they draft guys like Perezhogin. Obviously, the kid is going to have to change his game. If he's not ripping up defenders by the time he's 22, he's never going to in the NHL. Should be another sub-$1M signing.
Ryder - He signed for $1M after his superb rookie year, and led the team with 30 goals last year to prove it wasn't a fluke. I would expect his upper limit for this season would be Mark Parrish-type money ($1.9M). The fact that Ryder is by far the Habs' top finisher underscores the teams' biggest weakness. Gainey has to get this guy signed.
Aebischer - I haven't seen anything from him to suggest he's worth $1.9M, but the rules say RFAs have to be qualified at their previous year's salary. Qualify him, and he better be happy just to get that.
Bouillon - As stated earlier, one of the best bang-for-the-buck players around. Now Cube will be trying to cash in that bang for a few more bucks. If you look at the team's internal salary structure, he should be worth over a million. He's not exactly a high profile UFA, so there shouldn't be a heated bidding war. $1.25M would be fair, but I can see him going for up to $1.5M if other GMs badly need to fill a hole.
Huet - The big UFA. If he asks for or is offered more than $2M, I say let him walk. The Habs don't need to spend $4M on a pair of starting goalies. There are a few options out there, so the bidding shouldn't get too outrageous.
Overall, the complexion of the team will not change much. That may not be good, if you prescribe to the adage that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. The improvement next year must come from the youth. There are some attractive big-name FAs out there (Chara, Redden, Kubina, Matt Cullen, Arnott, Elias), but I think a) GMs will overpay for them and b) most high-profile acquisitions would only stunt the growth of the Habs' youth and will not offer a huge improvement. Wait 'til next year before throwing money at a gamebreaker, Bob.
The kids should step into more prominent roles, but the team will need a couple of forwards to replace Sunny and Bulis. There are some interesting depth players available. During round 2 of the playoffs, Carbo said he was going to give Gainey a 'want list' of players. He didn't name names (I think that would have been tampering) but did say that some were "still competing in the playoffs." Hmmm. Think Georges Laraque is a popular player now? Imagine if he were playing for his hometown Canadiens.