More speculation on which players will or won’t return with the Montreal Canadiens next season.

MONTREAL GAZETTE: Pat Hickey reports Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier said he was proud of his team’s performance this season but also admitted all options were on the table for putting together next season’s roster. It’s believed assistant coach Kirk Muller will become the new head coach of the Dallas Stars once their new ownership is in place. Gauthier’s priority will be in sorting out his defense, as he’s currently carrying 11 blueliners and obviously he won’t bring all of them back. Only Jaroslav Spacek and P.K. Subban are under contract for next season. The Habs GM intends to make re-signing UFA Andrei Markov and RFA Josh Gorges his priority. His comments about the importance of team chemistry likely means Hal Gill will return to play alongside Subban next season. Roman Hamrlik wants to return but he would have to accept a huge pay cut from his current salary of $5.5 million. Assuming the salary cap remained at $59 million, Hickey noted Gauthier would have $25 million of available cap space, believing Markov and Gorges would eat up a significant chunk, meaning not enough left to re-sign James Wisniewski or Brent Sopel. Hickey also wondered what options Gauthier could have for under-performing Scott Gomez and his $7 million-plus per season salary. Forwards Max Pacioretty, Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot are restricted free agents, but of the three Pacioretty seems the most likely to get a multi-year contract, while the latter two don’t appear to be priorities. Hickey suggested the Habs could shop Kostitsyn and Pouliot. Hard-working FAs Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Darche should get new contracts, while promising young FAs David Desharnais, Lars Eller and Ryan White should also return. Backup Alex Auld is a UFA but he too could be welcomed back. Hickey doubts Gauthier will be a major player in this summer’s UFA market but noted Gauthier isn’t ruling out making moves to benefit the franchise.

CANADIAN PRESS: Bill Beacon reported Gauthier wants to retain Markov despite the blueliner’s recent injury history but also noted he’ll keep all his options open. Gauthier also confessed his concern about Gomez’s declining production but added he was pleased to hear the center was also unhappy with his performance, believed he let the team down, and hopes to make amends next season.

CANOE.CA: Yvon Pedneault also speculated on the Canadiens options with Gomez, including a contract buyout or burying him and his salary in the minors next season. Pedneault also believes Pouliot, Tom Pyatt and Alexandre Picard won’t be back next season. He also speculated about Hamrlik perhaps getting a two-year, $3.5 million contract offer, doesn’t believe Brent Sopel or Paul Mara will be back, and wondered if Hal Gill might be re-signed if there were better options, like Kevin Bieksa, Joni Pitkanen, Christian Ehrhoff, Eric Brewer or Scott Hannan, were available on the free agent market. Pedneault also believes Wisniewski’s future with the Habs could be tied to the club’s contract negotiations with Markov, suggesting him as an alternative if Markov’s talks fall through.

Louis Butcher meanwhile reported Gill believes the Canadiens have the potential to become a championship team, believes fans have accepted his role with the team, and expressed his desire to return. Hamrlik told Butcher remaining with the Canadiens is his priority and acknowledged he’s have to accept a pay cut to do so, while Brent Sopel said he’d like to return but that decision would be up to management.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: While Gauthier has significant decisions to make regarding his defense corps for next season it’s apparent most of the key players are likely to return. My guess is Markov will be back, but if talks should fall through, Wisniewski could be “Plan B”. Gorges will definitely be re-signed, and given Gill’s chemistry with Subban he too should be back for at least one more season. Hamrlik’s willingness to accept less money to return is admirable, but given his age I’d look toward younger options if they’re available. If Gauthier does re-sign Hamrlik it should only be for a one-year deal and certainly for no more than $3 million. Sopel and Mara won’t be re-signed, and if Markov is re-signed, Wisniewski will likely be a goner too. Pouliot most definitely won’t be back, but Kostitsyn isn’t a certainty to move if the Habs can’t find a suitable replacement, though I don’t see him getting a multi-year extension. If however there’s a better option available via trade or free agency, then Kostitsyn probably would be dealt. Auld could return too, but if not there’s plenty of affordable, experienced backups available in this summer’s UFA market. The Canadiens are set in goal, and should have a very good defense corp next season, but Gauthier must start addressing his team’s lack of big, physical, skilled forwards. That’s going to take time, but it’s long overdue to start addressing that issue. He won’t have enough cap space to land a big star after he’s done addressing his blueline signings, but it might be possible to bring in one or possibly two affordable physical forwards with size and decent skills via trade or free agency.

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6 Responses to Latest Canadiens News – April 29, 2011.

  1. Bob says:

    The mob mentality has everyone believing there is chemistry between Gill and Subban. There isn’t. Subban has had to use his speed on countless occasions to make up for the lumbering Gill. The talent and the effectiveness is just not there. Take a closer look at Gill. Before his pairing with Subban it was Gorges who was constantly bailing him out. He is just not effective.

    Why Montreal would commit to their least effective defenseman for another year is beyond me. The offense absolutely stagnates when he is on the ice. The team scored about 40 goals when he was on the ice. That is a horrible, horrible number. He just can’t keep up to the rest of the team and a huge gap develops between forwards and defensemen. The attack can’t be cohesive in such a situation.

    Another part of the problem is that he NEVER gets to the puck first on a dump in. That leaves his partner and the forwards struggling to get the puck out of the defensive zone. Even when he does get to it first, he handles it like a live grenade. Then he poke checks the guy that has taken the puck from him and everyone raves about his great defensive skills. In reality, he should have never had to do that in the first place. The puck should have been up ice to the forwards.

    It just seems that when the media gets on a track nothing can de-rail it. Keeping Gill, letting Kostitsyn go and giving Gomez yet another chance are prime examples. Some things are just completely inexplicable

  2. James says:

    The Habs have a lot of problems getting the puck out of their end due to their statue defensemen. Gill, Hamrlik and Spacek all have their problems moving the puck. The Habs are stuck with Spacek but I’d let Gill and Hamrlik go and bring back Gorges, Markov and Wisneiwski. Maybe they can convince Emelien to come over from Russia.

    The Habs need a legitimate star up front. Plekanec was invisible again in the playoffs. Gomez was invisible in the regular season. Cammelleri and Gionta aren’t terribly effective at even strength. Gomez is untradeable and Cammellari and Gionta do play with a lot of heart so that leaves moving Plekanec. I’d trade Plekanec and go after Brad Richards. The Rangers can’t afford him and my guess is he’d play for Montreal before Toronto.

    I’d get rid the inconsistent players like Kostitsyn and Pouliot and get a little grittier to complement Cammellari/Gionta. Maybe a Glencross. Only 3 of his 24 goals were scored on the PP.

    I’d also try and jump and grab a Sean Coutourier who seems to be falling in the draft. A young stud forward to go with Subban and Price would be great.

  3. chaas says:

    Hal Gill’s presence is for the locker room. He’s what you call a team player, a veteran, a leader. Not to mention he’s a not-so-gentle giant on a team of midgets. Losing Gill means losing any semblance of real toughness on the blueline. Who do you replace him with? In a division where toughness is becoming key, the only legitimate tough guy would be Gorges.

  4. Habsfan says:

    I’ve read and heard Suban talk about Gill directing traffic out on the ice, hence the chemistry comments and Subban has certainly matured since being placed with Gill. I still wonder if Gill might be slotted into Muller’s Assistant coach spot rather that as a player. I’m also not sure if the Habs should keep Markov. I love the guy…when he was healthy. Two serious injuries to the same knee tells me he may be done and if he does come back, I doubt he will be the same palyer. Trade him to the west for a 2nd, a prospect (as conditional future considerations) and a coditional 1st next year depending on games played (while exepting last games to injuries to anything but his knee). Re-sirn Wiz, Hammer (if he takes less tahn 3 per) and give weber place on the team.
    Gomez is untradeable until next season’s trade deadline. The last two years of his contract pay him less cash than his cap hit and he might be attractive to someone trying to make the cap floor. I was unimpressed with Pyatt through the year but he had a good playoffs, so he might be back. Desharnais had a great playoffs and that should help his trade value. He is too small with Mtls current roster but might be good with a larger team. Pouliot is a goner, hopefully. Ak 46 should be resigned for a little less than this year for one year. He has been mis-cast in MTL and placed with the wrong linemates. I agree with Pendault that thos d-man suggestiond would be better options if Hammer is not resigned.
    Oh, and Pleks is one of the most underatted players in the league. He is worth eveery penny and should not be traded.

  5. Quiksilver says:

    As a Leafs fan (and I believe I need to say this to prove to people that there are reasonable Leaf fans out there), I think that Gill is a reasonable depth defenseman if you can snag him for 1.2-1.5M, I know he’s brutally slow, but he’s a solid leader and again, quality depth on a team looking to make noise in the playoffs (durable w/ size). I think everyone is out of their minds if they sign Markov for anything more than 6.5M over two years, he’s the backbone of the Habs blueline no doubt, but he’s been plagued by injuries and he’s getting up there in age. He’s certainly no Lidstrom/Pronger which begs to question what other aged D-Man is making (and EARNING) the 4.5M people believe Markov should get? Personally, I think you can get him done for 3/year for two years, or 8M over three.

    I think Wisniewski is a solid D-Man, I have thought so since his days with the Hawks and he’s still young so I say lock him up if you can. Perhaps someone with more familiarity with him can tell me why he’s bounced around so many teams this early in his career?

    Hamrlik is also a decent option on the blueline if you can get him for half his salary. I doubt that the Habs will be hard pressed to find suitable options though because the past few years have seen teams lock down their bluelines which means that there are lots of D men out there with fewer places to go. It’s a buyers market for D-Men this year, well timed Habs.

  6. Choi says:

    Hal Gill’s alleged defensive capabilities are overrated IMO. He’s been able to shine because the depletion of the Habs’ D corps the last couple of years has allowed it to happen. He pretty much sits back and allows his D partners to do the offensive work. As someone already mentioned he throws the poke check. Many fans rave about his shot blocking not realizing that he wasn’t even the Habs leader in that department. He’s a minus 18 since being a Hab despite is alleged D abilities. Jacques Martin was forced to put him in the top four. No wonder Gorges and Subban like him because he makes them look 100 times better. Perhaps he has good leadership qualities but evidently not enough to be captain instead of just an alternate. He’s allowed to conserve energy during the regular season because he has no other obligations other than to basically stand still or lay down on the PK.

    Subban’s offensive performance at even strength was actually better during last season’s playoffs when he was actually less experienced. His PPG and +/- were both better while paired with Hamrlik.

    Hamrlik at about 2 mil would be a great bargain. He’s still a legitimate top four d-man who can play in all situations. Since being a Hab his offensive numbers have never wavered and he’s been a plus player overall. In addition he’s blocked a ton of shots and filled in very admirably while Markov and host of other d-men (including Gill) have taken their turns on the injury list.

    If a choice can be made on the third pairing I’d opt for Hamrlik hands down. Can be moved up into the top four in case of injuries, play the PK, play the PP and be a good mentor in his own right to a player like Weber who has a similar game. Gill forced into the top four squashes even more an offensively challenged team up front. Hamrlik on the third pairing would offer more support to the third and fourth lines offensively and be a safety net who can be moved to the top four if necessary.

    Hamrlik and Gill are two entirely different personalities so Hamrlik usually gets shortchanged because he’s a quiet leader who doesn’t crave attention.

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