Changing the Culture: Saving the Future of the Montreal Canadiens
Something must be done about the Montreal Candien's organization. It's quite obvious, really. The Habs downed the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-1, over the weekend to pull within six points of the Leafs in the standings. However, beating the Maple Leafs in the standings doesn't guarantee a playoff berth like some delusional fans seem to think it does.
Far from it.
The Canadiens are an organization in rapid decline, and the firing of assistant coach Perry Pearn and head coach Jacques Martin along with the panic trade that saw scoring forward Mike Cammalleri heading to Calgary in exchange for Rene Bourque are prime examples of just that. At the rate they are headed, the Canadiens are on pace for approximately 77 points in the standings come season's end. That's a significant drop from last year's 96 points.
Then again, it's all about perspective. The average fan might look at the eighth-place Washington Capitals and notice that have 53 points, putting them just eight points ahead of the Canadiens. However, Mike Cammalleri offered a different perspective just before being dealt to the Calgary Flames.
“I can’t accept that we will display a losing attitude as we’re doing this year. We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it’s no wonder why we lose.”
Change is almost imminent in Montreal, or at least it should be. Let's take a look a some moves that need to happen in order for the Montreal Canadiens to return to the same caliber as the team who made an unlikely run to the Eastern Conference Finals just two years ago.
Out with the Old, in with the New
If the Montreal Canadiens were ever planning on a rebuild, now would sure be the time to do it. Let's be honest. The likelihood of a full-blown Edmonton style rebuild happening in Montreal is zero. Management lacks the patience to that almost as much as the fans do. With a combined total of 14 restricted and unrestricted free agents under contracts which expire on July 1, the obvious thing to do is start with that.
Some of Montreal's impending free agents could have some value for contending teams looking to make an upgrade to reach the next level. For example, hulking defenceman Hal Gill, who won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, is likely to be moved to a contender looking for depth on the blue line between now and the February 27 trade deadline.
One team who may have interest in Gill are the Philadelphia Flyers, who are indefinitely without top defenceman Chris Pronger due to a concussion. Gill could help to make up for the deficiency in size and sound defensive play the Flyers are left with. Another possible destination for Gill is Chicago, as the Blackhawks have the likes of Steve Montador, Sean O'Donnell and John Scott playing regular minutes and are likely looking to upgrade.
Another UFA who will get some attention at the trade deadline is Belarusian sniper Andrei Kostitsyn. Kostitsyn is full of talent but it seems he has yet to reach his true potential in a Canadien's jersey. He is a perennial 20-goal scorer, but critics point to his apparent lack of motivation and hard work as his biggest enemy. That just isn't something the Habs need in their lineup given what they're currently going through. Kostitsyn may end up on a team in need of scoring depth, such as the Nashville Predators (where brother Sergei plays), the Ottawa Senators or the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Other free agents who would command less on the trade market include forward Mathieu Darche and defenceman Chris Campoli. One impending UFA who should stick with the Canadiens is Travis Moen, who is one player even Mike Cammalleri can't say plays like a loser. Moen is just five years removed from a Stanley Cup win with the Anaheim Ducks and along with Ryan White is one of the grittiest players the Habs have to there name.
Get Rid of Scott Gomez's Contract at All Costs
It is highly doubtful that the Montreal Canadiens will ever put together a deep enough roster to contend for the Stanley Cup as long as Scott Gomez's brutal $7,357,153 contract is on the Habs' payroll. The team's management must do whatever it takes to remove the underachieving centre's unreasonable cap hit as far away from their cheque books as possible, whether it comes in the form of a trade, a buyout or a demotion to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL.
A trade that involves Scott Gomez is nearly impossible. Not only does Gomez have a limited no-trade clause which allows him to submit a list of three teams he will not accept a trade to, it is also unlikely that any team would take on such a financial burden just to get above the salary cap floor. Even teams such as the New York Islanders, who have $32,442,667 to spend next season, would be taking a gamble by trading for Gomez, even if prospects or draft picks came over as compensation for taking a bad contract.
Buying out Scott Gomez's contract is an interesting option for the Canadiens. Getting rid of Gomez, even if they would owe him $1,666,667 per season for the next four, would have to be considered addition by subtraction due to the fact that he is a complete non-factor in just about every game he's played the last couple of seasons. Gomez has yet to score a single goal in 18 games this season.
If Gomez were to have his contract buried in the minors much like former New York Rangers teammate Wade Redden, he would have to clear waivers, and there is about a 100 percent chance that he would.
Despite the Canadiens struggles this season, they are one of the most viable franchises money-wise in the NHL, so an added $7,357,153 of expenses means little if it makes the team more competitive. There is also an off-chance that Gomez would be claimed on re-entry waivers if the scenario arises, in which case the Habs would be responsible for half his salary over the next two seasons.
Accepting Andrei Markov's Fate
Andrei Markov is getting paid $5,750,000 this year to visit knee specialists and to sit at home. Markov hasn't played in over 15 months and his career has been synonymous with injury-plagued.
If Markov isn't playing, he can no longer be the catalyst of the Canadien's power play which seemed to work like a well-oiled machine with the veteran defenceman playing the role of PP quarterback.
Simply put, from the Canadiens' perspective, it's just time to move on.
The Habs boast a deep pool of prospects on the blue line. Although Brendon Nash has been on injured reserve all season with a shoulder injury, he is still young and effective when healthy. Former first-round draft choice Nathan Beaulieu, who won the Memorial Cup last season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, could be the next great offensive defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens. His offensive awareness and cannon of a shot could help the last-place power play of the Montreal Canadiens if he is given the chance next season.
Fire Pierre Gauthier
Pierre Gauthier has been at the helm of the Canadiens' disastrous free fall since taking over as general manager in February of 2010. To be fair, it was then-GM Bob Gainey, not Gauthier who traded for Scott Gomez and his lucrative contract.
It goes downhill from there.
It was Gauthier this year who signed the injury-plagued Andrei Markov to a three-year extension. Risky move? Yes. He also seems to have a preference for quicker, smaller players, which allowed the Boston Bruins to bully them through a seven game series this past postseason.
To summarize, Gauthier just hasn't brought in the kind of blue-collar heart and soul players you need to make noise is the playoffs. At last year's trade deadline, Gauthier spent most of the day on a plane to Atlanta and thus out of contact of other general managers league-wide.
Following his controversial signing of Markov, Gauthier made some panic moves. Firstly, he fired assistant coach Perry Pearn and head coach Jacques Martin. In my opinion, the onus was on Gauthier all along to make the kind of impact move that could have thwarted the awful start of the Canadiens this season.
Gauthier's impulsive nature was further revealed when he traded star forward Mike Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Rene Bourque. Had he waited closer to the trade deadline, he likely could have received much more in return for Cammalleri, especially since other general managers have stated that they didn't even realize Cammalleri was available.
The biggest change needs to start at the top, and there are several viable replacements for Gauthier as GM, including former coach Jacques Martin and former Habs great Patrick Roy.