James Wisniewski: Habs Point Man Is Numer 1 Priority This off Season

Mark Della PostaContributor IIIMarch 22, 2011

CALGARY, AB - FEBRUARY 20: James Wisniewski #20 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Calgary Flames during the 2011 NHL Heritage Classic Game at McMahon Stadium on February 20, 2011 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The Flames defeated the Canadiens 4-0.  (Photo by Mike Ridewood/Getty Images)
Mike Ridewood/Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens are a team that relies heavily on its power play. This is nothing new to Habs fans. Excluding the 2007-2008 season, the Habs have been in the bottom half of the league in even strength scoring since the lockout. This year, the team is ranked 21st overall in five on five goals for.

Luckily, the team has always managed to assemble a power play unit capable of filling the net. Sheldon Souray was able to blast a league leading (among defensemen) 26 goals in 2006/2007. The following year, Mark Streit had 34 power play points, trailing only Sergei Gonchar. 

In 2008/2009 season, the Habs struggled initially on the PP until they acquired Mathew Schneider, who proceeded to score an impressive 14 points with the man advantage in only 23 games. Finally, last season, when the team's power play was among the league's worst, the team acquired Marc Andre-Bergeron and reaped immediate rewards.

Aside from the positive impacts which these players brought to the team, they all have one thing in common. The organization let them walk away for nothing. 

For the past few seasons, the Canadiens always seem to enter a crisis mode. They begin the year with an abysmal power play, come to this realization after a substantial amount of games, and proceed to rectify the issue through a trade or free agent signing. This is exactly the scenario which brought James Wisniewski to Montreal.

At the beginning of the year, the team's power play was average at best. Somehow, Pierre Gauthier didn't think there would be an issue after his most productive special teams player from the previous year, Bergeron, was not offered a contract by the organization. In order to fix the problem, Gauthier traded for Wisniewski. Starting to sound familiar isn't it?

In only 34 games played with the Bleu Blanc Rouge, the Wiz has 10 goals and 14 assists with the man advantage. In a year marred by injuries and inconsistent play, Wisniewski has stood out as constant source of offense. What really makes him stand out however, is his defensive play.

So far with Montreal, Wisniewski has amassed 45 hits and 64 blocked shots. He has a +/- of 6, and is currently leading the team in time on ice. Unlike Bergeron, Wisniewski doesn't force the Habs hopeful to hold their collective breath every time he handles the puck in the defensive zone. 

According to a report by Hockey30.com, Wisniewski is willing to take less money if it means a long term contract with the Canadiens. He is reportedly in love with the city and wants to start a family in La Belle Province. Pierre Gauthier shouldn't even think twice about bringing him back.

The team will have a lot of holes to fill on the back end this summer. Wisniewski is one of four defensemen scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. With Hamrlik's $5.5 million contract expiring and his stated willingness to take a pay cut, there should be plenty of cap room available to resign the Wiz. Also, consider that Markov and Gill likely won't get raises due to injury problems and age respectively, and the cap will likely go up again like it has every year since the lockout.

The Habs can't afford to let yet another offensive weapon walk at the end of the season without compensation. If they do however, history has shown us that the team won't expect the offensive deficiencies that a decision like this would bring about.