As news broke out that the Montreal Canadiens had traded the rights of defenseman James Wisniewski for a seventh-round pick (a fifth if he's signed) to the Columbus Blue Jackets, it seemed as though many Habs fans were disappointed.
Acquired from the New York Islanders shortly after the Christmas embargo lifted, Wisniewski quickly proved a valuable addition and ended the season with Montreal at a plus-four, contributing seven goals and 23 assists.
The puck-moving defenseman generated much-needed offense from the back end—which had been lost with the re-injury to Andrei Markov in November—and he provided some sandpaper on a team that is sorely lacking in that department.
Wisniewski logged solid minutes to help relieve a blue line that had once again been decimated by injuries. He seemed popular with teammates, the media, and fans.
But the Habs were never going to keep him.
The key obstacles to Wisneiwski’s remaining in Montreal were Andrei Markov and his newly-repaired knee.
Markov has risen through the Canadiens farm system and proven himself an invaluable member of the team's defense corps. He sports the “A” and, despite his recent string of bad luck with injuries, he was never going to come cheap.
Neither was Wisniewski.
Coming off a solid season and with little competition in the UFA market for offensive defenseman, Wisniewski is in a coveted position to cash in with respect both to money and securing his future.
Keeping him in Montreal would likely mean a $6 million, long-term contract, which is more than Markov—with all his tenure and ties to the organization—got.
This meant the Habs would have to make a choice: To keep both high-priced defensemen, something would have to give.
And that would likely be on offense.
Montreal has a good pond of defenseman to choose from to form its blue line next season, but their supply of forwards is woefully under stocked.
That the Habs chose to go with Markov is not surprising—he has often stated his desire to remain with the club and even became a Canadian citizen in part due to his affection for the city and its fans. His long-standing affiliations with the organization and his past performances have earned him the benefit of the doubt.
In addition to Markov, there’s rookie PK Subban—who will himself be looking for a raise after next season—and Alexei Yemelin, who is expected to make the squad and—while more defensive than offensive—is still expected to contribute somewhat.
With those players it's clear Montreal has its share of offensive defenseman, and Wisniewski becomes an expensive luxury that they cannot really afford.
Meanwhile Montreal has cut loose a couple of its underwhelming forwards—including former Minnesota Wild first-round pick Benoit Pouliot—and will need to address some holes on offense. This team has had trouble scoring 5-on-5 for far too long, and it’s an issue that will require addressing in the near future.
That means money and cap space to tempt a free agent, and as per usual the Habs will likely have to pay slightly more to cover the difference in taxes.
The lack of depth on the UFA market will also see the more-coveted players like Wisniewski grossly overpaid, and since Montreal already has one of those contracts in Scott Gomez, it would be ill advised of Pierre Gauthier to take on another.