Unfortunately, due to the fact he was signed at or after the age of 35 years, Yaro Spacek can not be bought out. That leaves the Habs with two options: play him or trade him. As much as I’d like to see him go, I’ll admit that Spacek is still a serviceable defenseman. Is he overpaid: clearly. Are there better options in our organization to fill his role next year, which would be the 5th or 6th d-man? Probably. Alexei Yemelin was recently signed by the Habs, and many believe he’ll be able to fit right in, despite his lack of North American hockey experience. Yannick Weber is a now a known commodity with the club, and I personally think he is ready for a full NHL season. With the likely re-signings of Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges, and probably one of Hal Gill, Roman Hamrlik and James Wisniewski, our D could look something like this next year:
The Habs do have a surplus of money at their disposal 25 to 28 million, depending on if the cap goes up or not) but this money will need to be spread out over an abundance of players. The Canadiens have 18 free agents this summer, so there will be a lot of hard decisions to make for GM Pierre Gauthier. The biggest decision will be which area gets more of a facelift, the defense or offense. Most assume it will be the D, because this is where the greatest percentage of free agents lie, but Gauthier could just as easily bring most of the starters from last season back. The core of the offense will be back next season (Plekanec, Gomez, Gionta, Cammalieri, Pacioretty) but there are quite a few spots to be filled. The future of potential stars Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot is still unclear, and many would like to see the bottom 6 get more rugged. In a nutshell, there are many areas where the Canadiens could improve, and only so much money to improve them. In the end at least one of these areas will probably have to be sacrificed, and it will be up to management to choose the best way to spend their money.
In descending order, here is the list of priorities as I see them:
1. Solidify the D
The key here is balance. I think that the signing of Emelin was an excellent start, because he brings much needed size and physicality that the D lacked last year. Re-sign Markov and Gorges. Re-up Weber, and put him into the starting line-up. I think he’s ready to take on a bigger role with the team, and should be more prominent on the PP next year. One of Gill and Hamrlik will be back—they will play the role of veteran presence, which every D corps needs. If Spacek has to play, have him play a far more diminished role.
2. Make the bottom 6 harder to play against
A player like Ryan White is a nice start, but the rest (Eller, Desharnis, Halpern, Moen, Pyatt, Darche) were simply not a pain to play against. What you need are players that combine speed, physicality and aggressiveness, players that can sustain a solid fore-check, and give respite to the top line guys. The current conference finals have shown that the team who has the harder working bottom lines usually come out on top. This should be a main focus for the Canadiens going forward.
3. Finding another top 6 forward
It seems every year that fans cry out for that big rugged forward that can give a better balance to our smallish top 6. This year will be no different, where many will question whether guys like Kostitsyn and Pouliot will ever be able to get the job done, and whether it’s time to throw in the towel with these players. Hard to know, but personally I’d give Kostitsyn one more chance to prove his worth. Pouliot has the talent, but it seems he’s his own worst enemy. The bottom line is that there are many very talented players in the league, but the ones that succeed have the mental toughness to get over the hump. Pouliot may get over this hump one day, but I don’t think it will be with the Canadiens.