The summer of 2009 was an off-season of change for the Montreal Canadiens and while there is no shortage of things on the to-do list in the coming months, don’t expect the same volume of movement this time around.
It’s not that the Habs don’t require some tweaking; after all, they’ve got an awful long way to go before they resemble a true Stanley Cup contender. But the bottom line is the Canadiens have made their move and are financially married to the trio of Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta up front, all three landing in town last summer.
In total, the Canadiens have about $45 million committed to 13 players for next year, which doesn’t leave them much wiggle room under a salary cap that will likely be similar to the $56.8 million teams had to work with this season.
The two major off-season priorities, in order, are signing unrestricted free agent Tomas Plekanec and sorting out what to do with the team’s two young goalies, Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price, both of who are eligible to become restricted free agents.
All indications are Plekanec wants to stick around, but the Habs certainly can’t dramatically overpay to keep him in the fold. Montreal is severely hamstrung by the fact they’re paying Gomez an average salary of $7.3 million through 2013-14 to be a No. 1 center who gets about 60 points a year.
That’s painful enough without having a No. 2 pivot who’s bleeding the team, as well. If Plekanec’s demands are much north of $5 million per season, Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier will have a tough decision to make.
Picking a direction with Halak and Price is no less daunting. In an ideal world, the Canadiens would have both stick around to get a better sample of what each is truly capable of. The consensus still seems to be that while Halak established himself as the No. 1 stopper this year and has put together an incredible playoff series, Price has the higher ceiling.
Re-signing both is tricky because of the aforementioned cap constraints and there’s no guarantee either Price or Halak wants to continue on in a situation where he’s not assured the starter’s job.
So while this off-season won’t be as frantic as last, the franchise still faces some tough questions.
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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