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Canadiens Watch: Gainey has plenty of work to do

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

If Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey wants any time to relax next summer, he’s got a lot of work to do between now and then.

Just as the craziness from this summer’s draft and free agent festivities starts to subside, Gainey can turn his attention to the fact his team has only four forwards – Andrei Kostitsyn, Sergei Kostitsyn, Georges Laraque and Maxim Lapierre – under contract for 2009-10.

It’s conceivable the Canadiens’ top three scorers next season will be Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and newly acquired winger Alex Tanguay. All are slated to become unrestricted free agents in the summer of ’09. Add the fact Chris Higgins and Tomas Plekanec are both eligible to become restricted free agents and you start to understand why Gainey might be feeling a little overwhelmed when July 1, 2009 hits.

Essentially, five members of his top-six forward group are heading toward free agency of some kind.

The distressing cherry on top is the fact emerging blueliner Mike Komisarek, who turns 27 in January, is also bashing his way toward unrestricted free agency next summer.

So what’s a GM to do?

First, he’s got to make some hard evaluations about which players he wants to keep in the fold and who he can stand to watch leave.

Even with the troubling upward climb of the salary cap, there’s no way Gainey can afford to hand out new deals to every player mentioned above and still squeeze under the cap. Not unless the rest of the roster is filled with kids called up from the Quebec City pee-wee tournament.

Next, he’s got to face the harsh reality that salary demands aren’t going to decline between now and next summer.

As painful as it must be for Gainey to look at the deals handed out recently to the likes of defensemen Ron Hainsey and Jeff Finger and realize they set a precedent for Komisarek, the sad truth is the lunacy only increases each year.

The faster Gainey can get a chunk of these guys signed, the better, because who knows how absurd the economic lay of the land will be come next July.

This article also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.

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 blognormally appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.

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