Sometimes, there is no other way.
Here’s why they did it:
The Montreal Canadiéns had two players entering at least some sort of free agency this season, who were going to command multiple millions over multiple years. The unfortunate but undeniable truth was they couldn’t possibly – as in IMPOSSIBLE folks – afford both under their current salary cap situation.
So, plain and simply, they HAD to choose between Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Plekanec.
Last week we learned of the decision and yesterday it was solidified. Gauthier and the Montreal Canadiéns have chosen Thomas Plekanec. Of course, immediately after started the debate over whether this was the right choice.
While this is an inevitable argument in this situation, it’s also completely irrelevant. Not irrelevant in the sense of what’s done is done but irrelevant in the sense the choice to keep Plekanec was the only sane one available.
Now before you fly off the handle thinking I’m declaring my love for Thomas and pure hatred for Halak, slow your heart rate and let me explain.
If this decision only involved which player is better, I would completely understand the heated – if not ruthless – conversations I’ve witnessed, participated in and started since the team’s choice was made public. And I don’t remotely care which player you would have chosen; there are lengthy arguments for and against both candidates.
I’ve made my point on why GM’s didn’t throw their entire first line at Gauthier just to get Halak so I won’t beat a dead horse. In fact, I’d even like to take this opportunity to once and for all say how much I enjoyed his tenure as a Hab, and if there weren’t unavoidable variables that people not living in a dream world have to acknowledge, I would LOVE to still have him.
But the fact is, talent had the least amount to do with this decision, and not just because that debate would likely go nowhere.
The answer didn’t lie in the money either, as finances only determined the need to lose one not which one needed to be lost. Plekanec’s $30-million is definitely more than Halak will command but, per year, the difference – likely between $500,000 and $1-million – won’t be significant enough to have played a factor here.
The answer lies in gambling. Gauthier is playing the odds.
Scenario 1) Keep Halak –
Definitely a worthwhile goaltender. However, you’ve now officially decided to give up on the team’s most coveted prospect at any position and solidified a ROI of absolutely zero on Carey Price, regardless of what you bring back in a trade. But, MUCH MORE important than that is you’ve also decided not to keep a second line centre. A centreman, who was your team’s most productive forward on both offence and defence throughout the season and the main reason you’re not the league laughing stock in the faceoff circle. Yes, he played like crap in the offensive zone against Philly in the Eastern Final but so did EVERYONE on the team. Plekanec was NOT the reason No. 25 didn’t come.
So now you must go out and get a second line centre for next year because as good as I believe Lars Eller will be, it’s likely a few years before he’ll be leading any line on a contending team. Who exactly are they supposed to get?
And before you scream “MARLEAU!!!” at the computer, smack yourself in the face and realize if they can’t keep Pleks, how the crap are they getting Patrick Marleau? After him on the UFA list? Marc Savard and Olli Jokinen. Unless of course you’d all like to go resign Captain Courage or take a leap of faith with Matt Stajan?
This embarrassing list of available centres – no offence AT ALL to Saku or Savard but do you really think the Habs are looking to get smaller? – isn’t exactly going to bolster many lineups. And simply because of that, a player like Plekanec was GUARANTEED staring at close to $6-million on the open market. Is that a ridiculous figure? Of course. Is the league full of ridiculous GM’s? Chock.
Which brings me to…
Scenario 2) Keep Plekanec –
Led the team in the regular season in scoring, even threatening the league leaders for a while, and is inarguably one of the elite defensive forwards in the league. He had a tough post-Olympics without his eight-legged winger to score heaps of goals and a Belarusian Bust lagging several strides behind him at all times. Plus the aforementioned slowdown in the post season after a pretty strong start.
Unfortunately this choice means losing Halak, an up-and-coming goalie with a bright future. However, unlike scenario 1, where Plekanec walks for absolutely ZERO, you get to trade Halak for something to help the franchise.
Now, it would sure be lovely to get a proven top-six forward in such a deal but goalies don’t bring what you all think they bring EVER and no GM was making that deal. So instead, you get a player who might even wind up more-than just a top-six player and another player who completely addresses the club’s huge need for toughness – albeit a couple of years down the road.
But, MUCH MORE important than that, you’ve lost your No. 1 goalie only to have another No. 1 goalie in the waiting. Argue all day if you’d like about whether Carey is a No. 1 but he’s a whole lot closer to being that than anyone on this roster is to being a second-line centre.
*I’ve been calling Plekanec the No. 2 centre this whole time knowing full well he clearly plays on the top line, only from the standpoint of what Scott Gomez gets paid. If I don’t call Gomer the No. 1, it makes me wanna hurt myself*
So, in layman’s terms: Lose No. 2 centre = nothing good in any aspect other than watching how long Halak’s streak of wins facing 40+ shots can last. Lose No. 1 goalie = keep 70 points in the lineup, get two highly-regarded futures and give the reigns back to a kid, who many still believe has what it takes to be the best in the world.
My ONLY concern about Plekanec’s contract is length. Six years is a LONG time and if something goes wrong, that’s a LONG time to carry a $5-million price tag. BUT, if he plays like last year, improves even further as 27-year-olds will do and continues to show his notorious durability then he’s a bargain and they’ve just locked him for his entire prime. Only time will tell and so there isn’t much sense in worrying about the contract length at this point.
I know sometimes I get angry thinking everyone should just understand this stuff but I hope this gives you some insight into what kinds of things Gauthier might mull over before making these decisions. And even if I’m completely wrong and all he really did was flip a coin, I still hope I’ve convinced you to give him the benefit of the doubt for at least a few months of actual hockey before you decide the man is “bats$!t crazy” as one of the comments from an earlier post reads.
See ya’ soon.