Daily Hab-it: A starting point for Gorges
Josh Gorges scores as Penguins center Evgeni Malkin defends in Pittsburgh Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010. AP Photo/Don Wright
Published Friday, June 3, 2011 2:24AM EDT
Hal Gill met with the media Wednesday to discuss his new one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Canadiens, and during the meeting he spoke of Josh Gorges' return as a fait accompli.
Really, there's no reason to think otherwise, but just how much that will cost the Canadiens remains a question.
Gorges turns 27 on Aug. 14, meaning he missed unrestricted free agency by 45 days, but he does have the right to go to arbitration if he doesn't like what Pierre Gauthier and the Canadiens have to offer him.
Personally, I don't think it will get that far.
But if it does, something happened Thursday that could greatly affect an arbitrator's view of how much Gorges should receive for his services.
The St. Louis Blues signed restricted free agent defenceman Roman Polak to a five-year contract worth $13.75 million, an annual cap hit of $2.75 million. Polak was two years away from UFA status, so the Blues bought three of those years by signing him to this deal.
Gorges is a far more accomplished and experienced defenceman than Polak is, which is why that cap number now becomes not only a floor, but a cellar for his future salary. In fact, I'd say $3 million would be the low end of any hypothesis on how much Gorges will cost the Canadiens on his next deal.
Polak, 25, is used by the Blues in a very similar way to Gorges in that he is kills penalties regularly and is often sent on the ice for defensive or neutral zone faceoffs. In fact, with Eric Brewer and Erik Johnson now gone, it's likely Polak will be on the Blues top penalty killing unit and will be leaned on more heavily.
But while he's a similar player to Gorges, the big difference with Polak is that he was two years away from UFA status, and the breakdown of the contract reflects that. He will be paid $2 million and $2.45 million in the first two years of the deal, and the three years where he would have been a UFA he'll receive $3.1 million per season.
This contract is, in essence, an excellent tool for Gorges and his agent Kevin Epp.
If Polak's UFA years are worth $3.1 million per season, would Gorges not be worth at least $3.5 million for his UFA years?
Defence cost coming into focus
If that's indeed the case and we're working on a four-year deal – which is the minimum term Gauthier should be after, in my view – that's one year at a restricted free agent rate of, say, $2.5 million, and then three years at $3.5 million. That would amount to a four-year deal for $13 million, a cap hit of $3.25 million.
Essentially, a $2.15 million raise like that for Gorges would eat up a large chunk of the anticipated increase in next year's salary cap.
Of course, as Eric Engels wrote yesterday, Gorges likely won't be the priority because his due date is not as urgent as those of Andrei Markov, Roman Hamrlik, James Wisniewski, Brent Sopel and Paul Mara. The Markov negotiations were apparently going to start being addressed this week, and it appears as though term will be the main point of contention.
Understandably so, because I'd imagine in Markov's original life plan this was to be the last contract he would sign, at least in North America. Except injuries got in the way, and now he has a decision to make: take fewer years and prove he's worth the money, or take less money to get an extra year or two on his deal.
Gill expressed his wish that Markov return when speaking to reporters Wednesday, and I think that represents the wishes of all parties involved here.
But, as Eric pointed out, Wisniewski waits in the wings and if something can't be agreed to with Markov, Gauthier has exclusive rights to an excellent Plan B only until June 30.
Question marks have quickly shifted
Let's say Markov signs – and I believe he will, especially considering the arrival of Alexei Yemelin – and let's also say he maintains his previous cap hit of $5.75 million. In addition to the other hypothetical contract of Gorges at $3.25 million and Gill's $2.25 million, that makes $11.25 million for those three defencemen.
It would give the Canadiens seven defencemen, one goalie and just six forwards under contract for next season, with about $13.9 million left to spend to fill the holes if we assume the salary cap will be $62.5 million.
Max Pacioretty is coming off his entry level deal and a decision will need to be made there on signing him long term for more money or short term to take advantage of his lack of leverage. I would opt for the former.
Does Andrei Kostitsyn return? And if so, is he simply qualified at his current $3.25 million salary figure for one year or is he offered a longer deal? What to do with Benoit Pouliot, a player who has been benched by Jacques Martin in two straight playoffs? Mathieu Darche, David Desharnais, Ryan White and Tom Pyatt would likely accept minimum-salary deals for a year, but are any of them worth signing for more than one year at a higher cost? Is Jaromir Jagr still in the equation, seeing as a Czech paper is reporting the Canadiens are interested in him? How much room should be left for other potential UFA forwards, or is the current group good enough considering the defence is likely to be vastly improved?
These are the big questions entering the summer.
It's a pretty sudden change from the end of the season just six weeks ago, when the defence represented the biggest question mark.