Daily Hab-it: Weber could open up a world of options
By Arpon Basu
Published Thursday, December 2, 2010 11:32PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:11AM EDT
So, the Canadiens held true to their recent form and laid a 5-1 beat down on a New Jersey Devils team that needed good goaltending early and simply didn't get it, running Montreal's streak of flip-flopping wins and losses to eight games.
Good for them.
But with the San Jose Sharks coming in to play a matinee at the Bell Centre on Saturday, which Canadiens team will show up, the one that follows every win with a loss, or the one from earlier this season that ran up two four-game winning streaks?
And who will be in the lineup?
Jacques Martin took the rather extreme measure of benching P.K. Subban on Thursday one night after a couple of careless plays – one far more so than the other – led directly to the shorthanded tying goal and overtime winner in a 4-3 loss to Edmonton.
Now that Montreal went ahead and had a blowout game without Subban, does he sit on Saturday in favour of Yannick Weber, who played excellent against New Jersey at his natural defence position?
Weber has never been shy to say he prefers playing defence to being used as a winger because, well, that's where he's played his whole life. That's how he reached this point in his career. That's where he naturally feels most comfortable.
It's not rocket science.
When finally shown a bit of confidence to go out and play there Thursday night, Weber shined, playing 17:10 for the game, 14:34 at even strength and more than holding his own in the defensive end. I particularly liked the way he used his body to separate opposing players from the puck and then shielding them off, an art form that Hal Gill has mastered and that too few defenceman use on a regular basis.
But another one who I find is good at that is Subban, and I can't help but feel that Martin has painted himself into a bit of a corner now.
Can he really justify playing Subban after the team performed so well in his absence? On the other hand, how do you sit your rookie defenceman who has performed so well overall this season?
Unfortunately, I would have to believe Alexandre Picard will be the victim once again, if for no other reason than having Weber around prepares the Canadiens for life without Andrei Markov even further.
Looking at the list of potential unrestricted free agent defencemen playing on teams who risk missing the playoffs – and who therefore could become available at the trade deadline – shows a pretty small list.
And an unexciting one at that:
- Bryan McCabe, Florida, $5.75 million cap hit
- Joni Pitkanen, Carolina, $4 million
- James Wisniewski, New York Islanders, $3.25 million
- Ian White, Carolina, $2.99 million
- Brent Sopel, Atlanta, $2.33 million
I could go on, but I think you get my point: the chances of someone riding in on a white horse to try and kinda sorta replace Markov are pretty slim, if they exist at all. The closest thing to a Mathieu Schneider-like fix is probably Wisniewski, and I'm not sure that will have Pierre Gauthier doing cartwheels in an attempt to land him.
So, considering that, having Weber in the lineup on a regular basis as of now could pay serious dividends down the road.
Let's look at this hypothesis: Martin and Perry Pearn pair Subban with Hal Gill and Weber with Josh Gorges, allowing Gorges to move back to his natural left side and giving both Weber and Subban reliable, stay-at-home defencemen to play with at even strength.
On the penalty kill, Martin and Pearn can still use Gorges and Gill together if they so choose, and on the power play both units would have a right-handed shooter to play on the left point opposite Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek.
There may be growing pains at first for Weber, who will have more challenging nights defensively than he did against New Jersey, but over the long haul a move like this would probably serve him well.
And most importantly it may very well be the best option out there to try to replace Markov's presence in the lineup.
Furthermore, it would allow Gauthier to use all the cap space freed up by placing Markov on Long Term Injured Reserve on another top-six forward, or maybe even two.
Placing Markov on LTIR now would add an additional $4 million in cap space, which would give Gauthier about $5 million in all to play with. On trade deadline day, that is a veritable fortune.
Basically, having that much cap room would allow Gauthier to acquire players with salaries totaling a whopping $22.7 million against the cap, because there would only be 22 per cent of their salaries left to be paid after the trade deadline.
If Weber can provide a reasonable fix on defence, and his play on Thursday suggested that's at least possible, then imagine what kind of scoring power Gauthier could grab up front with that much wiggle room.
Here's a similar list of forwards who are due for unrestricted free agency playing on teams who may miss the playoffs:
- Alex Kovalev, Ottawa, $5 million
- Tim Connolly, Buffalo, $4.5 million
- Jason Arnott, New Jersey, $4.5 million
- Steve Sullivan, Nashville, $3.75 million
- Cory Stillman, Florida, $3.53 million
- Erik Cole, Carolina, $2.9 million
- Jamie Langenbrunner, New Jersey, $2.8 million
- Matt Moulson, New York Islanders, $2.45 million
There are others, but I think you get the picture that there are some pretty interesting, playoff-hardened players that might become available, and very few buyers out there will have as much room as Gauthier to play around with.
I realize I'm getting pretty far ahead of myself based on one game, but the point I'm trying to make is that the hole on defence looks as though it could be filled internally, and that would allow a ton of flexibility to fill the hole (or holes, depending on how Scott Gomez rubs you) in the top-6 up front.