Engels Angle: Habs will likely part ways with Wisniewski
James Wisniewski was a happy man after being named the game's first star thanks to his two assists.
By Eric Engels
Published Monday, May 9, 2011 11:41AM EDT
Now that we've had enough time to absorb Montreal's first round playoff loss, we can begin to assess the body of work that Pierre Gauthier has on his docket this summer.
Naturally, major decisions need to be taken on the blue line. Andrei Markov, James Wisniewski, Roman Hamrlik, Hal Gill, Brent Sopel and Paul Mara are all unrestricted free agents, and though some may theorize that it's just a matter of choosing which players the Canadiens would like to retain, the issue is rather complex.
To begin with, the CBA is set to expire at the end of next season, which means long-term signings are a riskier undertaking. Also, in addition to having six UFAs on the blue line, Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Darche and Alex Auld have the option of playing the market come July 1, given that it's unlikely any of the three will be signed before then. Not to say that none of them will have the option to return to the Canadiens.
And then there's the restricted free agent crop consisting of Max Pacioretty, Andrei Kostitsyn, Benoit Pouliot, Ryan White, David Desharnais, Tom Pyatt, Josh Gorges, Yannick Weber and Alex Picard.
The Canadiens have $34.9 million tied up in Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, Travis Moen, Lars Eller, Jaroslav Spacek, P.K. Subban and Carey Price. With the salary cap expected to rise as high $63 million, that will give the Canadiens roughly $29 million to spend on filling out the roster with eight forwards (two extras) and six defencemen (two extras).
And this is the biggest kicker: Carey Price and P.K. Subban will be due for extensions next summer.
Andrei Markov is the longest serving Canadien still under contract with the team. Many have speculated that his desire to return to Montreal will see him take a generous discount, but it would be foolish to ignore what his market value would be if he made to unrestricted free agency. Canadiens fans shouldn't be disillusioned about the fact that even though Markov has suffered four major injuries over the last three seasons he's still among the cream of this year's unrestricted free agent crop.
Ed Jovanovski, Eric Brewer and Joni Pitkanen are among the most desirable defensemen on the market, and there's certainly validity to the point that Markov will be among that A-list class.
A concession in his case would involve taking less years on a contract to stay with the Canadiens, but if fans think he'll take a shorter contract and less money than the current $5.75 million he's making, they're in for a big surprise. The Canadiens have to hope they can convince Markov to take a one or two-year deal, and if they're willing to pay him the same amount he's making, they're likely to keep him.
I'm told the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals would be very serious about acquiring Markov and, given that information, if Gauthier were to get Markov to concede on both years and money on his next contract, it would be quite a coup.
Speaking of the most desirable defencemen on the market, James Wisniewski is pretty close to the top of the list. The 27-year old made $3.2 million last season and finished tied for 5th among defensemen in points with 51 (most among available defencemen in this year's UFA crop--Lidstrom will play with the Wings or retire). People have pointed to his -14 rating in the regular season as some indication that he's defensively unreliable, but what's most telling about the stat is that he was -18 in his first 32 games with--what was at the time--the league-worst New York Islanders. He was +4 over 43 games with the Canadiens.
Some may consider Wisniewski's two points and -2 rating in six playoff games to be substandard, and that could be a card to play to bring his salary demands down this summer, but the injury he suffered during the playoffs will be considered as well in assessing that performance.
Wisniewski has already gone on record to say he'd like to return to the Canadiens, but the market could play him between $4-5 million over a long-term contract. He could easily be looking at 3-5 seasons. If the Canadiens choose Markov, that likely means Wisniewski will be free to test the market July 1. And we already know that the Canadiens are negotiating with Markov.
If they were to sign both of them, they'd have upwards of $44 million spent on just eleven players. And naturally, if they aim to sign a long-term deal with Josh Gorges (they most certainly do) that leaves very little on the table to play with for the remaining elements that will fill the Canadiens roster next season.
So, for the optimist who feels the Canadiens will get Markov and Wisniewski under contract, you're likely to be seriously disappointed.
Most importantly, the Canadiens will ultimately have a solid blue line moving forward no matter who they chose to retain, but the club's improvement heavily relies on getting better, bigger and stronger up front. The Canadiens will have virtually no opportunity to sufficiently address that area of the club should they elect to retain both Markov and Wisniewski.
The likelihood is that Wisniewski has played his last game as a Canadien.