Analyzing the Plekanec Deal, Another Look at the Halak Deal, and More!

For the first time in a long time, Montreal Canadiens' fans can actually relax heading into the Free Agent Frenzy of July 1st.

With a week left to go until this year's set of NHL contracts are due to expire, the job seems to be half done for GM Pierre Gauthier and the Montreal Canadiens. The goaltending controversy has seemingly been resolved, as Jaroslav Halak has been traded to the St. Louis Blues and the reigns of the organization have been handed to Carey Price.

The need to replenish the prospect ranks has been partially met with the acquisition of Lars Eller and Ian Schultz, and will be further met in two days at the draft, where the Canadiens will draft 27th overall.

And finally, Gauthier and the Canadiens have locked up a big key to the puzzle, with the contract extension given to center Tomas Plekanec yesterday. Plekenac, who signed a 6-year contract with a no-trade clause worth $5 million dollars a year, will be staying in Montreal for the foreseeable future.

All three of these factors are changes in organizational policies and behavior exhibited by former-GM-current-Advisor Bob Gainey over the last 7 years. From negotiating with pending UFAs that the team wanted to keep, to trading away the pending free agents the team DIDN'T want to keep, to looking to the future with prospects and young players, many of the decisions that Pierre Gauthier has made in his few months as general manager have been, in the end, a refreshing change from the Bob Gainey era.

Of course, a lot of things may seem the same, and they very well may be, seeing as Gauthier was a major part of this organization for 7 years prior to inheriting the General Manager's office, and, of course, Bob Gainey still has receives a bi-monthly cheque with the Canadiens' logo on it, but what may have seemed like minor changes at first have proven to leave lasting marks on this organization, for better or for worse (depending on which computer you're sitting behind).

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ONE WEEK LATER: JAROSLAV HALAK

The first such change is the mentality that players can't be lost for nothing at free agency, and that the organization need to be proactive in making sure any sort of value is received for players that likely don't fit into the future of the team. Of course, we saw this come to play when Gauthier traded Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues, in exchange for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz.

SOME PEOPLE may not fully agree with the deal, but all of us can probably agree that if Jaroslav Halak did not fit into the long term plans of the organization, then trading him was the right decision to make.

While Jaroslav Halak is traded far, far away, to a place that can give him the contract that he desires, the Canadiens' receive one good, and one very good prospect in return.

Ian Schultz is a rugged forward with plenty of potential. He will likely play for the Hamilton Bulldogs this season, but knowing, again, how this organization operates, he could very well see action with the Canadiens depending on injuries and the natural course of the season. He will provide toughness and energy to the Canadiens' 4th line. We will see more of Schultz at both development camp and training camp in the coming months.

Lars Eller, on the other hand, seems to be exactly what fans of this team have been asking for. A center/forward with some size who can, of course, score and get his nose dirty in front of the net. Named to the AHL's all-rookie team this year, it's looking more and more likely that Eller will draw into the Canadiens' line-up when the season commences in Toronto on October 7th. Many seem to think that he will play center on the Canadiens' third line. I, for one, have the feeling that he will be playing on Scott Gomez's wing, along with Brian Gionta. Only time will tell.

So, what conclusion can we come to, on the subject of the Jaroslav Halak trade?

While the deal may not seem to fully help the Canadiens in the short term, they did get value for the Slovak goaltender, in the form of prospects that will replenish the pool that has seemingly been drained in trades and improper development over the last couple of seasons.

The less evident factor in this move is, of course, Carey Price, who has now been given the keys to the Bell Centre. That's something that hasn't changed in the transition from Bob Gainey to Pierre Gauthier. Will the result of this decision remain the same, or will Price finally rise to the occasion?

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CONTRACT EXTENSIONS? IN MONTREAL? REALLY?

The second such change, as revealed yesterday afternoon, annoyingly-enough a few minutes after I stepped away from my computer for the day, was Tomas Plekanec's contract extension, a proactive move that locks up the team at the center position for at least the next 3 or 4 years.

The deal, as mentioned, is with $30 million in total over a six-year period, and averages out to a yearly salary of $5 million. The deal also contains a no-trade component, but details the conditions and length/period of the NTC have not yet been made available.

Interestingly, many Canadiens fans are hollering over BOTH the price and length of Plekanec's new contract. He's too small, he's not physical enough, he's inconsistent, he plain and simply doesn't deserve this sort of contract. These are just some of the excuses that I've heard over the last 18 hours or so.

Make your arguments and excuses, if you will. If you don't like the player, you don't like the player, and yes, it is a rich contract. But you cannot place the blame on any of the players involved in this deal. You cannot blame Tomas Plekanec for looking to make as much money as he possibly could, coming off a stellar performance and a career year. And frankly, if he had hit the open market on July 1st, $5 million a year would have seemed like a steal to Canadiens' fans. Moreover, you cannot blame Pierre Gauthier on this one, as there is no suitable replacement for Plekanec in the organization or on the trade or free agency market.

Tomas Plekanec is one of only a few players in the NHL who could produce top-flight numbers offensively, and then turn back and produce at the same rate defensively and on special teams. He's a premier two-way player in the league, and one of few such centers anywhere in hockey. Simply put, if an organization has drafted and developed a player like Plekanec, they DO NOT let them go unless they have a suitable replacement, and the Plekanec's of the league are, as mentioned, few and far between.

He is, of course, no Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. He'll never score 50 goals or 100 points, he'll likely never win a major individual award or be the franchise player of an organization, but Tomas Plekanec is a key cog to this team and the system it employs on the ice, and over the course of the coming years that he will spend with the organization, he will often find himself at the top of many statistics sheets - goals, assists, games played, time on ice (even strength, powerplay, shorthanded, what have you), and much more.

So call him inconsistent, even though he's only missed 4 games over the last 4 seasons, and seldom has a bad defensive game, and even though though he's scored 20 or more goals in each of those 4 seasons. Call him small, or weak, even though we don't often see him muscled off a puck, but Tomas Plekanec is a great player, a leader on this team in every sense of the word, a fine top center, a cornerstone to this team, and I'm proud to say that he'll be a part of the team I cheer for for the foreseeable future.

Did he slow down during the playoffs? He did, but he still contributed to an incredible playoff run. Did he have a bad season in 08-09? He did, but from my perspective, that was the anomalous performance, not this past season or his great season in 07-08.

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NOTES / THINGS TO COME

- Gauthier was busy yesterday, also signing forward Mathieu Darche to a 1 year, $500,000 contract. In 29 games with the Canadiens last year, the 33-year-old scored 5 goals and added 5 assists, and at his cost, he will likely draw on the Canadiens' 4th line next season.

- A busy day through and through for the league, the Boston Bruins acquired Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell from the Florida Panthers for peanuts, a deal that definitely affects the Canadiens. Read more on the deal here, from Wally Brennan.

- Finally, TCL will be hosting a LIVE CHAT for Friday's draft fun. Many of the site's writers will be there for the fun, and we hope that you can be here as well. Details will be made available by tomorrow, so keep your browser locked on www.thecheckingline.com for all the details. Also tomorrow, I will be bringing you the real draft preview, with input from several other Canadiens bloggers and fans, and who they would like the Canadiens to draft!

More tomorrow,

Prax
TheCheckingLine.com
twitter.com/GeorgePrax