Habs Sign Russian Defenseman Alexei Emelin to One-Year Deal

After over a week of speculation, the Montreal Canadiens have finally signed star Russian defenseman Alexsei Emelin to a one-year contract.

Of course, terms of the deal were not disclosed, as per team policy, which only means we'll have to wait an extra few hours to find out how much the Canadiens are going to pay him. What we do know is that it is a two-way contract, and that it falls under entry-level contract rules, which means that one year was the maximum term and $925,000 is the maximum and likely salary for the 25-year-old. Emelin will likely also have the maximum allowable performance and signing bonuses, which means that you can likely tack on $95,000 in signing bonuses, about $1 million in "first tier" potential performance bonuses (games played, points, etc), and, if applicable, about $2 million maximum "second tier" bonuses (winning trophies, ranking at the top of league statistics, etc).

The fact that it is a two-way deal means that if Emelin doesn't perform at the expected level in Montreal, he can be sent down to Hamilton at a reduced cost, and also that he may start the season in Hamilton. It has also been speculated that there could be a clause in the contract that would allow Emelin to return to Russia without repercussions if he can't stick with the NHL club, although that will likely remain unconfirmed.

UPDATE: TSN is reporting that the salary is $984,200, a figure that includes Emelin's signing bonus. The contract also includes the abovementioned "KHL clause".

General Manager Pierre Gauthier, who was in Europe watching Emelin play at the World Championships, wasted no time signing the highly-touted prospect once the tournament had ended, and had the following to say in the team's official press-release:

We are very pleased to have reached an agreement with Alexsey Emelin, said Gauthier. Alexsey is a steady, physical defenseman with strong skating ability. The experience he has acquired in the KHL over the past few years will make for a smooth transition to the NHL.

The long sought-after defenseman has escaped the Canadiens since he was drafted almost seven years ago in the third round (84th overall) of the 2004 draft, and the chances of him ever playing in the NHL have always been considered low, thanks to the formation of the Kontinental Hockey League.

But the higher salaries in his native Russia apparently weren't enough for Emelin, who comes from the town of Tolyatti in the Southwest corner of the country. Emelin will likely get an immediate chance to make an impact on the Canadiens' blueline.

Emelin comes to Montreal on the tail end of a four-year engagement with Ak Bars Kazan, where he broke out as a star this past season, scoring 11 goals and adding 15 assists (it's a one-assist league) for a total of 26 points, and a +16 rating. He also accumulated an impressive 117 penalties, which TCL's Joe Corson broke down last week.

His arrival likely means a few changes to the Canadiens' blueline for 2011-12. For starters, the signing likely means that Andrei Markov is all but confirmed to come back. The fellow Russian and leader for the Canadiens will likely serve as a bridge for Emelin and I wouldn't be surprised to see the two paired together, potentially recreating the magic Markov had with Mike Komisarek in his best year. The two are also represented by the same agent. How Markov's contract will end up looking, however, is anyone's guess at this point.

The signing also means that the Canadiens will likely have to choose between Hal Gill and Roman Hamrlik for the role of "elder statesman" on the blueline, and I'm afraid that this might be a battle already lost for Hamrlik. With his Czech countryman, Jaroslav Spacek signed for another year, there simply isn't room for three defensemen over 35, especially considering Markov isn't getting any younger. Unless Gauthier can bite the bullet on Spacek, Hamrlik will have to find work elsewhere, as Gill has been a good mentor for both PK Subban and Josh Gorges, who will certainly be returning next year.

The Canadiens blueline would likely look as follows:

Markov - Emelin
Gill - Subban
Spacek - Gorges

Yannick Weber, Alex Picard rotating in the 7th spot.

The move is exciting for Habs fans, who finally get a chance to see the 6’2’’, 223 lbs defenseman, who is said to have a notorious mean streak and a tendency to hit hard. In the past comparisons have been made between Emelin and Darius Kasparaitis, the bruising Lithuanian defenseman who knew how to lay on hits in 863 NHL games with the Rangers, Penguins, Islanders and Avalanche. Emelin also brings to the Habs something they've been severely lacking in nearly all aspects of their play - size and grit. His relatively cheap contract will also mean more maneuverability for the Canadiens to acquire a top six forward.

So, what's the next move for the Habs? Will they re-sign Andrei Markov, or another defenseman or forward? Will they look at the trade market heading into the draft? Or do they sit tight until the last few days before free agency? Moreover, what do you think of the signing? Are you excited to see Emelin in Montreal, or are the chances of him figuring into the Canadiens' line-up full time still slim?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below!


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Mark Trible's picture

That's a nice top 6 right there, no doubt about that

HfxHabby's picture

personally id like to see them work on a forward. Defense is a solid shooting gallery and some grit now. Wiz is all but gone, but Emelin makes that up. Id like to see Prospal or Laich come in, but im just daydreaming lol

evilbobsaget's picture

I'd send Spacek to waivers/ minors and keep Wiz.

George Prax's picture

One person I forgot to mention was Diaz. He definitely starts the year in Hamilton but he also sounds like the real deal. Can't wait to see what he's got too. I hope they can keep Wiz too Bob.

And ya, next up should definitely be a forward. Defense is set even though they have a few left to re-sign, getting a forward is going to take some work, if they were smart they'd get something done at the draft.

HfxHabby's picture

Im not sure i feel good on Diaz. Word is hes like Weber, and Weber hasnt wowed me yet, bt who knows.
as for the draft, im thinking if they bank on an immediate impact player, then they will suffer the consequences of not hunting out for experience.

George Prax's picture

I don't think Weber's gotten much of a chance. Once he starts getting a regular shift he'll start impressing you more. And I can only speak from what I've heard, but from every indication Diaz might be better than Weber. At the same time, undrafted European, who knows. At the very least he'll be worth keeping an eye on in Hamilton. Clearly there were a few teams interested in him, it's nice to at least win the sweepstakes!