Pyatt, Pouliot Sign 1-Year Deals with the Canadiens

What was supposed to be a quiet week for the Montreal Canadiens started with somewhat of a bang, albeit a mini one. With only a few days to go until Free Agency this Thursday, Canadiens' GM was hard at work on this Monday, signing forwards Tom Pyatt and Benoit Pouliot to one year deals.

Pyatt, who played 40 games with the Canadiens in a checking role, will get paid a league-minimum $500,000 next year, but it is a one-way deal, implying that Pyatt will likely start the season in Montreal and not in Hamilton with the Bulldogs.

Pyatt fell into favor this season with coach Jacques Martin, thanks to his defensive style and grit, but that did not translate into much offensive production, as Pyatt scored only 2 goals and added 3 assists. Pyatt, however, grew into his role and managed to nearly meet those totals in 18 playoff games, proving to be an important part of the Canadiens line-up as they made their playoff run. Expect Pyatt to start in the 4th line in October.

Pouliot, on the other hand, did little to merit a contract this past season. After scoring only 2 goals in 14 games with the Minnesota Wild, Pouliot was traded to Montreal in exchange for another problem child, Guillaume Latendresse. He spent nearly an entire month on the Canadiens' IR, before debuting in late December with the club. To his credit, Pouliot was impressive in his first few months with the Canadiens, scoring 11 goals in his first 20 games with the club. But after an upper-body injury which left him out of the line-up for 5 games and nearly the entire month of February, thanks to the Olympics, Pouliot quickly fell off the radar and off the score sheet, scoring only 1 goal in his final 14 games of the season, and zero goals and only 2 assists in 18 games during the playoffs.

Last week, Pouliot was the only Canadiens' upcoming restricted free agent who was NOT offered a Qualifying Offer, leading many Habs fans to believe that the problematic winger and former 4th overall pick would find himself in the unemployment line on July 1st. Instead, the Canadiens may have surprised many by not only signing him, but signing him to a contract that many would find a tough time justifying.

Those of you standing better take a seat for this one.

In 2010-11, Benoit Pouliot will make $1.375 million, nearly $600,000 more than he made last year in what could only be described as a very inconsistent season, if not an outwardly BAD season for the forward, regardless of his career highs in goals and points.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised, considering the numbers, but you'd think that a GM with a team strapped for cap space would look beyond the numbers and deeper into the player that clearly doesn't merit a near 100% pay increase.

Nevertheless, we really shouldn't be surprised with this contract, considering the numbers (and just the numbers), not to mention the pedigree.

The interesting thing in today's news is the duality of the players who found themselves on the receiving end of contract extensions:

- Pyatt, a hard-nosed, hard working, versatile forward, earned his contract despite his deceivingly small stature (5'11'', 185lbs), and despite his lack of offensive production at the NHL level this year.

- On the other hand, Pouliot was handed a contract after doing next to nothing for over 30 games to close out the season and playoffs, and coasted by on achievements accomplished mostly in 2009 and in years passed as a prospect. Many might even argue that his contract was given to him in part because of his 6'3'' 200lbs frame, even though you'd be hard pressed to see him use it.

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All gripes aside, the Canadiens still have plenty of work before Pierre Gauthier can enjoy the summer weather in Montreal.

the team now sits at just over $8 million in cap space, with at least 6 players that still need contracts, including:

- Carey Price ($850,000 salary in 2009-10, with a $2.2M cap hit including bonuses)
- Sergei Kostitsyn ($585,000 salary in 2009-10)
- Maxim Lapierre ($800,000 salary in 2009-10)
- A back-up goalie to replace Jaroslav Halak
- At least 1 or 2 more forwards, probably including Dominic Moore.

If the Pouliot contract is a sign of things to come, getting all these players underneath the cap is going to be an interesting challenge for Pierre Gauthier.

Andrei Kostitsyn and Roman Hamrlik have been rumored as part of cap-clearing moves to get things under the cap or bring other players onto the team, but the loss of either would leave a fairly large hole in the Canadiens line-up next season.

There is still plenty more to come, including details in TCL's live coverage of UFA-day on Thursday, so stay tuned!

More to come,

Prax
TheCheckingLine.com
twitter.com/GeorgePrax