The Montreal Canadiens enter their offseason after a campaign in which they made the right strides forward as a club. But per Marc Bergevin this team is not yet to be considered a guaranteed perennial playoff team. Bergevin is right in this case. His team roster is above average compared to non-playoff teams but the overall synergy to the roster is yet to have a Chicago/LA/Boston feel to it.
Over the coming months I will become just another armchair GM for the Habs, blogging about what I believe to be Bergevin's best moves, what direction the organization should go, player reviews and more. Today I will be making a tough decision on that if I only had the cap room for one of Andrei Markov or Thomas Vanek, who would I resign?
***To note I know Bergevin has almost seemingly prioritized re-signing Subban, Eller and Markov***
I am not going to get into the cap schematics but instead just believe that the Montreal Canadiens only have 8M(ish) left in cap space and two spots to fill on their roster with the needs of a top six forward and a top four defenseman. Both Markov and Vanek want no less that 5.5M -- I will also leave out the years on contract as this blog is only representing next seasons needs. Assume they both have multi-year deals and do not get traded -- which means only one can be signed and the Habs will have to fill their other whole via free agency or organizational depth.
With Subban and Markov resigned the Habs depth on D looks like this,
LH: Markov, Gorges, Emelin, Beaulieu, Tinordi
RH: Subban, Pateryn (Weaver)
There is a clear imbalance on the Habs back-end. With only Subban and Pateryn being RHD signed it would mean a LH player will have to play his off-side. That is also if Pateryn makes the team next season. Pateryn is likely the least-ready NHL D on this list in Therrien's eyes so that means the top 6 would have only one player, Subban, playing on the right being his strong side. Emelin is used to playing on the right but there could be a case that one of the reasons (but certainly not all) that he looks uncomfortable at times is because he isn't on the left.
With this the roster would look something like; Gorges-Subban, Markov-Emelin, Beaulieu-Tinordi(Pateryn/Weaver). So the top 4 remain the same but the bottom pairing will either feature 2 rookies, one of which is could be on the offhand, or one rookie and Weaver ultimately stunting the growth of Tinordi or Beaulieu once again. You could move Beaulieu up the lineup but that would mean one of Gorges or Markov will get only 12 minutes a night. And for all the things Tinordi does great, he sucks at clearing the puck on his backhand so he should not be playing on the right side.
Markov is at a level above every other LH D on this team. He was on the ice for 110 of the Habs goals for(5th in league D) and only 78 against. Only Subban's 116-84 surpasses the goals for on the team and the differential is the same. The rest of the Habs are not even close. However, come playoff time Markov dropped off that pace. While Subban maintained himself at 28-17, Markov went 19-15. To delve deeper he was on the ice for 10PPGF compared to 2PPGA so at evens Markov was 9GF-13GA in the playoffs. The 9GF is concerning as he played 17 games with top minutes. Markov is also 35 and surely on a downslope.
Without Markov the lineup could look something like this; Beaulieu-Subban, Gorges-Pateryn, Tinordi-Emelin(Weaver). Now every rookie is playing on his strong side with a veteran to teach them. Emelin is still playing on his offhand but as he is the most accustomed to it, it is only right. Pateryn can be replaced by Emelin on the second line and if he is looking to much like a rookie Weaver or a cheap RH depth D can move in.
No Markov does mean less leadership and calmness on the back-end. If that leadership is necessary as the team wants a more guaranteed playoff spot next season then by all means Markov is very valuable and needs to be resigned. If Markov being resigned stunts the growth of the Habs future too much and causes and imbalance then he is not as valuable as some may think.
With Eller, Gionta and Vanek resigned and Bourque let go the Habs might look like this,
This lineup looks pretty good if you ask me. There is a balance here that has all the top 9 RW's playing RH and LW/C playing LH. This also means in case of injury or need to switch the lineup the players can all move up and down without changing their style or the way they receive the puck from their teammates.
Vanek had 10P and was a -4 in the playoffs which was the same as Markov. His on-ice 12 GF and 10GA is, however, even more concerning than Markov's. I will say this mostly because he looked completely out of it after he was move from the Paci-DD line to the Pleky line. In fact it wasn't until the last game where Galchy-Eller-Vanek were put together that Vanek looked like he wanted anything to do with winning.
*First, I am just going to interrupt my own blog and say that Vanek DID wanted to win. He has had a stressful year moving from team to team with his family and surely there are things going on at home. While that is not an excuse not to show up, it is a reason. He didn't find success right away in Montreal and as he was originally put with Plekanec, a player whose style is completely opposite, but once he moved with Paci-DD the three of them became the top scoring line in the league. He looked like he loved playing for Montreal. He didn't score the same way he did in the regular season vs Tampa in the first round but like his line mates he was trying. It wasn't until he was shut down by Boston that he was permanently taken away from his preferred spot -- and rightfully so -- but it offed him as he was never given a real chance at scoring after that. Vanek kept being pushed down the lineup as the Habs started to struggle to find the back of the net instead of back up to where he knew he could contribute.
Vanek blamed himself for his woes and was open about not finding any chemistry with Plekanec. I do blame him for not looking into the games and as a 0.8 career PPG player in the NHL he should have found a way no matter whom he played with. But it is not entirely his fault. He believes Montreal can win and will not rule out resigning with this team.
With the above roster Vanek also finds himself playing with the two most naturally gifted Habs. Vanek will be able to keep his scoring touch as he will be given solid offensive zone starts but will also be given some defensive responsibilities since he is playing with the Habs second best defensive forward in Eller. Without Vanek the lineup may look like:
That already looks a lot less deadly. The Habs are truly in need of a top six forward.
Okay so let's looks at prospects that COULD play a top six role in Montreal;
Martin Reway(LH), Artturi Lehkonen(LH), Charles Hudon(LH)... These are all players that may very well be key Habs players in the future but they all create such an imbalance right now. One of the former in the top six will mean a full line of LH players which means it is harder to move them around the lineup naturally. Not to mention none have NHL experience. Ok, what about Jacob de la Rose? He is a guaranteed third liner but he could be a top 6, right? He is the most promising Habs prospect!.. Left handed.
They will all fit into the Habs lineup eventually but for now this team is in dire need of a top 6 RH forward. Gionta and Briere just don't cut it in the top six anymore. Briere could find a way to contribute but he is no-where near effective as Vanek would be.
If I could only resign one of Markov or Vanek, I would resign Vanek.
Markov may have looked to have more heart than Vanek in the playoffs but as a career Hab, he should. Vanek is younger and although not in his prime, he is not quite on the downslope the Markov will be. A career 0.8 P/G RH top 6 forward is just much more valuable to the Habs right now then a 35+ year old defenseman who is stunting the growth of the Habs future and creating an imbalance on the D corpse.
So maybe Vanek walks? Hemsky is a natural RH RW who could be had for a bit cheaper and re-creates the balance of the teams top 9. So is Iginla. I would probably also choose Hemsky > Markov.
In an ideal world, hopefully both are resigned. But as for this bloggers opinion, if I could only choose one, I would choose Vanek.
Thanks for reading! Follow me on twitter: @kylemedeiros_