The Montreal Canadiens find themselves in a very unique situation this summer, and it happens to be one that the media can't stop talking about, and many other teams likely envy. As the Canadiens close in on clinching a playoff spot, the talk is uniformly about which goaltender should be resigned or traded in the summer, or in fact if it would be more beneficial to keep them both for at least another year. Since the calendar changed over to 2010, and to some even before then, it is beyond clear that Jaroslav Halak is the man in goal this season. Price hasn't played terrible, he hasn't even been bad, in fact his save percentage would put him into the starting job on most NHL teams, but a combination of not being able to win games for a litany of reasons and Halak playing unbelievably brilliant has relegated him to the backup role for awhile at least.
The idea of trading one of the two goaltenders has been bandied about all season, but I tend to agree with JT over on The H Does Not Stand For Habs, as she writes that even with the expected salary increase for Jaroslav Halak, the cap hit for Price may actually go down with an increase to his base salary, but no more rookie bonuses. She estimates his cap hit next season to be approximately $1-1.5 million, likely on a 1 or 2 year deal, similar to Tuukka Rask. It remains to be seen if Price's agent is a bit more savvy than Rask's but if that's what we can get Price for, trading either goalie at this point is absolute insanity. The going rate for a veteran backup in the NHL is around $1 million per season, so adding in another 500,000 in cap hit to have another year to look at these two goalies and solidify the future of the organization is one of the best deals in sports. Although I disagree with JT that we could keep both of them for 2-3 more year, 1 year more would be very doable and very beneficial.
The question I have for everyone reading this however, is whether the media is correct in focusing our attention entirely on the goalies. Are they really our more pressing issue going into the off season? Personally, I don't think so. I've heard many people say that Halak should be the organization's #1 priority as soon as the season is over, and Price after him, followed by Plekanec. I find this to be a completely wrong way to look at things. Certainly the first thing Pierre Gauthier should do is tender qualifying offers to all RFAs, including the goalies, but as far as priorities go among signing players I would rank both goalies behind Plekanec, Pouliot, and even Sergei Kostitsyn. My reasoning for this is that for all three of Plekanec, Pouliot and Sergei, we don't have a player in the organization who can step up and do their jobs. However with both goalies, although annoying and unadvisable, it would not be catastrophic to the team if either one left as long as the other was kept. Say for example that Price is signed to an offer sheet that isn't matched, the result is that we now will go into the season with an inferior backup, and we're stuck with a top end goaltending prospect in Halak, instead of two. Halak likely starts 65 instead of 55 games next year, and unless the unthinkable happens and he somehow turns into Jose Theodore, we're still solid.
On the other hand, we certainly don't have another top 2 center in the organization to take the pressure off of Gomez, and the free agent market is barren. Keeping in mind that Plekanec is also an unrestricted free agent come July 1st, and he should absolutely be our #1 priority. Plekanec is also the player who will be taking up the most salary of all of our (hopefully) returning players, so signing him first to see where the club is at financially is paramount. Benoit Pouliot is also, at this point, irreplaceable within the organization. His size and scoring touch are both fairly unique among the Canadiens roster, and there is no one in Hamilton who is ready to take on his role. The only other player who may be ready to play a top 6 role on the team is another priority, and that's Sergei Kostitsyn. With his talent, tenacity, vision and defensive skill set, there's no better prospect in the Montreal system than Sergei Kostitsyn. Although he started out the season in Jacques Martin's doghouse, and still has trouble getting time on the powerplay, Sergei has become a defensive specialist playing on the third line with Moore and Moen. He plays a ton on the penalty kill and regularly lines up against the opposition's best players at even strength. Tom Pyatt may be able to adequately replace Sergei on the defensive side next season, but offensively he's not even close. Having a player or two with the ability to score on your third line as made the Canadiens much more difficult to play against in the second half.
I don't want anyone to think that I don't value the goalies, because I do believe that of any one player on a hockey team the one who has the most control of the outcome is always the goalie, this is likely why the Vezina Trophy and Jack Adams Trophy are routinely handed out to personnel on the same team. All I'm saying is that even if we get screwed in the offseason in regards to one of our goaltenders, we happen to have another young goalie who has the ability to be a top 10 goaltender in this league. Clearly it is preferable to keep them both, but it's just more important to make sure we have the irreplaceable pieces signed before we worry too much about the tenders.
Images courtesy of habsinsideout.com/Montreal Gazette