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Contract Talks and Thoughts

Posted By Corey Krakower On Mar 19 2010 @ 10:26 am In Montreal Canadiens | 5 Comments

I don’t blame Habs fans for being pessimistic, but I personally see some reason for optimism when it comes to getting contract extensions done. Montreal Canadiens fans have pretty good memories, and if you want to get one riled up, talk to the Habs fan you know about how the team got nothing for Sheldon Souray when he left as a free agent. Or talk about how Mark Streit’s camp proposed to the team’s management a contract that would pay him $2.5 million per season which the club rejected and ultimately led to him leaving for nothing as well. Or more recently, ask what the Canadiens got in return for Mike Komisarek, which of course is nothing. Now you can perhaps begin to understand the anxiety when Plekanec, his agent and the team come out and say that they are suspending contract talks until after the season.

The one difference is that all indications are that Plekanec is comfortable in Montreal and the team wants him back. I already appreciate Pierre Gauthier’s philosophy of identifying core players and negotiating with them during the year. Both parties have admitted that they want to get a deal done and that contract talks are going well. The only thing that worries me personally is that the going rate for a center right now is pretty high. Using Matt Stajan’s contract as a gauge, Plekanec is probably feeling that he deserves a 5 to 6 year deal in the 5 to 5.5 million per season range. Some would say he wants more but I really don’t see that happening. Personally, I think anything over 5 million would be excessive, and I would hope that the deal would be $28.8 million over 6 years, which would equate to $4.8 million per season. The fact remains that if these two sides can’t get a deal done by July 1, Plekanec is gone. Plekanec, in my opinion, is the #3 forward available on the market after Kovalchuk and Marleau, and teams striking out on those guys will go hard after Plekanec to the point where Montreal will not be able to afford him for cap reasons.

The other encouraging story that leaked out recently is that Pierre Gauthier and Don Meehan have had preliminary discussions about extending Andrei Markov’s contract. Once again, he has identified a core player and wants to get a deal done before it’s too late. It’s too early to speculate, but my best guess would be that the 31 year old defenseman will be seeking a 4 to 5 year deal at a minimum of $5.75 million which is his current salary. I could see this being the type of situation where Gauthier adds on additional years at the end of the contract to drive down the average cap hit per season.

The big question Habs fans have is how the team can make this work cap-wise. Montreal currently has $12 million in available cap space next year but that’s if the salary cap stays the same. It seems likely that it will drop at least a few million, and so even if they re-sign Plekanec, that would mean they would have maybe $6 to $7 million to spend on contracts (after Laraque is bought out) for RFAs Sergei Kostitsyn, Maxim Lapierre, Benoit Pouliot, Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak. In conclusion, if Plekanec re-signs, say goodbye to Roman Hamrlik and his $5.5 million dollar contract.

My advice to Habs fans; be encouraged that the GM is open to negotiating during the season, and don’t stress over the cap too much. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The Rangers wanted Gaborik last year but couldn’t afford it. Using the “where there’s a will there’s a way” philosophy, the Rangers somehow convinced someone that their second line center was worth over $7 million per season and managed to trade him. I don’t know what kind of a team would do something like that but it just goes to show that it can get done!

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