You've got to hand it to that Pierre Gauthier guy. He sure doesn't mess around.
With news yesterday evening that the Habs GM had inked Andrei Markov to a three-year deal, Gauthier continues to plow through his offseason duties.
Since May 17, 2011, Gauthier has signed Alexei Emelin, Joonas Nattinen, Hal Gill, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and now Andrei Markov.
But I guess that's to be expected for a team that had a combined total of 16 UFA/RFA players when the season ended. Despite Gauthier progress, he still has six RFAs and six UFAs to make decisions on.
What's important, however, is the order in which Gauthier has gone about signing his players.
Starting with long coveted Russian prospect Alexei Emelin and culminating with his countryman, Andrei Markov, Gauthier is taking dead aim at the players that are his top priorities. The guys who he likely feels are no-brainers to re-sign.
So while the Habs wise old GM still has the likes of Ryan White, Yannick Weber, Roman Hamrlik, James Wisniewski and Benoit Pouliot to make decisions on, my bet is that Josh Gorges is the next to sign.
Signing Gorges would follow the priority path so far laid out by Gauthier. Then again, with word leaking this week that Gauthier fully intends on making Hamrlik an offer, he could be the next player to sign.
The good news for Gauthier is that Hamrlik and Wisniewski are only two remaining UFAs that he really needs to worry about. The rest are pretty much replaceable. There is a distinct possibility that neither player will be with the team next year and, for me, I think the loss of the Wiz would be truly unfortunate.
The Cap Game
With official word coming out yesterday that the 2011-2012 salary cap ceiling will climb to $64.3 million, Gauthier and all of his NHL GM counterparts will have nearly $5 million more to play with.
That's no chump change and, in fact, is about the right price to land any team a pretty significant player.
So does this mean that Gauthier will go fishing on the open market come July first?
It's possible, but unlikely.
If you listen to Gauthier's pre-draft press conference yesterday and if you read between the lines, he wants to build from within more than from without.
Gauthier indicated that the Habs have been very active on the trade market in recent seasons with the additions of Scott Gomez, Michael Cammalleri, James Wisniewski and more. In addition, he stated that last year the Habs were the 23rd-ranked team in terms of overall player longevity with the team.
All this to say that in his estimation the Habs are a new team as a result of all the turnover in recent seasons.
Gauthier went on to intimate that he wants this team to continue gaining experience and growing as a group.
To me, that says that he will of course look at the possibility of adding a player via trade or free agency, but it certainly doesn't sound like it will be his focus.
On the draft
Gauthier also explained that his scouting department feels like this is a very deep draft, especially in the first round. As such, the Habs feel that, picking at 17th overall, they will still be able to choose a player with top-10 abilities.
That's a pretty bold statement, but if you look at differing opinion as to who could be available come the Habs' pick, there certainly seem to be possibilities.
For me, I've got my eye on Tyler Biggs, if he's still available, or hulking defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. Biggs is exactly the type of hard-nosed, in-your-face scoring forward that the Habs could use but, given his abilities, I'd be surprised if he was still around for Montreal come the 17th spot.
Oleksiak, on the other hand, seems to be ranked in the 15th to 19th spot for most scouts and, as such, could be available when Gauthier steps to the podium.
At 6'7'' and 244 lbs, the hulking 19-year-old defenseman is still filling out his considerable frame. This is a kid who is projected to play in the NHL at around 260 lbs! Can you imagine him slotting in next to Jared Tinordi in a few years?
Tantalizing, I know.
There are others who think that the Habs should trade down to grab some later-round pick instead, and that too in an intriguing possibility.
Whatever the Canadiens do and despite his critics, Pierre Gauthier has shown that he is a man with a plan. Love him or hate him, you've got to respect his ability to stick to his guns and get things done.
Will Gauthier trade up or down tonight? Will he pick at 17? Will he put together a package and make a blockbuster trade like the Flyers did yesterday?
Tune in, starting tonight at 7 p.m., to find out.
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 to 9 a.m. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/