How one interprets Briere’s arrival to the Habs depends on if one thinks it’s a big deal or if it’s a depth move. If you believe that the Habs are an aggressive off-season away from contending for the Stanley Cup, then you might be upset. If you think the Canadiens still need to wait a year or two to clear out some older players as their young players and prospects develop into productive NHLers, then this move makes sense.
If you watched the team that got smoked by Ottawa in the playoffs, then you should know which of the above scenarios is more likely. Actually, if you watched that 1st round series and think that Clarkson or Clowe is the difference between glorious victory and mediocrity, than you’re drunk, and you should leave your keys in the wheel hub and fall asleep in your car.
To the Marketplace!
On June 20th, Marc Bergevin was quoted as follows in a TSN artcle: “History shows that free agency isn’t the best tool,” he said. “Free agency to me is a tool but it’s not a way to make your team a top team. It’s overplayed. You have to be careful.”
To sign elite/star players is usually so prohibitive that even if- even if!- the first few years of the deal are productive ones, the end of their contract will almost certainly punish the team. In light of the recent Lecavalier buy-out, it’s worth checking out Sean McIndoe’s (a.k.a Down Goes Brown) Grantland column, profiling every contract of more than 8 years signed during the last CBA. Take your time, this blog post will still be here when you get back.
So, how many of those deals were good? 2? 3? Even those that sort of worked, such as Marian Hossa’s signing in Chicago, may still come back to hurt the team’s that signed them. More often, those deals were total disasters. As the Canadiens were getting Briere, other teams were preparing to throw term and dollars at players who were almost certainly not worth the commitment. Whatever list it is that has Christian Ehrhoff at the top, as the best of something, it’s concerning.
Fans will complain that Clowe ($4.85m/year, 5 years) and Clarkson ($5.25m/year, 7 years) would have added a lot to the Canadiens. Well, maybe for a couple of years they might have, but look at the length on those deals. Also, Clarkson and Clowe might be nothing more than glorified checking wingers. Great if they play on your 3rd line, maybe on your 2nd, but now they make 2nd line money as they age into their 30’s.
Clarkson won’t make the Leafs d-corps competent, and Clowe won’t generate enough offence to cover for the other Devils forwards. Bergevin, who’s worked steadily to rid the Canadiens of bad contracts (Cole, Kaberle, Gomez), is rightfully loathe to stay away from cap-clogging contracts at the moment. The core’s still young, and more importantly, the free agent crop this year doesn’t have anyone worth throwing money at.
But What About Briere?
Briere’s 2-year deal is a 35 and + contract, so it counts no matter what. He’s been in decline for the last couple of years, but he can fill the Michael Ryder role as the Canadiens wait for their young forwards to develop. Yes, Briere is not the star he was going into that monstrous contract he accepted with the Flyers, yes, he’s small, and yes he’s French. at 36, he might not be able to score 30 goals, but he can help score goals on the powerplay, and doesn’t cost anything more than money.
Until his contract runs out or Gandalf recruits him to destroy the One Ring, he can play wing or centre up front, take faceoffs, and work on the powerplay. He won’t be relied on to be a star, and the Habs don’t owe him so much that they can’t move him if one of their forward prospects makes a charge for the NHL lineup (Leblanc? Is your NHL career alive?).
Actually, it’s possible to imagine that if he gets off to a good start and the Habs struggle in their new, Detroit-occupied division, that Bergevin can successfully trade Briere at the deadline for a 2nd round pick or a prospect. If Hal Gill and Douglas Murray can get 2nd round picks, a productive Briere can get that too. This would amount to spending money to acquire draft picks, which, if it comes to pass, is a great strategy. As Bergevin showed with the Kristo’s signing and trading, he’s keen to get as much from his pieces as he can.
This trade is a depth move. While it might have been nicer to get Clarkson or Clowe, the price tags on the players might have screwed the Habs in future years. Next year, Gionta, Markov, and Bouillon come off the cap, freeing another $12.575m in cap space. It’s not like they won’t have room to add a big name or some effective role players if they become available.
That sounds a lot better than spending money just for the sake of it.