Montreal Canadiens defenseman James Wisniewski didn’t have a very good night last Tuesday in Philadelphia. In that, he wasn’t alone.

Despite the performance slip, there’s a large body of outside opinion that one of Pierre Gauthier’s most important post season tasks will be the signing of Wisniewski to a long-term contract..

Fair enough. He’s been a point-a-game player since he joined the team December 30th and the deal with the Islanders, which was basically for a draft choice that will be somewhere between 45th and 50th overall, may be the sleeper exchange of the year.

Pierre Gauthier obviously saw something he liked on Boxing Day at Uniondale New York. As part of the Canadiens 4-1 loss on that snowy night Wisniewski launched a 40 foot screamer past Carey Price on a 5-on-3 power play. He was named the game’s second star behind goaltender Dwayne Roloson.

Gauthier, who’s noted for his due diligence, spotted something he liked in the 26 year old and three days later gave up that compensatory draft pick he acquired for refusing to offer a contract to 2006 first round draft pick David Fischer plus a conditional fifth rounder for him. It was really a cheap price to pay.

And how cheap will Wisniewski be when it comes to contract negotiations at the end of the season?  The answer is, “not very.”  He has a well defined opinion of his worth.  Wisniewski was an unrestricted free agent at the end of last year and threatened the Anaheim Ducks with salary arbitration.  Before the hearing, the Ducks gave him a 3.2 million dollar one-year contract and immediately traded him to the Islanders.  He’ll be looking for something in the four million dollar range in his next negotiation. 

The benchmark may be the contract Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson signed two weeks ago. His seven year deal demands an annual cap hit of 4.3 million dollars. That’s the kind of ballpark Wisniewski would like to play in. 

The Canadiens have only two defensemen under contract for 2011-2012, Jaroslav Spacek and P.K. Subban. Markov, Hamrlik, Gill plus Wisniewski are unrestricted free agents while Gorges, Weber and Picard are restricted. For the Canadiens it becomes  a matter of how they want to allocate their money.

In balancing their budget the Canadiens are spending around twenty million dollars of their available cap space on defence. Spacek and Subban take up just over four and a half million of that.  That leaves fifteen million to sign  four regulars and a reserve.

Josh Gorges will be looking for around three million as a restricted free agent.   It’s not my money but, I think you offer Markov the same 5.75 million dollar contract he’s been operating under for the last five years. The big decisions then become Gill, Hamrlik and of course Wisniewski, all of whom have, at one time r the other, stated they would be delighted to stay in Montreal.

 Gill will command the reasonable 2.25 million he got this year. Then it comes down to Hamrlik, Wisniewski  and perhaps Weber or another Hamilton Bulldo for the remaining five million or so.

Things change but, much as I hate to say it, I think Hamrlik is going to be the odd man out unless he’s prepared to take a major cut in pay. Fans are mixed about him, but Hamrlik has been a horse for the Canadiens. He’s been a plus-9, over his 3 ½ years and has logged major minutes during the prolonged absences of Markov. On the down side, he’ll be 37 when next season starts while Wisniewski will be 27.

Isn’t NHL’s salary cap age just a barrel of laughs?