As he mentioned during his post season news conference, he is paying eleven defencemen right now and most teams carry seven; six starters and the spare.
Jaroslav Spacek and P.K. Subban are the only members of the group under contract for next year. Together they will earn 4.7 million dollars next year (Spacek 3.833M – Subban 875K)
Assuming that Gauthier plans to spend between twenty and twenty-one million dollars on his defence, that leaves sixteen million available dollars.
There seems to be a desire on the part of Gauthier to resign Andrei Markov (5.75M last season) and Hal Gill (2.25M). I don’t see a raise for Markov. It’s not my money, but Gill deserves something for his two-season contribution to the team. How about 2.5 million next season?
That brings us to 12.9 million dollars and three more openings, including the seventh defenseman.
Josh Gorges is a restricted free agent. He’s a shutdown-type guy, which usually means, unless the Canadiens elect to go long-term, he’ll be getting about 2.5 million.
So we’re left with about five million to spend and two jobs to fill.
Paul Mara is going to be let go again. So will Brent Sopel. As Gauthier starts to juggle his options, he’ll have to ask himself where Yannick Weber fits. Weber, showed us a few things as a forward and pointman on the power play in the playoffs. Would he make an excellent seventh man? If so, that leaves a choice between Roman Hamrlik (5.5M last season) or James Wisniewski (3.250M). To stay with the Canadiens Hamrlik, who will turn 37 in December, would have to take a major cut in pay. Wisniewski will be looking for, and probably will get, around four million. There are some questions about his play in his own zone, but I liked his work in the playoffs. And he does rack up the points.
Here’s where it gets complicated. In Hamilton, there is Brendon Nash, who led all AHL rookie defencemen at plus-23 this season. Frederik St. Denis, while smallish, has also shown signs of stepping up.
And there’s the ever-present Alexei Yemelin, ranked as one of the best defencemen in the KHL, and a member of the Russian National Team this year for the fourth time. Many think he could step right into the NHL if he ever decides to come to North America. His two year contract with Ak Bars Kazan ended this month and Yemelin has hired Don Meehan as his North American agent. Meehan also represents Markov. Yemelin is a mature 6’1” 225 pounds and noted for his toughness.
In the end, money seems to be a peripheral issue. The larger one is numbers and the ability of players to fit into the “team dynamic”. Excluding Sopel and Mara, we have nine contenders for five openings. Barring spectacular training camps, Nash, St. Denis and even Weber could start the season in Hamilton. Unless he’s guaranteed an NHL salary, Emelin probably won’t sign and that may be the monkey wrench in some of the decision-making process. We’ll know Emelin’s intentions by early May.