We’re a little thin on information right now, but the availability of Andrei Markov and, most recently Jaroslav Spacek is indefinite. Chris Campoli is gone for “months” and the back-up plan, top prospect Brendon Nash will miss most, if not all of the season after shoulder surgery and Jeff Woywitka was grabbed by the Rangers off the waiver wire. Four of the Canadiens six remaining defensemen (Subban, Weber and rookies Diaz and Emelin) have less than two years NHL experience.
Is it any wonder then, as the most prominent name among the unsigned 2011 unrestricted free agents, that McCabe’s name is popping up?
But hold it a moment. Before we get too wrapped up in this, here’s the deal about McCabe. He’s 36 years old. He was never all that great as a defenseman. He was villifiied in Toronto for his penchant for giving away the puck in his own end. McCabe’s bloated five year-28 million dollar contract (cap hit 5.75 million) expired in June. Last season he recorded only 28 points in 67 games with Florida and the Rangers. Obviously thinking he deserved a high percentage that money in a new deal, he stayed home through training camp waiting for a phone call that never came. I’m not sure he would be anything more than a big gamble on a one-year one-million dollar contract.
If somebody was crazy enough to let me sit in Pierre Gauthier’s chair for a day I would be inclined to take a hard look at Anton Stralman.
Last year the 25 year old Swedish-born Stralman, , played with Columbus. He had a lot of injuries including a thirteen game stint on injury reserve with a left knee problem. The kid is in shape because he’s been with the New Jersey Devils since the beginning of training camp as an unsigned non-roster player. He was on the ice practicing with them yesterday at Newark’s Prudential Center. The scouts tell us he’s a prototypical Swede; good size, skilled, very good speed and quickness, good shot, could be more aggressive in his own end but certainly better than McCabe and at a better price and a better future. He’s available to anyone who wants to pay him. That’s not to say Lou Lamoriello won’t find some cap room and immediately give him a contract if a team starts sniffing around. He made 1.95 million last season. He’ll probably take something less than that to stay in the NHL
After McCabe and Stralman the cupboard is bare. Paul Mara, who finished last season on his second tour with the Canadiens, is still unssigned. So is the fading 38 year old Steve Staios (Calgary last year). Erratic 32 year old Nick Boynton finished last year with Philadelphia.
Of course, the other option is to stand pat. Yannick Weber had a goood game when he was shifted back to defence in Winnipeg. Prospect Frederic St. Denis, a star in Saturday night’s Hamilton season opener (2 goals-plus 2) could logically fill in as seventh man on the defense.
All of these issues and the speculation they generate are instantly solved if Spacek’s injury isn’t serious and Markov returns to the lineup in the next couple of weeks. Then we’ll just have to find something else to worry about.