All Habs Mailbag: Bulldogs, Lineups, Buyouts, Breakouts, Avtsin, Subban, Salary Cap


By Robert Rice, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

TORONTO, ON — The All Habs Mailbag is as popular as ever! This is the place to send in your questions about all things Montreal Canadiens.

Then check every Thursday to read the answers to the most popular or poignant questions about the Habs. Keep in mind that we will discuss the entire Canadiens organization so questions about prospects and roster players are equally welcome!

Submissions can be mailed directly to [email protected]

Three Guidelines for Submissions:

  • This is not for hate mail or complaints. If you have an issue with what you read on these pages, this is not the place to bring it up. The mailbag is for questions about the Montreal Canadiens organization and the NHL.
  • As long-time readers of All Habs know, we do not publish rumours.  Therefore I will not engage in discussion of the validity of rumours — frankly I consider them a waste of time anyway.  For every rumour that was close to accurate, there have been about a thousand duds.
  • Nothing of essay-length please. There will be other people who will have questions and it is a bit unfair if I have to dedicate the Mailbag to answering one very large question or someone who’s asking five questions at once.
So, let’s open the All Habs mailbag!



Do you see anyone from Hamilton having a shot at a roster spot? Specifically a defencemen?

With Mike Blunden and Brendan Gallagher currently held over from Hamilton due to the injuries to Nokelainen and Plekanec, I would expect Blunden to stick around as the “reserve” forward but not played unless an injury occurs. Gallagher would be better off in Hamiton developing as he has a much stronger future and could use the development time. I don’t see a potential spot for a defencemen at present, as the Canadiens have seven one-way contracts with Markov, Kaberle, Emelin, Diaz, Boullion, Gorges and Weber and that’s not considering the inevitable P.K. Subban contract. Unless a trade is made, there’s no way to slide a Hamilton defencemen into the lineup at present. If an injury strikes, it has been suggested that Jarred Tinordi would be the first player to audition for a spot.


Who do you think should be Plekanec’s linemates for this season?

 At present, Tomas Plekanec appears to be set to play with Alex Galchenyuk on his left wing, while Brian Gionta on the right. Personally I would see this line adjusted to include Max Pacioretty on the left and shifting Galchenyuk to Desharnais’s line with Erik Cole. While I know some will decry tampering with line chemistry in a shortened season, I see it as balancing the offence out. It allows the Plekanec line, which faces top opposition matchups in each game to better create offence against those offensive lines and control puck possession more often. It would also allow Galchenyuk to break in playing against softer opposition and have more offensive opportunities.



If you were GM of the Habs, who would be your first buyout with the new CBA? Also who is on a short leash?

Since the first buyout has already been executed with Scott Gomez being released, my next target is Rene Bourque. With the prospect group continuing to mature and Bourque occupying 3.3 million in salary cap space for three seasons following the 2012-13 season, I would say it would in the team’s best interest to clear a roster spot and notable salary cap space in the long term. Granted there is a chance Bourque improves and the team can find a way to trade him down the line. If Bourque can be handled differently, eyes would turn to Tomas Kaberle for the same reason, occupation of a roster spot that a young prospect could handle and a potentially untradeable contract.


Of all the Habs playing this season, who do you think has the greatest chance to turn some heads and impress (sort of breakout)?

I would look at Lars Eller, he’s progressing as a two-way player and he has flashed offensive upside, but has often been shorted on opportunities to showcase his offence. If he can get at least one regular linemate this season that can score goals, it will open things up on the line with him not being alone in the ability to create offence. I would expect higher offensive output, but also displaying better shutdown abilities to help stifle opposition offence. The other player I would name is Alexei Emelin, as while people were greatly enthused with his highlight-reel hits last season, I believe he does have more offence to offer than he has displayed to date and could see an offensive breakout this season.



Is there any saving Avtsin as a prospect at this point?

At the present time, Avtsin appears to be what the usual case is for a reach in the later rounds of the draft, an unfulfilled promise. While Avtsin has flashed great puck skills and skating at times, he seems to lack the hockey sense and vision that is required for playing  at the professional level. Time is ticking and he hasn’t done enough to this point to edge out against all the prospects he is competing against in Hamilton and are coming up behind him in the junior ranks.



Is Subban’s hold out hurting him more than anyone thinks it is? And how many games can we expect him to miss?

P.K. Subban’s not helping his public perception with this holdout at present and I feel it will only worsen by magnitudes if he misses a single game. I think it will damage his relationship with management as well, as they won’t like him trying to leverage the success of the team in a shortened season when each game is all the more critical. I imagine it may create some locker room friction if he does come back after a few games, as teammates will not appreciate he held out for money when the season and playoffs were on the line.


As for games missed? If Subban is unsigned in time for Saturday’s game, I imagine it stretches for three, but not more than 6 games. An agreement will have to be made by then in the interests of both Subban and the club. The fallout from such a standoff would be the more pressing concern.



How much room do the Habs have for Subban if Galchenyuk makes the team?

At present, the Montreal Canadiens have 65,922,976$ on their cap payroll for the 2011-12 season with  4,277,024$ to fit in another contract. However, this does factor in that Brendan Gallagher is with the team at present and that has 14 forwards and 7 defencemen on the roster without Subban. This of course falls in with that Tomas Plekanec is day-to-day and Petteri  Nokelainen is out with a back injury but since Nokelainen is not on official injured reserve the team is looking for reserve forwards and enjoys no cap savings.

The Canadiens do have options, such as choosing to observe the Bonus Overage for Alex Galchenyuk’s rookie contract, which has a number of performance bonuses attached to it. The cushion allows a team to exceed the salary cap by up to 7.5% of the cap’s upper limit. Any bonuses earned then push on to the following year of the salary cap, albeit given the estimated 6M decline in the 2013-14 salary cap, it would create a whole new issue for Marc Bergevin to deal with. Such aftereffects were noticed by the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, when a 1M performance bonus earned by Jonathan Toews for winning the Conn Smythe trophy was then levied on their salary cap for the 2010-11 season, when they had their summer fire sale on elements of their roster. Alternatively, demotion of Gallagher or trading one of their seven defencemen on contract (Yannick Weber the most likely candidate) are their choices.

It all depends on the size of the contract the Canadiens negotiate with Subban of course, but I haven’t seen any number that suggests he earns less than 4.5M on his new deal.


  1. RR,

    good answers again sir.

    I think 3rd line wing alongside Eller is best fit for AG (less pressure as 3rd line winger).
    I think Markov would be in my sights for buy-out if his season go sideways at all, if he does fine, i see no need for a 2nd buyout.
    Totally agree about Eller,another reason i would give him Galchenyuk. 2 good skating players to feed off each other. Is Eller’s first healthy season and he did well in Finland. Also think Yemelin could manage PP duty and overall game will only improve this year i bet.

  2. We’ll see how the season goes I guess and how Michel Therrien likes to match up his lines, Eller may team with Galchenyuk as things move on.

    As per buyouts, I’m just not enthused with having Bourque taking up the spot and salary for 3 years after this one. I think there’s better way to allocate the ice time and money.

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