Let me preface this article by saying that my first option if I were Pierre Gauthier would be to re-sign James Wisniewski. I would be more than willing to give him a 5 year deal paying $5 to $5.5M per year with one stipulation, I wouldn't offer him a no-trade clause. And if it was absolutely necessary, then I would offer a limited no-trade, one where he can specify a maximum of up to 5 or 6 teams where he would not to be traded to.
I truly believe that having Wiz in your bottom pairing would sufficiently shield him from any minor defensive woes that he may have; yet it would allow for the Habs to have his offensive capabilities available to them on the power-play and whenever they would be trailing in a game. Wiz would also be the ideal insurance policy on Andrei Markov being healthy. If Markov were to re-injure his knee, you could then start to think about LTIR for Markov and an eventual trade or buyout of his contract. Point is, you would have Wisniewski, a capable substitute, under contract and ready to go. Should Markov show that he has in fact recovered and become his dominant self once again, you could then use Wiz as trade bait at the trade deadline to get that missing piece (whatever it may be at the time). At worst, you should be able to trade Wiz during the off-season next year and open up enough cap space for the re-signing on Price, Subban and a top 6 forward.
What we don't know is whether or not Gauthier has already attempted all of the above or more only to be rebuffed by Wiz having decided that he would like to test free agency come July 1st. What we do know is that Gauthier has offered Roman Hamrlik a 1-year deal to re-sign with the Montreal Canadiens and it has been suggested that Roman will make his decision today. Although Hamrlik would not be my first choice, I have come to conclude that signing Roman Hamrlik would not be such a terrible backup plan.
The former first overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft has had a solid playing career and a true testament to his overall quality is the fact that he has been successful at transforming himself from a solid offensive defenceman into an effective defensive one. No one is going to sit here and tell you that Hamrlik is the same key defenceman that he was 4 years ago. He has clearly lost a step (maybe two) and as such has been prone to more mistakes than what we've been accustomed to.
However, as with his earlier transformation, I've noticed that Hamrlik was in the difficult process of making one more transition as last year progressed. He began to understand that with his deteriorating foot speed he had to adjust once more. How did he do it? He began to play less aggressively and adjusted his positioning to better defend against the younger and speedier forwards. He took a little bit of Hal Gill's strategy in defending and incorporated into a mix with his own.
Considering his size at 6'2" and weight at 223lbs, he's definitely a decently sized guy who'll be missed on a team like the Canadiens, especially if you were to replace him with a James Wisniewski (5'10" 205lbs.) or a Yannick Weber (5'10" 193lbs).
My biggest issue here is Spacek. The fact that the Habs are committed to Spacek with no way to remove his cap hit from the Canadiens payroll other than through a trade makes it very hard to accept another aging defenceman. This is why, if Hamrlik were to accept Gauthier's one year deal today, it would be imperative that Gauthier do everything in his power to trade Jaroslav Spacek for whatever he can get. The unfortunate part is that Spacek may have to be packaged with a prospect in order to make the trade more palpable for the other side and that would not be good asset management. Only Pierre Gauthier knows what the market is like for Jaroslav Spacek as he was offering Hamrlik his one year deal.
The X-factor in all this in which Hamrlik becomes a real positive is in terms of player development. The way I see the defensive pairings (should Hamrlik re-sign) would be as follows:
Markov - Gorges
Gill - Subban
Hamrlik - Yemelin
Although it's entirely conceivable that Markov might be eased back into his role as top D, I think it would be self-defeating if he wasn't logging top minutes again with little delay. The same mentality can be applied to Alexei Yemelin (in reverse). It would be only fair to ease the rookie into the NHL, with its smaller rink surface, facing the opposition's 3rd and 4th lines on the last defensive pairing. In such a case, Roman Hamrlik might be your ideal defensive partner for Yemelin. Not only is he capable of understanding and speaking some Russian (due to his Czech upbringing) but Roman has proven to be very adept at helping young defensive prospects come into their own in this league. He did it before with Dion Phaneuf (in Calgary and again -at times- with PK Subban here in Montreal).
Again, when you look at the pairings, Spacek's presence poses a problem where he pushes Weber back to Hamilton. I would think that Weber believes he has earned himself the role as the Canadiens' 7th defenceman.
So, the puck is in your zone Roman. We await the decision.