Monday, July 4, 2011


The Montreal Canadiens made their splash of the off-season on the first day of free agency, locking up power-forward Erik Cole to a 4-year deal worth $18M (AAV of $4.5M).  The move clearly plugs a long-time hole that has plagued the Canadiens for many years.  The Habs finally have a legitimate crease-crashing forward who will not hesitate to abuse opposing defenders with every chance he gets.

At first glance, the term seems a bit on the long side and the money a tad high but this has become a necessary evil these days.  More and more, the realization has begun to set in that to get who you want in the face of 29 other competing General Managers, you will have to sweeten the pot a bit more than would be ideal.  Comparing Cole's contract to what other players signed for as the day progressed made it seem more palatable.

There were many Habs fans hoping that the Canadiens would target and sign Erik Cole.  Although Cole would not have been my first target, I am fully cognizant that what he brings to the team is something special and something that was missing.

Erik Cole's signing doesn't deviate from the strategy that Bob Gainey along with Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin decided to implement when they made-over the Canadiens roster just a couple of years ago.  That strategy: to build a team comprised of proven winners, with both speed and skill.  Erik Cole fits that mold to a T.  He's not only a Stanley-Cup winner but also brings considerable foot speed to go along with his skill and bruising size.

Although Max Pacioretty seemed to be coming into his own last year as a young power-forward, it will be an added benefit for him to have Cole as a mentor, especially when he slumps (which is inevitable).  As well, is there better motivation for Pacioretty than to see how Cole was able to successfully recover from his own serious neck injury?

This is how I see the top 2 forward lines for next year:
Cammalleri - Plekanec - Cole
Pacioretty - Gomez - Gionta

The lost man in the shuffle...Andrei Kostitsyn.

Although, there have been some rumors that AK46 might be on the trading block, I think it would be a mistake.  Signed at $3.25M for next year and capable of scoring 25 goals, I believe that Kostitsyn may actually be in a position to benefit the most from the Cole signing.

The Canadiens would have some decent scoring depth if they could throw out a 3rd line with Kostitsyn and Eller or Desharnais.  Andrei would benefit from being paired against weaker defensive pairings and would also gain from seeing how Cole uses his size on a daily basis.  It's one thing when you're being told what you have to do versus being able to see it in action from a teammate.

I also believe it would lead to healthy competition and allow for each of the players to push each other if they were given powerplay time according to their performance and efforts.

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Cole's two biggest question marks and concerns are his health and how he would play outside of Carolina.  Cole has missed some significant time due to injuries throughout his career and especially in the last three years.  That being said, it is promising that he did play in all 82 games last year.  The other issue is of less concern to me.  Erik's one foray away from Carolina was for one year with Edmonton where he only scored 27 points in 63 games.  That kind of performance, in Montreal, would be extremely disappointing but with Cole's history of playing well at the Bell Centre, those worries, hopefully, will not materialize.

It will be interesting to see how Erik Cole changes the face of this Habs team.  He has the potential to be that piece that allows everything else to snap into place.

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