Today came news that Zenon Konopka had signed with the divisional-rival Ottawa Senators. That is not good news for Habs fans. Seeing that it only took a 1-year deal worth $700K to ink Konopka, I'm really quite befuddled that Habs management didn't up the ante a bit and secure his services. I was really hoping that Konopka was in Gauthier's target list of players to acquire during this off-season. I also thought that someone would overpay him in dollars and term and thus make it a difficult signing to accomplish. Obviously, this didn't happen so from my point of view, today's failure falls squarely on the GM's shoulders.
Other than the obvious toughness and fighting element that Konopka brings which is important and needed, he also brings another essential skill, prowess on face-offs. This particular facet of his skill-set is why I thought Konopka would be a perfect fit for the Habs. Considering that face-offs were a major area of concern for the Habs last year, it boggles the mind to not add depth in that area at such a reasonable cap hit.
Plekanec had a below par season at the face-off dot last year and can be expected to bounce back a little. But beyond that the team really has a glaring weakness when it comes to the all important face-off. Gomez was awful and has never been a face-off guy. Eller struggled so much that Martin tried to force him into becoming a winger (an experiment that didn't work out too well). David Desharnais was commendable and did relatively well but due to his lack of strength against the bigger centres, he struggled when facing off against the opposition top 2 lines. Andreas Engvist, who was called up for a couple of games as a defensive specialist also fared poorly at draws. Finally, Halpern, you're face-off specialist, was not offered a contract extension and recently signed with the Washington Capitals.
I simply don't understand this move and hope that it doesn't come back to haunt the
Canadiens midway through the season when they realize just how essential someone with that quality is. It's that much harder to defend when your opponent gets control of the puck in your zone and it's that much harder to play a puck-possession game when you don't have to puck to start with.
Putting everything into perspective, the most important hole for the Habs was filled with the signing of Erik Cole. The toughness issue is even a debatable one as to how important fighting really is. I think I've outlined why face-offs are important and I'm sure the team will manage. But sometimes, you have to make smart business decisions and I feel like Gauthier dropped the ball. He could've had two birds with one stone that would've cost him 800-850K (or less if he had been proactive on Konopka).
Let's hope that when it comes time for Gauthier to finally acquire that toughness and face-off ability, it doesn't end up costing the Canadiens a lot more than just 800-850K.