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Desharnais extended: when players are more than a collection of statistics

the following is another take on the Desharnais signing by J.F., otherwise known as Gimchihabster on twitter. Should you have any comments, feel free to leave a comment below, or to contact J.F. directly via twitter. Like all of us, he has a passion for Habs talk.

by @Gimchihabster

Early on Friday, Habs General Manager Marc Bergevin signed David Desharnais to a 4 year, 14 million dollar contract extension. This works out to a 3.5M cap hit. This unleashed a veritable flood of reaction on twitter and on the radio. This tends to happen in the snow globe that is the Montreal hockey market.

Let’s dismiss something right off the bat: this is not a language issue, thinking that it is grossly misunderstanding how Bergevin has worked thus far. With that out of the way, let’s move on to the contract itself.

The contract

David Desharnais is 26 years old. The 4 year contract will bring him to 30 years of age. The cap hit for a 50-60 point centre is more than reasonable. The term may be up for debate and I would have preferred a 3 year deal. Those thinking Desharnais could have been signed for less than 3M a year are dreaming. So in terms of cap hit and term, this is a contract that works for Desharnais and for the Habs. It does not handcuff the team or ruin their cap situation. Desharnais remains a movable asset if Bergevin chooses to move him down the road. A playmaking centre making 3.5M is not going to be impossible to trade.

Let us clear up another misconception, this deal has nothing to do with PK Subban. Desharnais is coming off his bridge deal. He was on the last year of a 2 year 1.7M deal. So the Habs did not commit to him sooner than they did or will to Subban. In fact, let’s leave Subban out of this for once!

The size obsession

Habs fans have developed over the years a nearly clinical obsession with making the team bigger. This has led many to complain about how small the Habs are; at how many small players they sign. This can indeed be an issue but size is not everything in the NHL. We can all name dozens of big players that had no physicality to their games or had no heart. What matters in the NHL and apparently for the Habs GM is heart and the compete level or if you will, players that play big, regardless of their size. This is where Desharnais comes up aces. This where he, compared to other small players, has overcome the size issue in some ways. Is Desharnais a top flight center? No but then again neither is he being paid like one. I think the current Habs GM will value heart, dedication, skill and compete level over other considerations. I think the coach also thinks this way. In such a light the Desharnais deal make sense. Brendan Gallagher is another smaller player who plays big, Brian Gionta is the same.

Beyond the stats

This brings us to the core of the issue: players are more than a collection of statistics. All too often we get blinded by numbers as if they sum up a hockey player, as if they can measure all that he brings to a team. Yet most of us realize that we can make statistics say whatever we wish to. There are numerous examples of this out there but before discussing a few let’s identify a two of those intangibles that may not show up on the tally of stats.

Heart: this is defined as effort, dedication and compete level. A player can have this and that can be hard to see if you us the stats-only lens.

Leadership: this is the impact of a player in the room and on the ice and again is hardly measurable in statistics.

These two elements are considered by GMs when signing or drafting players. They mix in with the list of numbers associated with a player. It is clear that Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien wish to build a tight knit team that will compete hard and work as unit. David Desharnais is that kind of player, despite his size. He competes every night. He also leads by example and this is important too.

Chemistry is also an important issue and in the case of Desharnais, it appears to be very important. Indeed, Desharnais came up with Max Pacioretty as they had performed well together with the Bulldogs. Pacioretty was signed to a 6 year extension and has said repeatedly since then that he owed a lot of this to Desharnais. He has said many times this year that he would do all he could to help Desharnais get a new contract. This is more than some lip service declaration made to the media to look good. Patches means it and I am pretty sure Bergevin and Therrien noticed this. It is also important when building a team concept.

Now concerning how stats do not show everything…..

Take a goaltender that lets in 2 goals on 20 shots. His save percentage would not be that great and if one were to stop at the stat line he could conclude this goaltender was sub-par. Now let’s say the two goals came on blistering one timers and that after this the goaltender was lights out for the duration and won in the shootout. That shows character and guts, neither of which can easily be shown by statistics. That was just one example, there are numerous others that could be cited I am sure.

The big picture

Where does this contract extension fit in the larger picture then? It provides the Habs with depth a centre, something they have not really had in years. I do mean quality depth at centre. It also provides flexibility to the team and gives it time to develop a player like Galchenyuk without rushing him. This is not the end of Eller or Plekanec in Montreal. Why should it be? Depth is what most teams crave and seek. Habs now finally have some at centre. Should Bergevin wish to trade a centre, Eller, Plekanec and Desharnais are all movable assets with reasonable contracts. Eller can play on the wing on occasion and one would assume Desharnais can be played there eventually. We apparently have a GM who is not afraid of making deals and of selling high. In that respect, no player is insulated from being traded if it will improve the team. This includes Plekanec, a player I have been a devoted fan of ever since he first laced them up for the Habs. For now, as Galchenyuk and Eller mature, the Habs will be able to continue to ice decent centers. This is just smart hockey management.

So in essence, this deal fits the new philosophy of the team, provides depth but not at the expense of flexibility. I would have preferred a 3 year deal but one cannot always get what he wants!

So it is time to exhale Habs fans and just enjoy this ride the bleu, blanc, rouge are on. Take pleasure in watching a hard working team that finally has some moxie, something David Desharnais is a part of.

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