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After a last place finish in the 2011-12 season, new GM Marc Bergevin has a lot of work cut out for him. Not only does he have to prepare for the upcoming draft but the club has to make decisions on the 28 players whose contracts expire on July 1st. This is the first article of our series discussing some of the pending unrestricted free agents.
Mathieu Darche has been one of the more polarizing players on the Habs over the past two seasons. No one denies that he gives it his all on pretty much every shift but how much ice time should that warrant? To Jacques Martin and Randy Cunneyworth, more than most would have preferred which has some fans hoping the Habs part ways with the Montreal native on July 1st.
Inside the Numbers
On the offensive side of things, 2011-12 can only be classified as a negative for Darche. After a career high 26 points in the previous season, he picked up less than half that many despite actually playing more games and playing more per game on average by nearly a full minute. He did, however, do the little things that endeared him to the coaching staff as he was among the teams' leaders in hits and blocked shots by forwards while having a positive takeaway-giveaway ratio. Darche also picked up half of his season point total in the final month of the season suggesting he might still have something left in the tank.
Argument to keep him
By all accounts, Darche has been the consummate professional in the room and with the French media has handled way more than his fair share of interview requests. In terms of on-ice reasons, he has been one of the more flexible wingers as he has played in scoring and fourth line roles while he showed he could handle himself in a checking role (where he had his offensive burst in February) as well. He also did well shorthanded which suggests he may be more suited for a fourth line role this year.
Argument to let him go
Let me pose the following question to you: If the Habs let him go to free agency, would any teams be giving him a call to offer a one way NHL contract? I can't sit here and say definitively no one wouldn't but at the same time it wouldn't surprise me if no one gave him a call. He is what he is, a low end depth player, the prototypical dime-a-dozen guy that every team has somewhere in the organization while there are several others in free agency. Montreal also has quite a few forwards on the brink so to speak, they may be better off giving a longer look to one of Aaron Palushaj, Andreas Engqvist, or Blake Geoffrion.
Assuming the Habs are like me and think Darche would have a more productive campaign offensively, simply saying he's worth the league minimum isn't going to work. That said, it shouldn't be much higher than that either given the internal options as well as comparable options on the UFA market. However, his value is probably highest to the Habs for the linguistic reason noted earlier - he can deal with the French speaking media. If there has to be a 'token local,' it very well could be him.
Similar to what happened last offseason, I think Darche will be re-signing with Montreal before July 1st. I also believe there's a good chance he'll get a slight raise on the $700,000 he earned in 2011-12, probably somewhere in the $750,000 range. That may seem like too much but bear in mind that the cap is expected to raise by several million (for a few months at least) so everyone's going to be looking for a little bit more. Plus, any agent with half a brain will be asking for that little bit more as there's a very good chance there will be a salary rollback of sorts in the new CBA; that raise can be used to offset what gets lost by the rollback.