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Since the Habs heart wrenching elimination versus their arch rival Bruins, fans and media have largely turned their attention towards the next season. One of the hotter topics has been the ever-present issue of Scott Gomez and his immense cap-hit. But, for having had this subject discussed here and in other spaces, it seems painfully clear that the Canadiens are likely stuck with him for at least another season. Beyond the Alaskan centre’s onerous contract, the topics of Andrei Markov and Andrei Kostitsyn have been discussed at length. Rightly so, as the aforementioned are all huge pieces of the squad.

However, one player has perhaps not received the same level of analysis, but might be almost equally as important, is James Wisniewski, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. The Wiz arguably saved an anemic man advantage midway through the season, posting 30 points in 43 contests, and was a key cog on the defence, playing an average of 22 minutes per game. In this edition of Around the Boards, we take a look at our forum members’ thoughts concerning the prospect of keeping James Wisniewski.

The Chicoutimi Cucumber: Standing basically pat is a viable option and one I wouldn’t necessarily oppose. My overriding concern is that we re-sign Wiz or replace him with a comparable player (otherwise we would not be ‘standing pat,’ we’d be regressing).

Patience is a virtue: The Wiz is most certainly top 4. And I want him. Here’s the trouble: he’ll want to cash in with a nice long contract after a top 5 dman points season. So, say $4.5M for 4 years rather than $5M for less. […] Others keep talking about big tough scoring forwards as if there is a magic tree out there that they grow on. Unfortunately they are very very hard to come by. So maybe we should go with what we know is good and take a chance on the Wiz.

BCHabNut: One of Markov or Wiz will be signed. Not both. One of Hammer or Gill will be signed. Not both. […] While many want to see Wiz signed, I would much rather see that money go toward an impact top sixer. I think the depth at defense will look a little better just with a healthy roster

One recurring theme in this discussion is that the choice is between Andrei Markov or James Wisniewski. As if, somehow, it is a near impossibility to keep both. I am no cap expert like our Chief Editor Brian La Rose, but it sure seems like the money freed up by Roman Hamrlik’s departure would be more than enough to retain Wisniewski. As for the other defensive free agents, some will no doubt be in line for raises, but between the team’s substantial number of free agents, the removal of the Laraque buyout from the books and the inevitable increase in the salary cap, one has to think that Pierre Gauthier is clever enough to make Wisniewski fit.

As for the notion that scoring forwards should first be addressed, there is no doubt that this is an issue, but the reality is that the upcoming crop of free agents does not present any sort of immediate solution. Also, it is worth mentioning that the organization does have some solid forward prospects in the pipeline. By building a solid backend and a squad able to compete on a regular basis, it could provide the time and environment for the likes of Pacioretty, Eller, Desharnais, Leblanc and Kristo to properly develop. In addition, keeping Wisniewski would put an end to the revolving door of powerplay specialists the Canadiens have employed in recent years.

That’s it for this edition of ATB. While the season is sadly over, Around The Boards will check in periodically and comment on the wonderful insights on our forum. Until then, see you on the boards.

Louis Moustakas can be reached for comments, questions, cross-checks and, of course, fan-mail at [email protected].