Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Free Agency II:

Tanguay Finds Fit To Further His Career

After exactly two months in purgatory, bleeding earning power like a Harlequins rugby player with a sack of red dye, Alex Tanguay has signed with the Lightning.

For the Lightning, the deal was a steal. They get a player who has proven he can play with talented guys (which Tampa can provide) and at a price that is very un-2008 free agency for their parts.

For Tanguay, the deal makes a lot of sense too. He could do worse than Stamkos at centre, and he may ride with Lecavalier if he keeps his game up to the right standard. Either way, he'll be wingman to someone who can finish his crafty centering efforts. What's more, he won't be asked to do the labour on the line of carrying the puck, digging it out and other elements of hard work.

The details of the story have emerged with stories of other offers, interest and intrigue. Pierre Lebrun covers it well as he answers the pertinent Alex Tanguay question:
Why did Tanguay choose Bolts over Isles, Wild?


Salary win-back


It's Tanguay's needs being filled here that really answer Lebrun's question most fully. If he's to scale back into the salary zone he covets, he must have a good year. He can't very well risk that on John Tavares or Martin Havlat, for that matter.

If Tanguay signs with the Wild, sure he's a first line player, but he has to cobble out a living with Mikko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuck. He'd be part of a project with a new GM and a team without Lemaire for the very first time. In other words, it could be an adventure.

Ditto for the Islanders. After Tavares, the talent reads remarkably like last year's AHL mirroring squad. Tavares has a lot to gain from playing with a smoothe game reader like Tanguay, but teaching John isn't going to make free agent season in 2010 a bigger bonanza than 2009 was for Tanguay really.

It's interesting to read in Lebrun's piece that Tanguay did indeed take less than he was offered from the two rival bids from the Lightning. Lebrun floats many reasons to suggest the fit: Lecavalier and St. Louis, Rick Tocchet's time as an assistant coach in Colorado, a wealth of linemates. All are plausible. All are likely. But it's Tanguay himself who sums up his reasoning best:
"Last year, I was hurt and didn't perform like I wanted," said Tanguay, who still put up 41 points in 50 games with the Habs. "The year before in Calgary, it wasn't my best year. I'm 29 years old and it's really important for me to have a good year and play at the caliber I know I can play at."

It's really important for him to have a good year. Not put himself in a winning situation. Not give himself a new challenge after riding some pretty hefty coat-tails. No, having a good year.

And make no mistake, he means a good year statistically. He means a year getting back above his average point totals. No mention of Cup, no mention of team having a good year. He's playing 2009-10 as a $2.5 million player in an effort to re-emerge with a $5 million contract.

Were I an agent, a wife, a child, a parent, an advisor I wouldn't blame him. As a fan of his former team, I have a different conclusion.


Gainey did the right thing


Up to this point, I've been pretty ambivalent about Tanguay. From an academic point of view, I knew we lost a very useful piece. His skating is good, his passing is at times sublime. And his timing is uncanny. He has the pieces.

Emotionally, however, it was less painful to see him go, simply because his loss pales compared to Kovalev, Koivu and even Bouillon for me. I never made a connection with the player beyond that academic curiosity, that superficial admiration. He did things proficiently and smoothly, but rarely got me up from my seat.

Reading what I've read from his mouth now, though. All that about having a good year and the importance of it happening this season for him -- it gives me a sense of relief to know he won't be around.


Why?


That does sound crazy doesn't it? Relief to have lost a player that wishes to rebound to new heights, a player that craves success. A player who I fully acknowledge has talent oozing from the pores.

Maybe it is. In fact, it probably is. But let me reason with you.

I think Tanguay has salary very much on the mind. Too much so. Salary, at least for this season may well take precedence to a Cup for the guy.

Oh sure, maybe once he's restored his reputation as a 75-point scorer, he'll turn his thoughts to a championship; but I find that to be too late.

You see, to win a Stanley Cup, I think it takes a burning desire from quite a number of players on the same team. It's not chance that sees Cupless veterans produce the form of their lives when they get their opportunity at a run late. It's not coincidence that teams celebrate scrappy (and unexpected) heroes year on year. The thirst for victory is that added dimension that makes the Saku Koivus of the world find two more notches in elimination games. The lack of that drive is what stifles gold-gilded and salary-bolstered teams when they face an opponent who plays with energy.

For this season at least, I think Tanguay seems to have lost the plot. Sorry, not the plot, rather my plot -- he has found a very different one to mine, and indeed I think to many fans.


Had the Canadiens signed Alex, there'd have been none of this you know. We'd never have known what he'd choose given the chance to select his own destination. He'd have been a very good winger pencilled straight in next to Scott Gomez.

But what might the season have held for Tanguay and the Canadiens? What if Alex and Gomez didn't hit it off? What if Alex looked at the prospect of his third season of decline in succession and thought first of years 30-40 for Tanguay and not games 83-99 for his Canadiens?

That's why I think Gainey did the right thing. After all, Bob may well have known of Tanguay's propensity to look out for #1, given that he'd just coached the player during the stretch of his first potential free agent win fall. What's more, he filled the vacancy he created with similar expertise.

A couple of months and a few interviews later and I'm resolved that the puzzling case of Alex Tanguay has ended the right way for this Habs fan.

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