For a team named the Montreal Canadiens, there sure are a lot of American hockey players on their roster. Some of the biggest names (or at least contracts) are U.S.-born players. That group includes pricey center Scott Gomez, undersized captain Brian Gionta, injured forward Max Pacioretty, skyscraper defenseman Hal Gill and now Erik Cole.
The team handed the resurgent power forward Cole a hefty four-year, $18 million deal today. That’s a $4.5 million annual cap hit, which makes him the fifth highest paid forward in Montreal. In the scheme of this wacky day of strange deals, it’s not a half-bad contract. Would you rather pay Scottie Upshall $14 million for four years or the more-proven Cole $18 million during that same time frame?
My vote would be for Cole, but he does come with his risks. His career was in jeopardy after an ugly hit by Brooks Orpik during the 2005-06 season. Cole eventually bounced back from that injury, but he clearly struggled without Eric Staal by his side when he went to the Edmonton Oilers with his last free agent deal. Cole was traded back to Carolina and had a strong contract year in 2010-11, but one must wonder if he can reach his highest levels without an elite center giving him great chances. The Canadiens lack a high-end center at Staal’s level, so it’s natural to wonder if they’ll really get their money’s worth. Adding his health questions to the mix makes him an even bigger risk.
That being said, he’s a solid power forward who scored 30 goals once and at least 22 goals three other times in his career. Cole can bring a physical element, impressive speed and has semi-decent size, so he might fill a need in the small Montreal lineup.
Overall, it’s a roll of the dice like most free agent moves, but Cole has a better chance of justifying his salary than most of the players who signed new contracts today.