Bob Gainey has consistently been described using words such as patient, stoic, and unrevealing. With the Canadiens progressing on schedule and looking good, the question must be asked as to when the Habs GM will unveil himself by developing an itchy trigger finger in the case of two of the team's five prospective free agents come 2008.
Those free agents would be winger Michael Ryder and goaltender Cristobal Huet.
There are many cliches about the "why's, where's, and when's" to trade, and all the reasonable ones, tried and true through time, have to do with a team's current standing and depth at a position.
Ryder and Huet, constitute hot potatoes for Gainey at present, for a number of different reasons that are currently being played out with various unfolding scenarios.
To spell it out flatly, Gainey will not want to part with Huet. If Jaroslav Halak was lighting up his crystal ball with glorious foresights, rookie Carey Price would have seen more than four games of NHL action by now. The fact that the steady and consciensious Huet makes the ideal tutor for "goalie of the future" Price negates any thought that Halak can last as a Hab beyond this season barring major injuries or catastrophies.
That Halak and his agent have given Gainey the ultimate of ultimatums - "trade me or I expire to Russia for big bucks after this season" - means the Habs GM's ears are damp with incoming calls about his minor league goalie.
To be blunt once more, if Ryder were in Gainey's long term picture, his deal would not be expiring next July. While he may have been the team's top scorer the last three seasons, Ryder is hardly complete enough a top line player for the team to aspire to a Stanley Cup with him as a number one sniper. Gainey agreed to sign him to a very tradable contract for scenario's such as this.
I ask you, does Ryder as a top line go to guy, inspire your 100% confidence in his role, despite all the doubt surrounding his qualifications. To ask yourself the honest question is to put yourself in Gainey's shoes.
Clearly, there has to be someone within the organization that can step up and improve upon Ryder's totals. Be it Kovalev, Kostitsyn, or even Latendresse, who played his soundest hockey there, surely some other Habs can bring an added dimension to what Ryder often makes a stagnant line.
Imagine what Eric Cole could accomplish on this line.
Ryder does bring one wicked release in the slot area, but little else to the team, and Gainey is smart enough to understand that this is where the Canadiens can upgrade most.
(Robert L Note: My thoughts on why Ryder has been a figured out player by opposing teams, as posted at HIO and Boone in recent days, can be read at the bottom of this post.)
The question is, for now and the coming weeks, what can Gainey bring to the Canadiens in return for a slumping top line winger, who is headed for free agency?
Burning question number two would be, what would a goalie of good NHL repute, albeit a current minor league sensation, bring the Habs in return trade value.
Taken individually - neither prospective trading could provide the Canadiens with gains that would make the most ardent fan salivate. It just doesn't make any sense - yet.
Packaged together, it gets more interesting.
Rumours, gossip, and innuendo have been swirling that ratpacks of scouts from teams all over the NHL have been following the Canadiens games closer than maggots on raw meat. In fact, it has been reported more than once that several teams scouts have been in attendance in multiple numbers during the last half dozen Habs games, both on the road and at home.
Something is brewing, and it is not a new 9.0 % alcohol content beer from the Molson Corp.
In truth, Gainey may not have brought any of this on himself. It may just be other teams speculating while looking to fill out needs. Gainey, a reknowned patient man, may have nothing more up his sleeve than a hairy arm.
GM Gainey's needs are quite simple when it comes to the current Habs - offer him something that resembles an upgrade to the lineup, and he's all ears.
The trouble with trading in today's NHL, as you may have noticed by the absense of deals, is that team's not already capped out, have set their own caps. Little more than dollar for dollar trades are now made.
Another facet of the dilema is that teams rarely trade defensemen. It is one area of every team's depth chart that no GM in this reality ventures with. With third and fourth line checkers always being the most accessable of commodities, that leaves goal scorers and goalies high on GM's shopping lists.
Gainey may be offering up both, and in a cheap enough salary package to boot!
Sift through NHL salaries to find a 30 goal scorer under 3 million dollars a year and I wager you will find few players under 30 years of age that have the upside that Ryder has to make teams curious.
Want a backup goalie, at an AHL wage, who could play his way into a starter's role quickly for under a million? Call Bob!
If you combine the two assets, you may understand why Gainey is in the auctioneer's (read driver's seat) position - all ears until the highest bid is dropped. Teams need either goal scoring or puckstopping, and Gainey's card hand is full.
Gainey will not be the gambler for now - he will await the biggest gambler for the time being. He can afford to - his team has been winning.
Stakes will rise as he waits and you can be certain that teams have put in "initial" offers. Gainey will be as patient as he needs to be, without risking too long of a wait.
The hard part for Gainey may involve more than just tight cap dollars. Putting some of his most recent moves in the last two seasons under scrutiny, it becomes clear that few teams have come out on the winning end when dealing with him.
Jose Theodore's trade was an unbelievable and astute salary dump on an unsuspecting partner. Flipping Mathieu Garon for Radek Bonk and Cristobal Huet speaks for itself still. Sergei Samsonov's bottoming out in Montreal last season has proven to be no aberation, much to the dismay of the Blackhawks, who have made him a regular scratch. Defenseman Craig Rivet is a team worst minus 5 with the San Jose Sharks, who have yet the reap one single goal from their blueline ( Habs rearguards have 9 goals).
In addition to players traded away, none of the players that Gainey has let go hold much esteem. Bonk, Johnson, Aebischer, and even Sheldon Souray have done little for their team's fortunes so far this season.
Unfortunately, of late, Ryder's play has not exactly made him an attractive commodity. On the flipside, the Canadiens must keep him on the top line, as long as the team keeps winning, in order for Ryder to showcase himself both as trade bait and an upcoming UFA. The troubling thing is that Ryder seems to be sensing all of this external pressure, and it has shown in his play.
Halak is in Hamilton, and his showcasing took place late last season. How he is faring currently, almost becomes secondary in his evaluation by other teams. Having backed Gainey to the wall with his trade demands doesn't make moving him any quicker or easier.
Taken together, sending both players to one destination would give a greater return. Gainey has smartly accumulated great depth in the organization in order to make these types of two for one deals that will bring in a superior talent to what is being sent away.
It is not likely that a trade is looming for the time being. Teams are still are in the playoff mix a dozen games in. As soon as teams begin parachuting in the standings, or in attendance figures, watch for Gainey to be poised to make a move that will better the team's position and standing.
With only 31.8 million dollars committed to next season's cap, and only Ryder, Huet, Brisebois, Smolinski, and Streit hitting the UFA ranks, Gainey has put himself in a position of strength, and can take on one hefty contract should the team find the right player.
Thing are just starting to get interesting!
My Ryder analysis:
It's sad to admit it, because I rather like the guy, but Michael Ryder has been figured out by the opposition. His slump goes back much father than the hat trick in last seasons finale.While his shots on goal are down, his attempts aren't. His shots get blocked by defenseman knowing his ruse.
Ryder's limitations have become obvious to his opponants and his game has been figured out. Watch how he almost never removes his hands from his stick. He rarely ever has only one hand on it, whether deking, checking or simply skating. He doesn't remove one hand when trying to beat someone with the puck, nor does he attempt it when checking an opponant. It is much easier to reach farther with one hand than it is with two. I don't get why Ryder is this way.
He has made a concentrated effort so far this season to be sounder defensively but he has also made the opposition's job in his regard much easier. By playing so stiffly, he is limiting his own options and moves. He rarely ever takes the puck to his backhand or uses a straightarm to go around a player wide with the puck further away, one handed and out of poking range.
It's always a stiff deke and a shot. When a player bares down on him, his stick is always to the same side. Since he never opens his stance, or uses his stick to make himself wider or larger, he's beaten rather easily. He's extremely easy to check when the puck is on his backhand - it's right there for the swatting.
By trying to challenge opponants with both hands squeezing the stick, he has made himself into an easier player to counter. Add in that he only an adequate skater, and the job of shutting his down gets a whole lot simpler. He will still get the odd shot off now and then and score one, but considering the amount of exposure a leading goal scorer gets in Montreal, I found that he is a player than has simply been figured out.
Just for fun, count how many times during the next game that you see Ryder with one hand on his stick. Trust me, you won't need a calculator. The last time I saw it, was because Ryder had broken his stick.