Occasionally I like to make a foray into the realm of something speculative such as trade talks and free agent signings in regards to where the Canadiens are going and what they need to get there. The opportunity arose this week when a poster at Habs Inside Out suggested the Canadiens make an impact trade to improve their Stanley Cup chances this season.
At first, I completely repelled the idea of this particular trade as lacking foresight and being of an impatient nature. At first, my thought was that if the Habs want to aquired a player for the playoffs, I wanted someone with proven post season experience before I'd consider it. The player being speculated here has not appeared in the playoffs since joining the NHL in 1997. I grinded my teeth, but as I thought it over, I started to sit on the fence and ponder the "what if's" and it occurred to me that looking at something like this, Bob Gainey might be tempted to consider it.
The blogger's name was T - Roy West, and suggested that the Canadiens send Guillaume Latendresse, Michael Ryder, one of Pavel Valentenko, Ryan O'Bryne, or Mathieu Carle, and a first or second rounder to the Florida Panthers for Ollie Jokinen.
T - Roy's logic was that Jokinen, who makes around $5.3 M for two more seasons, would enable the Canadiens to have two dominant lines, and hence go for the Cup big time. He goes on to say that "this wouldn't hurt our future because we don't need Ryder, Latendresse can be replaced, and none of the defenceman are playing for the team anyways. I would almost give up more".
Jokinen is the piece to the puzzle that were missing. People are always saying we need a power center, well there he is. Everyone else (teams) above us will try (to aquire Jokinen), why not us?
It makes for an interesting argument, and it is worthy of a deeper analysis. I thought I'd give it my best, unbiased pro and con treatment and see whether in Gainey's shoes I'd pull the trigger on this.
Before I get to that, I must add that I believe the deal as is, may be doubtful given Jokinen's salary fitting into the team scheme beyond this season and Florida GM Jacques Martin's penchant for wanting the moon in return of a player in demand. Jokinen is the Panthers markee player, if there is such a thing in Florida, and Martin would perhaps ask for a center of NHL calibre in return. The Canadiens will not part with Tomas Plekanec, and I've a feeling that is where the trade talk would die.
Now for the rose coloured glasses view, you have to admit that Jokinen would fit in nicely between say, Chris Higgins and Sergei Kostitsyn. Saku Koivu, a fellow Finn, might even be tempted to take up the wing slot alongside his countryman. It would indeed give the Habs two killer lines, and possibly a third if Koivu stayed at centre, found a certain fusion with two other wingers, and maintained his annual pace. Alex Kovalev could maybe play alongside Ollie too, and then we'd have the two Kostitsyn's with Plekanec full time.
The depth loss created by having moved both Latendresse and Ryder would be made up by reinserting Mathieu Dandeneault back on a fourth line role temporarely, and would be filled down the line with other prospects.
On the further upside of things, Jokinen would surely continue to produce at above a point per game ratio he is accustomed to with the quality of wingmen Montreal could offer. The Canadiens would surely achieve the post season and go deeper than they might this year wth such a lineup.
The deal might be a good one if we were to go all the way to the finals.
I'd be dreaming if I suggested this move is what it would take to win it all this season, but as a Habs fan that remembers 1971, 1986, and 1993 clearly, I'll admit that sometimes anything is possible when a team gels at the right time of year.
Now I'm going to remove the rose coloured glasses without any pessimism, and tackle the issues that would make me, or other fans of the team uncomfortable with this scenario.
Say we don't win the Cup this year or next, is the deal as salivating?
I don't see Montreal upsetting Detroit or Anaheim if they even manage to win their own conference this season. Not this year, and unfortunately, not the next. I see this edition of the Canadiens becoming the true powerhouse they need to be, happening in a little over two years time, when they will be as dominant as the Red Wings are now.
There are certain elements I'll want Montreal to retain from this trade for that time, and it starts with Latendresse, who I feel it is way to early to give up on. The upside on this player is 40 goal scorer. Since arriving in Montreal, as a local products of sorts, the kid's every flaw has been scrutinized beyond logical sense. In a season and a half, as a 19 and 20 year old, he's given the team 30 goals. When his game rounds out and certain flaws get smoothed over, his responsabilities and icetime will improve. He'll then be the type of power forward sought by 29 others teams, and we will malign the fact then that we don't own a net crasher with his ability.
Not that I like him any less, but it would be smarter to part with Maxim Lapierre, as Kyle Chipchura is ready to assume a very similar role with the team.
I like Michael Ryder as well, but I've come to terms with the notion that he is a one trick pony. Ryder has a wicked shot that has served the team well for over three seasons, but he has been surpassed on the Habs depth chart by as many as three youngsters - the Kostitsyn brothers and yes, Latendresse. Unfortunately for our favorite Newfie, he has to find his game in less than favorable second and third line conditions. He's had a touch more success lately due to the fact that the line he plays on is no longer the line keyed on by opposing coaches game plans as a priority.
I would be willing to sacrifice Ryder in a trade, over losing him for nothing to free agency. I'm not sure there is much market for Ryder to fetch the Habs anything of consequence in a one on one deal, so packaged is the best way to assure a valuable return for him.
Given a choice between O'Byrne, Valentenko, and Carle to be thrown in the deal is akin to blind dart throwing. There is a certain sense of O'Byrne's worth when it comes to known quantities, and much less so in the cases of Valentenko and Carle. O'Byrne has value to other teams because he is a physical monster. If teams want to pattern themselves after the last Cup winner and build a team of fearful size, then Rhino is your man. His upside is that of a steady stay at home defender who will bruise the opposition when prompted. He has an allure to his game that I feel the Habs must wait on for its upside to show and a full NHL season might accomplish that. I'm not sure the Canadiens would feel comfortable giving up on him before that upside is answered a bit more conclusively.
With Valentenko and Carle, it's harder to how soon they can become NHL regulars. The Hamilton Bulldogs have had a tough go of it so far this season, and it is mainly due to a thin defense and injuries at that position. Unless Florida has scouts who have followed these two players closely, it is doubtful that they would be Panther priorities in a trade with Montreal. It is said that Valentenko's play is more axed in the rugged defensive subtleties of the position, while Carle has good first pass instincts to go with a quarterback's reading of the game in front of him.
My thinking is that if an NHL GM is discussing the Habs defenseman prospects in trade talks, first rounder David Fischer is more likely on their radar. Seeing as how last season's top pick, defenseman Ryan McDonagh, is spoken of more highly than Fischer, then I would rather part with him over both 2006 draft counterparts Carle and Valentenko. Granted, it's just a hunch on my part. Defenseman take longer to mature into full time NHL'ers, so my thinking is to offer up the player who may be the furthest away.
The last componant of the deal suggested by T - Roy involves a first or second rounder.
My take is that a team should never trade a first rounder in what appears to be a strong draft.
Offer anything such as a flip of choices one or two years later, a pick conditional on a Cup win as Anaheim did in the Pronger trade, or future considerations on predetermined players that could be worked on at a later date.
Now in all fairness, in a devils advocate mode, let's slip into Jacques Martin's collar and Bob Gainey's shoes and try to sense and feel their way throught the deal that T - Roy has proposed.
Martin will say that he likes the upside on Latendresse, of course, but he dwells on his lack of footspeed.
He adds that without the top line centerman that he is parting with in Jokinen, the aquisition of Latendresse or Ryder doesn't presently improve his team down the middle.
Martin asks for Maxim Lapierre and Latendresse, but Bob Gainey balks at the idea of dealing two Quebec born players in the same deal. Gainey lightens his hold on first round picks offering the Panthers the option to flip picks on demand in any draft over the next three seasons.
Martin says that is barely a starter for him in this deal, but says that he will turn to the option later if needed.
The Florida coach discusses the trio of defenseman that Montreal are offering (O'Byrne, Carle, and Valentenko) and suggests that being they are unknown quanities, he would like his choice of any two.
Gainey steps back, and says that if Martin wants to reap the Habs farm, he'd better bring another player into discussion with Jokinen.
Talks turn to Ryan McDonagh, and Gainey bluffs of hanging up the phone. David Fischer is put on the table by Gainey, and Martin doesn't get flustered.
Martin goes back to Gainey's reluctance to part with both Latendresse and Lapierre and brings yet another name into the scenario. He suggest that if Gainey cannot part with the pair together, he wants Kyle Chipchura and Lapierre to rebuild his depth down the middle.
Martin also inputs that since he is backing off on the best prospect the Habs have tabled in Latendresse, he wants a shot at a Habs UFA in Mark Streit. He suggests that if Gainey were able to sign him to a three year contract extension at the right price, they could really move forward with this deal.
Gainey suggests that he has the cap room to offer Panthers restricted free agent defenseman Jay Bowmeester one alluring long term deal come July 1, 2008, and Martin gets a little less cocky.
Martin decides to play his cards, and offers Jokinen for Lapierre, Chipchura, Ryder, Streit, and Fisher for Jokinen, and offers to throw in the option of a Panthers second rounder or Richard Zednik to seal the deal.
Gainey hums and haws.
Martin goes back to the first round pick, Latendresse, Ryder, O'Byrne, and Fischer, and suggests that Gainey choose between either Lapierre or Chipchura to replace Ryder in the talks, and they have a deal. Martin reiterates that Gainey can choose between Zednik or the second rounder as add ins.
Gainey replies that he has more interesting and less costly options, but promises to get back to Martin in 48 hours.
Well, there you have it - a combined medling of four possible opinions: T - Roy West's suggestion for a trade, filtered through my take seen from the specualtive eyes of the GM's involved.
You, the reader, will surely have your own opinions on it.
I would relish hearing them all and reading about how you would tinker with the proposed deal.
Do you have other ideas?
I welcome your comments on this one.