We've passed 10% mark of the season and our team is 8-1-1. Despite this great start out of the gates, I still think we're capable of playing better. Do I mean 10-0-0? Of course not. Even the great Canadiens team of 1976-1977 lost a couple games despite having nine future Hall of Famers in their lineup.
What I'm looking for is for the team to play some a solid 60 minutes every night for a least a few games in succession. And that is admitted picking of nits on my part, as I'm optimistc that will come in time as the team is young and is gelling with new players in the lineup (Tanguay, Lang, Laraque). Overall, I'm pleased with the team and don't see the need for any major changes. I think a couple of players are capable of stepping it up (Kovalev, Plekanec, A. Kostitsyn, Higgins, O'Byrne) but if the Islanders game was any indication that may no longer be an issue. Well, at least the forwards.
Recently at the Habs Inside/Out Summit, it was brought up that we might need a solid 4th man on defence, as O'Byrne is taking longer to develop and Brisebois, Bouillon, Gorges are not capable (each for their own reasons) to take that slot yet. Or ever. It was also suggested that one can never have enough offence, so a player like Gaborik would be a great addition too.
Naturally, this is all hypothetical but as this blog is focussed on the discussion of all things Montreal Canadiens here is a perspective from the peanut gallery. The question is whether Bob Gainey would pull a blockbuster trade to get a Marian Gaborik type of forward or Jay Boumeester type of defenceman? There are really two ways to look at this kind of scenario:
OPTION 1: Go for broke. It's our centennial season and we have to win a cup this decade. Roll the dice at the trade deadline and trade from your stable of prospects and young players for a key player who would hopefully help you win a Stanley Cup. The last decade or so has been painful and only recently do we seem to have recovered from the horrible hangover that was due to the destructive Rejean Houle / Mario Tremblay duo.
Ultimately, Monsieur Gaborik and Monsieur Boumeester are all UFA's at the end of the year, so in all likelihood we will lose them in the off season like Pittsburgh did with Hossa last year, if we pulled the trigger on a deal for them.
Was the Hossa trade a failure for Pittsburgh?
Any trade must be evaluated from a short term and long term perspective. From a long term perspective it was a failure, as Hossa is no spring chicken and he left for Detroit after a long (albeit singular) playoff run. From a short term perspective, I believe the Penguins failed as well. They did reach the Stanley Cup finals, but that was just short of their ultimate goal, and subsequently they lost Hossa as a UFA. They came close, but close only counts in horseshoes and things that go boom.
So for a run to the Stanley Cup finals, the Penguins lost Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and a draft pick and ended up this season with Pascal Dupuis.
Was that worth it?
Well, with all due respect to Mr. Dupuis, I don't think so. Granted, the Penguins managed to weather the loss of all those players plus others who became UFAs (Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque, Ryan Malone, Mark Recchi) at season end because the have a core group of NHL superstars such as Crosby, Malkin, Stall and Fleury. But one can't help but think the Penguins would be even stronger this season if they hadn't made that trade.
As a Canadiens fan, I'm thrilled Pittsburgh made that trade.
OPTION 2: Keep your gunpowder dry. Bob Gainey could elect to do nothing so far, given the 8-1-1 record.
However, the Habs have a ton of players who will be UFAs next year such as Koivu, Kovalev, Tanguay, Komisarek, Dandenault, Begin and Bouillon. Not to mention Higgins and Plekanec are becoming RFAs. As much as we would like it, we are not going to keep all of them considering we have only $1M or so in free cap space this year.
Mike Komisarek is in line for a big raise, which you could probably offset with the departures of Dandenault, Begin and Bouillon plus change, provided his agent doesn't get greedy and he doesn't wish for a return to the NY area. One would be very naive not to think that the Rangers, Islanders and Devils will all make a serious run to sign him if afforded the opportunity. If we signed Komisarek for $5M per season, I think that would be a steal. He's big, he's tough, he's mean and he's a leader. It's been years since we have had someone on defence like him, but I digress.
Beyond our big beheamouth on defence, it really depends if we could convince Koivu, Kovalev and Tanguay to stay for another tour of duty. They are all key components and hopefully they will give us a hometown discount, but one never knows.
Koivu is a winner and has a lot of pride. If he didn't win the Stanley Cup this season and wanted to try his chances with another team I wouldn't fault him after playing on so many horrible Habs teams.
Tanguay is a magnificent player to watch, but let's see how a full season in the spotlight as a francophone player in la Belle Province will treat him. I'm skeptical when you have lunatics like the gang on 110% from TQS screaming on the airwaves every night, or being stalked all the way into the hospital by those sleazebags from the Journal de Montreal.
With Kovalev, I think we have the best chance of resigning him as he has indicated he wants to stay in Montreal, and he would be a good player for all our young Russian players and prospects. Hopefully we can go three for three but who knows?
Lastly, we better hope that a team like Edmonton doesn't make a run at Higgins or Plekanec like they did with Thomas Vanek or Dustin Penner a couple years ago. We then either lose the RFA player in exchange for some draft picks or we have to match the salary offer and then our cap situation is screwed. Another difficult factor is if the Canadian dollar continues its downward spiral. We pay our contracts in U.S. dollars and our revenues are in Canadian currency.
In light of these various free agent question marks, I think there could be some significant turnover. Therefore, that is where our prospects will be extremely important, as they can help fill potential gaps. Even if Gainey rolled the dice and made a run this year, I don't think it should be made simply on sentimental reasons because its our 100th anniversary, but rather because its the right business move to make for the team.
I realize this may generate some criticism from mes confreres/consoeurs, but I think our biggest advantage is the depth we have developed in the quality and quantity of prospects we have.
Lastly, I find Montreal Canadien fans live in a fantasy world sometimes.
Just because you can pull off a trade on NHL 2008 on your Xbox doesn't mean Bob Gainey can pull it off in real life. Therefore a potential Dandenault, Chipchura, Boullion trade for Boumeester is never going to happen. You have to put yourself in the position of the opposing General Manager.
I was the Florida Panthers GM Jacques Martin, and the phone rang with Bob on the other end and he wants to land your top defenceman, you tell him that you want Chris Higgins or Max Pacioretty AND Ryan McDonough AND Jaroslav Halak AND a 1st or 2nd round pick.
You may not get it, but you definitely ask for it. If the situation was reversed, I'd expect Bob to do the exact same thing.
So at the end of the day, unless Bob Gainey can pull another Alex Kovalev for Josef Balej and draft pick type of trade, we sit and hold with the cards we have.
Candidly, I like our hand both for this round, but the next one as well.
Photos of the Montreal Canadiens courtesy of Habs Inside Out.