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Why Trade Sheldon Souray?

Under the NHL's present salary cap structure, hockey's trade rumour mongers haven't had much to proselytize over this season. God forbid the notion, they've almost had to make up their own! With less than a dozen players changing teams so far, phones aren't exactly ringing off the hook in the offices of GM's lately.

It got a little wacky a few weeks back when a nameless Nation's Capital scribe, who deserves to remain nameless, cooked up a beauty involving the stratospherically separated Blue Jackets and Canadiens. It had all the makings of a blockbuster deal. It was all the makings of hotdog helium.

Get this: Sergei (Inflated contract, washed up) Fedorov to the Habs for Janne (Wanna buy a vowel?) Niinimaa and Radek (Knob spelled backwards) Bonk. The guffaws were heard coast to coast. I won't even indulge in the nonsense of the deal's impossible improbability!

There is one trade rumour, however, that refuses to fade, again involving the Canadiens. In this case, where there is smoke, there is clearly nothing but smoke!

It surrounds and hounds Habs defenseman Sheldon Souray.

While most chatter of players being on the market are the usual rank underperformers and castabouts, Souray stands out and gets talked up as he is in the midst of a career year. Possibly even an All-Star season. He has become the prime sought out commodity of every league GM and trade pundit for many reasons.

What it boils down to is the Canadiens have but three NHL roster defensemen under contract for next season. Souray, Andrei Markov, and Craig Rivet are all unrestricted free agents. Mike Komisarek, who is making slightly under a million per season and performing up to expectations should receive his due upance.
Niinimaa, who is ironically the highest paid (2.5M) and least used, will be escorted out of Montreal by pidgeons at seasons end.

It is perceived that GM Bob Gainey will have trouble signing all three. That would depend on where his priorities are placed. Gainey never discusses a player's standing publically, leaving rumours to be pure fantasy and nothing more.

Now there is also the notion that Souray wants to be on the West coast. His off season home is in California. The gossip has long been that he wishes to be closer to his estranged infant daughter. While the wish is certainly true of any caring father, Souray hasn't as much to gain as most assume, as he has been granted the same standard visitation rights, with certain allowances, as any parent has. Living on West coast implies longer road trips and doesn't neccessarily solve that woe.

Relations with his ex-wife Angelica Bridges have not always been smooth, and perhaps being farther away has it's merits in that regard. Bridges has been known to become quite a headache for Souray in the past, with slanderous allegations and such.

As far back as last July, Souray was strongly denying he'd made any trade requests, stating he was quite happy being a Montreal Canadien. His on ice performance and leadership this season would attest to that.

The Canadiens current bind on defense revolves around a Markov signing. Markov, and a prickly Russian agent, have in the past given former Habs GM's cold sweats with signing negotiations that dragged on longer than the team would have liked. The importance of Markov to the team cannot be marginalized with mere offensive statistics. That importance clearly manifested itself to the team in the past whenever Markov was out of the lineup. The Habs instanly became brutal on defense, weaknesses and shortcomings exposed.

How much Markov could command from another team with more cap room than the Canadiens remains to be seen. It has been recently noted that the Russian defender is great friends with the Capitals Alexander Ovechkin. How alluring would that scenario be to him?

Even Souray, when prodded on the question a few weeks back, made no bones about the fact that Markov will be Gainey's most pressing priority. Souray suggested his needs came after that fact.

As far as defenseman Rivet goes, he would likely shed a second layer of skin to remain with the team. At roughly 2.4 million, he's a good bet to resign with little fuss and fanfare.

In the bigger picture of things, the Canadiens have $22,258,00.00 committed toward next seasons cap. It is not unreasonable to suggest that they attempt to resign all three defenseman.

The remaining unrestricted free agents next season are Bonk, Mike Johnson, and goalie David Aebischer. With the Canadiens being organizationally deep in forward strength and goaltending, moreso than defense, the accent surely will be placed on all three rearguards being resigned.

The Canadiens have five restricted free agents, with only Chris Higgins set to srike for gold. The others include Michael Ryder, Tomas Plekanec, Alexander Perezhogin and Komisarek.

Other than the 3 RFA's the Canadiens have possibly 24 million to divy up between the three blueliners and the youngters.

Hardly as bad as it seems, unless Markov and Higgins play hardball.

While Souray's name has been bantered about, gainey hasn't bitten on the rumoured trade bait. Names tossed in the melee have included Pavel Datsyuk, an RFA, who is underachieving while demanding bigger bucks from the Red Wings, and Markus Naslund, a UFA, of the Canucks, who has too often mentioned the possibility of finishing his career in Sweden.

Most tempting to Gainey in exchange for Souray, would be "can't miss" prospects, the likes of which are rarely offered up in trade talks.

While Gainey has listened to offers patiently and unpressed, the Canadiens have unexpectedly climbed in the standings. They are amongst the top three teams in the conference and place in the leagues overall top 5 on some given nights. If the Habs are not quite yet aspirants to the Stanley Cup, they have brought themselves closer to contention. gainey will hardly let the pursuit of the ultimate goal slip backwards.

Souray is a rare breed among defenseman. He brings a threatening arsenal of passing skills and a booming shot to the powerplay, which currently ranks as the leagues best - in no small due to Souray.

On the defensive side, Souray does tend to get augered into the ice by the odd dazzling speedster, but that is also true of many other less fleetfooted D-men. Despite the highlight reels showing him to be a periodic pylon, inside his own zone Souray handles to goings on better than most.

It's hard to find other defenseman with the same attributes. He's the prime reason the Habs powerplay is so killer - teams have become defenseless against that boomer blast he threatens with.

If teams concentrate on eliminating Souray's shot by playing him close, they invariably set up a 4 on 3, with Markov and the slippery Alex Kovalev moving nearer to the net. If teams drop back and box square, Souray gets his cracks - and it's been seen what he can do. Teams are damned if they key on him and damned if they don't. Without him, the habs are not the same threat.

Bob Gainey realizes all this, of course, knowing how irreplacable Souray's become.

Souray may well be thinking few other teams can offer him the same setup.

Did I mention he adores Montreal?

Souray isn't going anywhere soon or even remotely thereafter.