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Who Could Leave?

Yesterday in Le Journal De Montreal, journalist Pierre Durocher took a look at which Canadiens players are most likely to be moved before the February 26 deadline. Of course not all, if any at all, will be moved, but Durocher's piece just seeks to explore the scenarios that could involve various players the Habs could part with should the cards of a progressive deal fall into place.

Rather than my usual transcription of a newsworthy piece from this paper, I thought I'd turn this entry into a type of point - counterpoint argument where I would analyze what Durocher sums up.

I don't neccessarily take the opposite point of view just for devil's advocate purposes. I agree or disagree and extend the thought into another area suitable for speculation and second guessing.

Durocher's words are in italics.

Have fun with it!

Habs fans will know in two weeks, 16 days to be exact, if Bob Gainey has been successful in his efforts to improve the team via a transaction before the February 26 trade deadline.

Last season at this time, Gainey sent defenseman Craig Rivet to the San Jose Sharks in return for Josh Gorges and a second round pick that turned out to be Max Pacioretty.

He also added Michael Leighton on waivers, though the goaltender was only dressed for a pair of games and saw no action. The Habs flipped the pick to the Carolina Hurricans for a 7th round pick that became USHS defenseman Scott Kishel.

At the time, it seemed that the Canadiens were perceived as throwing in the towel in the pursuit of a playoff spot.

Many onlookers felt the move was not the step forward they were hoping for.

Leading up to last year's deadline day, the watch was on for Sheldon Souray to be moved, but Gainey explained his decision to stick with his record breaking defenseman by declaring the Habs still in the race. He also stated that he did not want to deprive fans of a star player in the midst of a career year and reiterated the hope that could resign Souray in the off season.

Souray did set a power play goal record for defenseman in the Habs failed season, and departed for the Edmonton Oilers in the summertime. In hindsight, one can only guess if Gainey would have been able to add an element to the team that would be helpful today.

Such is the nature of speculation.

Canadiens fans are certainly hoping Gainey fares better this season as the stakes are higher, and the team more loaded with tradable assets.

For now, we can only look and speculate some as to who is most likely to no longer be wearing the bleu, blanc, rouge come the night of the 26th.

According to Le Journal De Montreal, the Habs untouchables are Andrei Markov, Alex Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec, Roman Hamrlik, Mike Komisarek, Carey Price, brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, Mark Streit, and Guillaume Latendresse.

I would hesitate to include Streit in with this group, and I sense that many would replace Latendresse with the name of forward Chris Higgins.

I won't disagree that this is where fans opinions would differ most.

Also, I find it absolutely dangerous not to consider goalie Cristobal Huet among the untouchables at this point. I'm not too crazy about how Le Journal is looking at Huet, but this will be disected in detail shortly.

Now let's go over the names of those most succeptible to leaving if the price is right.

MICHAEL RYDER: He represents without a doubt, Gainey's most assured trading value. Ryder's past stats work in his favor. Placed with the right center, Ryder could find his magic touch around the net again. Gainey has to be careful not to sell him for a song. He cannot repeat the error of the Ribeiro trade.

What Le Journal is saying in Ryder's regard is partially true - he could, combined with someone slick to feed him, become the player he was once before.

For myself, I quite doubt it will happen. Ryder is the same player he has always been, it is just that the rest of the league has caught up to this one trick pony. The best he'll ever be is a 20 to 25 goal man tops.

Still, it is Gainey's job to maximize the asset Ryder could still be. So far, no takers have been found that will offer Gainey more than a song. That says something about what other GM's think of Ryder. A second round pick would be great returns on him.

While it has been brought up - the Ribeiro trade was no mistake. No one in the Canadiens camp could stand the skinny little bugger for his attitude and lack of dedication.

From management to players, everyone was fed up of his act, and Gainey couldn't have gotten more from him based on the league wide low esteem of this selfish, self centered prima. Had there been a better offer out there, Gainey would have grabbed it. The hypocrite media who complain about the deal will never own up to wanting him offed as well. I don't care how many points he scores in Dallas, I don't miss him.

MATHIEU DANDENAULT: The Canadiens don't really have any place left for him and the versatile veteran could be of interest to many teams. Don't forget that Dandeneault has three Cup rings from his Detroit years. However, he has one year left on a deal that pays him 1.75 M, which makes him one expensive role player.

This is true enough, but if Dandenault cannot crack the Habs top six on defense, I would assume no contending team would see him as an upgrade at that position either. As a forward, what's the going crrency on seven goal scorers? As long as Dandy's salary outweighs his usefulness, he's staying put. I like him as an energetic fourth liner with the Habs as long he he stops requiring being sat out in order to get what's expected of him.

SAKU KOIVU: Our captain is having an off year. He seems tired. If Gainey were to decide to trade him for a younger player, what message would this send to fans dreaming of playoff success? Koivu is no longer the team's top pivot, but he is still a very good second line center. Who even knows whether Koivu would wave his no trade clause? Wade Redden wouldn't do it.

"Each case should be analyzed differently", suggest Koivu. "Redden surely has his own good reasons to want to remain a Senator. I've never thought about what I would decide to do if the Canadiens received an offer for me because the scenario has never produced itself".

If Koivu stays, he might have to swallow some pride in taking on a different role. The Canadiens would also have to properly manage his drop in play to make it all work.

My thinking is that people are getting way ahead of things in proclaiming Saku's decline. Yes, I will admit at times that it has been frustrating to watch him suffer this season, but Koivu has played on a suddenly disfunctional line. I think it is short sighted to blame a trio's problems on a steady and reliable vet who has always gotten the job done.

Explain how it is that he can have a career year last season, and now be on the downside of the hill?

His decade long commitment and dedication to the Canadiens cause should buy him at least another playoff round to set things straight. Koivu is usually at his best then, and it should make for a truer evaluation of where he is at before reviting the subject in the off season. Teams who generally upset chemistry on the eve of the playoffs rarely reap the benefits. The move would be better made at any other time.

CHRIS HIGGINS: If the Canadiens are dreaming of player in Marian Hossa's ball park, they may have to surrender a top player themselves. Chris Higgins might need to be let go of in such a case.

I agree with the sentiment, but I would hate to see him leave for anything less than Hossa. Higgins is a hard working character guy that isn't as easily replaced as one might think. Every player has slumps or off seasons in their career and they sometimes need to tolerated for the benefit of the talent to come.You have to ride it out and you can't just give up on a kid when he first plateau's. Higgins should get a lot better once he's over this hump.

CRISTOBAL HUET: A complex case for Gainey. Huet is an upcoming UFA and the Canadiens will need his services until Carey Price is indeed ready to assume the role of number one goalie. Gainey surely wants to keep Huet around another year, but Huet knows he'll get some good offers elsewhere. At his age, his priority will be security, first and foremost.

This is absolutely true. Gainey is running a risk by not trading him that is as tenuous as hanging onto him without a signed contract.

The solution is to sign him now to a multi year deal and gamble that trading a contracted Huet will bring them more later if they do than it would to deal him unsigned now. Of the three risks, the contract is the safest route - provided were not talking about Theodore type money.

RYAN O'BYRNE: Certain observers believe that the young defenseman could serve well as alluring trade bait. It's considered a safe enough scenario to depart with O'Byrne seeing as Pavel Valenteno, Mathieu Carle, and perhaps Alexei Yemelin are next up in the defensive pipeline.

I quite agree, although his size is not easily replaced. If he's the throw in that seals a good deal for Montreal then I'd not hesitate a second longer.

Le Journal did not mention the names, but other players of value not on the untouchable list who have good return value could include Max Lapierre, Jaroslav Halak, Josh Gorges, and Steve Begin.

For Lapierre, I wouldn't part with the young centerman unless it brought in another center with more upside through a package deal.

In Halak's case, his is tied to Huet's, and he won't be going anywhere until that more important case is solved either way. Gainey won't burn both ends of the candle.

Josh Gorges represents an interesting option for many teams. He's young, he comes cheap, and has a decent upside for a stay at home defenseman - all traits that explain why Gainey sought him. As defense is still the Habs achilles heel, I don't anything happening in this regard.

Steve Begin would be as loved in 29 other cities as he is in Montreal. He's in a sense irreplacable as I doubt the Habs could find another like him for his fetching value. I've always called Begin a captain without a "C".