Which Hab Will Be Surrendered?
When injured defenseman Mike Komisarek returns to the Canadiens active roster some time this week, it will place the Canadiens over the 23 player limit for NHL teams. Currently, the Canadiens are carrying the 20 players who dressed last Saturday against the Devils, plus sitouts Sergei Kostitsyn, Guillaume Latendresse, and Ryan O'Byrne. Komisarek's return will bring the count to 24, meaning that a body will be moved in one manner or another.
The speculation around the Habs is rampant at the moment regarding the options Canadiens GM Bob Gainey has. What brought the unforeseen situation about was the surprising recall and performance of winger Matt D'Agostini, who has three goals and an assist in four games with Montreal.
As D'Agostini has proven he belongs on the big club, it is more and more doubtful that he will be returned to Hamilton, at least not for the long term. His play has given the Canadiens and coach Guy Carbonneau an added element - a player who consistently heads for the net with the natural ability to convert rebounds into goals.
The options available for Gainey are somewhat limited. Only five players can be returned to the AHL Bulldogs without passing through waivers. The 160 games played entry level contract stipulations dictate that other than D'Agostini, Kostitsyn, O'Byrne, and goalies Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak are the only options. Latendresse, in his third campaign and well past his limits in games, would surely be claimed upon eventual re-entry. The goaltenders are obviously not in question.
With Kostitsyn and O'Byrne, Gainey surely senses delicate situations. O'Byrne's confidence is quite rightly at an all time low after scoring on his own net a few games back. He could benefit from playing large minutes in Hamilton, but it has already been judged by the organization that O'Byrne's challenge is at the NHL level. Similarly, Kostitsyn has little to prove there as well, but a move for disciplinary reasons is not entirely out of the question.
Initially, the Canadiens placed Kostitsyn and Latendresse in the press box as a wake up call of sorts, figuring a game spent out of action would return them quickly to hungier methods upon their return to the ice. D'Agnostini then shuffled the cards greatly, and Carbonneau has been given little choice other than to stick with line combos that finally appear to be gelling.
It's hard to imaging the Canadiens parting ways with either of these two forwards so soon into their careers. The upside on Kostitsyn has yet to be reached, and at 21, there is still no telling how good he could become. Additionally, there is the connection with older brother Andrei, and the Canadiens would be foolish to mess with team chemistry in such a way.
For Latendresse, the scenario is less precarious. He has been a project of the team for three seasons, and time may be running out on him. With D'Agostini seeming to fullfill what has long been sought of Latendresse, Montreal may be willing to surrender him for the right returns.
Curiously, D'Agnostini, Latendresse and Kostitsyn are all 21 years of age, having been selected in the 2005 Entry Draft. That is important to note, as the Canadiens have 11 free agents due contracts come July 1, 2009, and the probable eventuality is that these three assets will be required to replace larger minutes from whatever players happen to move on.
The ascention of D'Agostini, a restricted free agent at the same time, brings this issue to a head right, forcing Gainey to deal with upcoming realities sooner than he may have wished. Gainey, it can be esteemed, would certainly prefer to sacrifice players by his own choosing, rather than lose with no returns in July.
It is for this reason primarily, that a two for one trade scenario has come into perspective. As the Canadiens need to bring their body count down by one, the option is even more viable. Speculation concerning several Habs players is sure to intensify in the coming days prior to the Christmas trade freeze December 19th.
The names of Canadiens players not in the clubs long term plans will be bandied about, in addition those presently out of the lineup. Hard working forward Tom Kostopoulos and utility man Mathieu Dandeneault retain a certain worth for teams looking for depth. As professional as he has domonstrated, no one would cry over Dandeneault's departure except the player himself. Kostopoulos is a favorite among team mate, and his leadership and work ethic are of a high standard. The person and what he brings, more than the player and his production in this case, would be what would most be missed should he be sent in a deal.
Most folks with a sound opinion on how Gainey operates, would be surprised if he chose to move a younger asset over an older one at this time, however it is not entirely out of bounds. A name mentioned most often when it comes to obtaining a greater asset for the club is Chris Higgins, a player appreciated by many for all that he brings. A apckage involving Higgins could have some solid allure for potential trading partners. As Higgins has been rumoured to be on the move in the past (Thank you Cliff Fletcher!), the talk seemingly returns to him when such situations arise.
Higgins for his part, may only be guilty of having peaked too obviously early into his career. Upon being drafted in 2002 as a center, the initial projections for Higgins was at best a third line pivot who may occasionally hit for the 20 goal plateau. In his first full campaign in 2006, Higgins was a late season revelation and immediate fan favorite. Moved to the wing on Saku Koivu's line, he finished the season on a tear with 17 goals in his final 23 games.
The expectations for Higgins were the raised greatly, but he was slowed due to injuries the following season. After being limited to 22 goals that year, he accounted for 27 last season, and the bar for upside was maintained, if not raised in some estimations.
The numbers Higgins posts are far from the entire story, however. An energetic player when he is at his best, Higgins creates a much greater proportion of chances than he is able to convert on. Watching him play, his games are becoming similar testaments to his worth. He begins with tireless effort, but then seems to tire quickly and has a habit of giving into frustration. After trying in every which way to score, his level of play seems to follow his confidence.
Higgins is hardly a problem the Canadiens need to solve in a hurry. Having a third line winger as a consistent 20 goal man never is, but yet more seems to be expected of him, both from himself and the organization. Perhaps it was peaking too soon, that set the table for him being perceived for more than what he has always been.
The difficultly in determining what exactly to do with Higgins is complicated even more by his salary and status. Currently earning 1.9 M per season, he is one of five RFA's due raises in 2009. Given that Montreal has 10 UFA's in the mix, there are solid reasons for hanging onto to player whose value and salary are perhaps more easily determined than others at this point.
The entire situation that Gainey is in presently will get great airplay over the coming days. It will be interesting to watch how he wiggles his way through or around it. Knowing his sense for the dramatic, he'll likely go in an entirely unforeseen direction, or simply retrogade O'Byrne or D'Agostini by measure of caution for now.
What should Bob Gainey do about getting the Canadiens back to the 23 man roster limit?
|Send O'Byrne to Hamilton?||98|
|Send Sergei Kostitsyn to Hamilton?||28|
|Buy time by sending D'Agostini down, recalling him there is room?||24|
|Package another player with Higgins and make a two for one deal?||52|