First off, welcome to my humble beginnings in the sports blogosphere. I'm not quite sure what I can add to the already exhaustive supply of sports opinions available out there, but I feel this will become a place where Habs fans can go for a unique take on their team. So let's get started.
Bob Gainey came out today and said he wasn't optimistic about Mats Sundin signing with the Canadiens whenever he decides to end this ridiculous game of cat and mouse he's calling a reflection on his career.
If Sundin had any interest in playing for the Habs, he would have signed on the dotted line by now. In June, his indecision regarding his future was a little easier to believe. But now? There's no reason to believe Sundin hasn't already made up his mind whether he will or will not play.
If he's decided not to play, he's done a disservice to the teams waiting on him to move forward finalizing their rosters for the upcoming season.
On the other hand, if he has decided he'll play - which is the likeliest of scenarios - why on earth would he have not come out with it? The only possible reason is the team he wants to play for can't really welcome him into the fold just yet. Of the teams that are known to be interested in his services, only the Rangers and Flyers don't have the available cap space to accomodate Sundin's potential salary demands, and it appears to be common knowledge that Sundin loves New York.
Both Gainey and Guy Carbonneau - speaking to reporters at the latter's charity golf tournament - said they are prepared to move on without Sundin, though Gainey was a little more reluctant to go that far.
What Gainey did say of interest was that should Sundin choose to sign elsewhere or retire, he would start looking toward teams that need to shed salary to get under the cap in order to grab another player.
In my book, Gainey is already very well advanced in those talks if he decided to divulge that kind of information to one of my pesky colleagues (in this case, omnipresent RDS reporter Renaud Lavoie).
So, with that in mind, let's play a fun little game of speculation and try to out figure out where exactly Gainey may be looking to grab an extra piece of the puzzle.
First off, can we all agree that he would be looking for another centre to provide some offence and win faceoffs, seeing as that is the role Sundin would have filled in Montreal were he not so wishy-washy?
According to nhlscap.com, there are currently six teams over the $56.7 million salary cap: the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals.
We can eliminate the Flyers and Capitals as potential trade suitors because both those teams hope to be competing with the Canadiens in an eventual playoff run (though Gainey had no problems handing the Leafs the Cup by shipping them Mikhail Grabovski this summer, but I digress).
That leaves the Ducks, Flames, 'Hawks and Sharks as potential trade partners, and of those teams, I only see three guys in the running to fill the Habs' hole at centre.
The Flames are overrun with capable centres, and could possibly be willing to part with Craig Conroy for very little. Conroy's a good faceoff man, but I don't think he has the legs to keep up with any of the potential linemates he would have on the Habs. Someone who would on the Flames is Matthew Lombardi, but I highly doubt Darryl Sutter would give him up without demanding at least a good, young roster player in return. In any case, shedding Conroy's $1.05 million salary would not solve the Flames' cap woes.
The rumours of Patrick Marleau's trade to the Habs have been nauseatingly constant over the last two years, but he's another guy that would slide in nicely on the Habs, assuming he could bounce back from his atrocious season last year (I had him in my pool, so I'm still seething a little). Marleau's also pretty good in the faceoff circle and he's an obvious talent, but the Sharks have no reason to do something this drastic, seeing as they're only about $225,000 over the cap. Trading away $6.3 million in salary would be a bit of overkill, and frankly, I'm not sure Gainey wants the risk of that contract on the books for the next two years for a guy who only had 48 points and was a minus-19 last year.
So that leaves who I feel is the ideal candidate for Gainey to go after once Sundin lets the world know he has no desire to play in Montreal. That would be the Blackhawks' Robert Lang.
He is the ideal Plan B in this situation, in that he provides nearly everything Sundin would.
He won 53.1 per cent of his faceoffs last year - higher than any of the centres on the Canadiens - and he's a right-handed shot, just like Sundin and unlike Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec.
Lang does turn 38 in December, making him a year older than the Swedish one, but at $4 million for one season he is far more affordable and would provide Gainey some wiggle room to make a move at the deadline. Even in terms of size, Lang (6-foot-3, 216 pounds) is not as far as you would think from Sundin (6-foot-5, 231).
Lang's been extremely consistent since firmly establishing himself as an NHL player in 1998-99. That season, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, was the only one where Lang did not score at least 50 points, and last season he had a more than respectable 54 points playing for a non-playoff team. The '98-'99 and '99-'00 were the only ones in the last 10 years where Lang has been a minus player.
The question here is how much would it cost to get him to Montreal? The 'Hawks are only $416,000 above the cap, but that's with just 10 NHL forwards under contract, and even that's a stretch because one of them is Ben Eager. Chicago is not exactly swimming in talent up front, and losing Lang as a second-line centre would be a definite blow to the team's depth up the middle because Patrick Sharp would have to play centre full-time (he's listed as a winger, but he took the third most face-offs on the team last year).
Lang would, in all likelihood, require a roster player and a forward prospect in return, which may be a price that Gainey is unwilling to pay. But the alternative - having both Maxim Lapierre and Kyle Chipchura among the top four centres - is not all that attractive either.