Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The defence is good, but...

...wouldn't the Canadiens be a really strong contender not only to make the Cup final, but to actually win the thing if there were just one more solid defender in their top four?

Ryan O'Byrne's been pretty good thus far, I love Josh Gorges and Francis Bouillon brings it every time he's on the ice. But none of those guys, even at their best, is a legit top-four defenceman on a contending team. At least not right now.

What got me thinking about this was how the Colorado Avalanche have lost three straight games to start the year, and probably should have won at least two of them. The Avs scored four goals on the normally stingy Boston Bruins in their home opener, but lost 5-4 despite allowing only 20 shots. Colorado gave up only 19 shots against the Oilers, and lost 3-2. Finally, Colorado lost last night 5-4 in Calgary.

For those who have lost count, that's 13 goals allowed in three games, and they came off only 74 shots. That smell tickling your nose right now is the play of Peter Budaj in the Colorado net, he of the very mediocre .903 save percentage last year, and the downright atrocious .824 mark through three games this year.

I believe the Avs probably fashion themselves a playoff team (I don't) and watching Budaj stink it up like this early on has to have GM François Giguère a tad concerned, especially since option number two is Andrew Raycroft.

So what does this have to do with the Habs defence? Well, I'm sure Giguère would listen if an offer of Jaroslav Halak were to come his way right about now, and he's got a blueliner that might just interest Bob Gainey (I don't pretend to know what does and doesn't interest Gainey, all I'm saying is that if I were him, I'd at least listen).

Jordan Leopold has had a tough couple of seasons in Colorado, playing only 58 games over that span while he's fought off issues with his hip, wrist, a lacerated leg, pneumonia, a concussion, a hernia and a groin pull. That's a long list of ailments, but he's saying he's completely healthy (what else would he say?), and if he is Leopold is a very talented player.

Remember, this is a guy who was traded for Alex Tanguay basically straight up only two years ago, and during his time with Calgary he was seen as a future star. If ever he finds that elsuive health, he could be a real bargain and a very valuable member of the Habs top four as an offensive threat from the back end. At $1.5 million this season, he'd also be affordable and could squeak in under the cap.

Another potential trade partner could be the Nashville Predators, because they are banking that Dan Ellis will be the man in goal this season. The Preds also fashion themselves a playoff team (I think they are), but they won't get there without solid goaltending. Ellis had a strong year last year (23-10-3, .924 save percentage, 2.34 GAA), but he's never been the uncontested number one guy and could crumble. Thus far this season, he's 2-1-0 with an .881 save percentage and a 2.61 GAA .

The Predators are, quite frankly, hogging good, young defencemen right now with Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhuis. I don't think any of those guys are really touchable, and the Canadiens can't get them under the cap in any case. One guy they could probably get their hands on would be Greg Zanon, who comes with a bargain-basement cap hit at $725,000 and would slide under the Habs cap very easily (Halak has a $775,000 cap hit).

Zanon is basically a poor man's Mike Komisarek, so adding him on the Roman Hamrlik pairing would make the Habs a really formidable defensive club. Zanon led the Preds with 176 blocked shots last season, the seventh highest total in the league. With him and Komisarek in the lineup every night, Carey Price may start complaining that he's not getting enough work. Zanon also had 160 hits last season, which is 106 fewer than Komisarek had but was still 30th in the league.

Now, a lot of you may be saying that keeping Halak would be the prudent thing to do in order to spell Price during the regular season and act as insurance in case of another playoff meltdown. But I would say that's the wrong way to approach anything, and if Price isn't up to the task the Habs aren't going anywhere in any case. Also, Marc Denis should be a decent backup, and if not him then Cédrick Desjardins may even be able to fill the role.

But keeping Halak on the bench for 60 games a year is a waste of a very valuable asset, one the Canadiens could use to take their team from Stanley Cup contender to Stanley Cup favourite.


Anonymous said...

We can do better than Greg "Warren" Zanon for Halak. Pretty sure. Look, you called the Lang trade so I'm guessing Halak shouldn't get too comfortable in Montreal. Though Mark Denis scares me. Halak doesn't. And I love Josh Gorges. I disagree that he couldn't be a top 4 defenceman on another team.

Yves said...

I love Gorges and Bouillon... if Bouillon was 6'04, he would be a total monster.

O'Byrne is developing.... I think that there are a few possibilities for a trade or 2, although I'm not sure what (if any) scenario would play out.

The Habs have some promising young D men.. but they're still not close enough to jump in the mix this year..

Up in the forwards, I could see a move being made. Especially if Pacioretty plays super in the AHL. He left an impression. And there are a few other guys who could come up and play.

But, I guess there's also an X factor to pulling off a trade early in the year. Last season we seemed to have little injury problems... and this year there were many small injuries coming out of the gate.

I would almost guess that if we see a move made this year it will be with the forwards. (maybe even for a D man)

I'm not sure how much value Halak presently has... but playing him more in the big league this year would certainly boost his value. (IMO)


My $0.02

Game on!
Go Habs!

Anonymous said...

Some interesting D propositions but wouldn't trade Halak straight up for either. Leopold & Zanon both sound interesting but if we get another D, I would hope he would be a right hand shot as we have plenty of lefties in our D corps.

Halak has done well for us but he doesn't have much NHL experience and I think other teams would undervalue him. I prefer him as a backup to Marc Denis who did not impress during the pre-season. Desjardins needs to develop more in the minors rather than sitting on the Habs bench. Halak & Carey complement each other with their contrast in style which I think is a strength for our goaltending tandem.

Only way we trade Halak is if he's packaged with someone else and we get a D and a veteran goalie who doesn't mind being backup.

Arpon Basu said...

I agree that a right-handed shot would be ideal, but you have to realize that there are only 59 right-handed defencemen in the entire league right now, which works out to just under two per team. With Komisarek, O'Byrne and Brisebois, the Habs have exceeded their quota already.