With the news Monday from TSN that Mats Sundin is apparently going to decide between the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, it's pretty clear that the Montreal Canadiens are going to have to figure this thing out on their own.
Sundin remaining in the picture was the only hope the Habs had of improving the team, because I have trouble envisioning too many trade scenarios out there that would accomplish that.
I'm hearing a lot more fans starting to clamour for a major shake-up of some sort, like trading Alex Kovalev, for instance. But wth the makeup of the team and all the impending free agents right now, there's no reason for another team to take one of those guys off Bob Gainey's hands, at least not in exchange for something of equal immediate value that could be plugged right into the lineup.
Unrestricted free agents generally get traded away for draft picks or prospects, and there are very few instances where that's not the case. One that comes to mind is the Marian Hossa trade last year, where Atlanta was able to pry Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen and Angelo Esposito out of Pittsburgh. But that situation was unique because Hossa was clearly the most sought-after trade target in the league, and also because he's one of the best players on the planet.
The Canadiens have a lot of good players that could interest teams, but no one with the marketability of a Marian Hossa. So let's say Gainey puts out feelers for what he could get for Kovalev after his slow start to the season. Since Mike Milbury is no longer an NHL GM, I can't see anyone running a team right now that would give up an NHL-ready, impact player in exchange, especially since there would be no guarantee Kovalev will re-sign in the summer.
Same thing goes for Alex Tanguay, Saku Koivu and Robert Lang.
The only potential UFA with any trade value is Mike Komisarek, and I highly doubt Gainey would consider moving him unless the deal presented to him truly blew him away, a deal that would have to include a top-pair defenceman coming back.
Impending restricted free agents like Tomas Plekanec, Christopher Higgins and even Guillaume Latendresse had some pretty decent trade value prior to this season, but that value has gone in the tank as none of those players have done anything this season that would interest a trade partner.
So the Habs and their fans better not be waiting for the cavalry to come in, because it simply isn't.
Well, that's not entirely impossible, but it's very unlikely when it comes to the group of forwards. I still believe Gainey could get a good return for Jaroslav Halak, especially the way he's played the last three games, despite losing two of them. And there is a rich stable of prospects in the system that could be used to entice Jacques Martin to send Jay Bouwmeester to Montreal, but that would go against a deeply-entrenched philosophy Gainey has had from the start to build from within.
Personally, I don't see Gainey doing anything because as dire as some people feel the situation surrounding the team is, I'm not sure he's in desperation mode quite yet.
First of all, the Habs are fifth in the conference with a 16-8-3 record. They've done this with the league's 29th ranked power play and a middle-of-the-pack penalty killing unit, and I can't see the power play being this bad all year. They probably won't lead the league (OK, definitely won't lead the league), but if it were clicking at, say, 15 per cent instead of its current 12.4 per cent, the Habs would have at least a couple more wins and an 18-6-3 record would be nothing to sneeze at.
The second reason is that the Canadiens have survived the loss of Mike Komisarek relatively unscathed, riding a 7-5-3 record in his absence going into Tuesday night's game in Carolina. Going into the year it was generally accepted that the Habs could not afford to lose Komisarek, Andrei Markov or Roman Hamrlik for any extended period of time, but they just did lose one of them and they managed to play better than .500 hockey.
Those two factors tell me that the Canadiens have a lot of improving to do, and there's room to do it. Except that improvement will not come from some external source, but rather from the players and coaches already in place who need to find a way to climb out of this funk they're in.