Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What's behind door No. 2, and can the Habs afford it?

It's looking pretty likely that the Habs will be looking to make a big splash on their home turf at this weekend's NHL draft.

GM Bob Gainey told The Gazette's Pat Hickey that he probably won't be signing any of his 10 unrestricted free agents until after the draft, which, as Hickey points out, leads to the possibility that Gainey does not want to tie up any of his money before attempting to swing a big trade this weekend.

Of course, everyone naturally assumes that Vincent Lecavalier would be the target of just such a deal, but based on our experience with Gainey I think it would be far more prudent to expect the unexpected. This is a man that rarely follows conventional wisdom.

But the fact remains that Lecavalier would fill the glaring need for a big No. 1 centre, and being a local boy of pur laine descent would make it a slam dunk.

But I was wondering what else might be out there on the trade market, a name that's a little further off the radar.

Well, one would be Patrick Marleau, who also fills the Canadiens needs and, even though he's an anglo from Saskatchewan, at least has a Francophone name (that counts for something, no?). Marleau has two years left on his contract with a cap hit of $6.3 million, which is far easier to digest than 11 years and $85 million for Lecavalier, especially for a man with a cautious nature like Gainey.

Marleau, 6-2, 220, played some wing this past season but is a natural centre who is responsible in his own end, which would please new head coach Jacques Martin. There is some question as to Marleau's stones come playoff time considering the Sharks consistent inability to go anywhere in the spring. For his career, Marleau has produced 0.7 points per game, a number that dips to 0.66 in the playoffs.

Still, he remains an elite-level talent and the Sharks are pretty tight against the cap this summer with $46.8 million committeed to 13 players, with Ryan Clowe headed to restricted free agency. Also, it's clear that Doug Wilson wants to change the image of his team, and he has dealt with Gainey in the past. Let's hope he forgets that Gainey totally bamboozled him in prying Josh Gorges and a first-rounder that turned into Max Pacioretty from him for Craig Rivet.

Shawn Horcoff is another name we've heard linked to the Habs in the past, and he is coming off a pretty horrendous season with the Oilers. Horcoff is about to start a six-year, $33 million contract, is not an elite centre by any stretch of the imagination, and he'll be 31 in September so he's not exactly a young pup. But he has had a couple of near point-per-game seasons and could benefit from a change in scenery. Still, I wouldn't endorse a move like this because he is way overpaid for a player of his stature.

Finally, there's the walking trade rumour Olli Jokinen in Calgary, whose arrival there kind of triggered the demise of a team that was on a considerable roll. Jokinen is entering the final year of a $5.5 million a year deal, and while he consistently produces big numbers, the general consensus that he's a bad teammate makes him a pretty unattractive target in my books.

Otherwise, there isn't a whole lot out there that may be available in terms of a big centre, but a few big names at other positions could still be in play.

Let's start in Atlanta and Columbus, where both Ilya Kovalchuk and Rick Nash are entering the final year of their contracts. Both will command mega contracts and both will likely be tempted to see if the grass is greener elsewhere, considering it's puke yellow where they both play now. The Thrashers and especially the Blue Jackets would be throwing away this season by trading their respective franchise players, but they could both get far more value for them now than they would at the trade deadline, and seeing as neither has hopes of winning the Stanley Cup this year a trade could be in the cards.

Finally, there are a handful of impact restricted free agents that could be too pricey for their current teams and could be swapped on the Bell Centre floor Friday evening. Jack Johnson, Phil Kessel and Travis Zajac are the most high-profile of the bunch, but players like Tuomo Ruutu and Anton Babchuk in Carolina, Brandon Dubinsky in New York, David Booth in Florida, Denis Grebeshkov in Edmonton, Colby Armstrong in Atlanta and Clowe in San Jose are all useful players and could be in play this weekend.

But as far as the Habs are concerned, I find it hard to believe that they would have the assets to attract too many of the players discussed here. Let's assume Gainey would not want to trade either Carey Price or Andrei Markov, simply because without those two players there's no point bringing in a star player because the team would be horrible.

What else is there to offer? Andrei Kostitsyn still has some trade value, apparently, despite his troubles this season, but is he enough to serve as the centrepiece of a blockbuster trade for a Lecavalier, Kovalchuk or Nash? Is Christopher Higgins, for that matter, or Tomas Plekanec?

Quite simply, no single player the Habs could offer would be enough to justify the return of a superstar, but what the Canadiens can do without toally crippling their system is offer a package of three or four young, cheap players a team could insert in its lineup to increase its depth. I can't see the Blue Jackets going for something like that, but the Thrashers are so desperate for NHL-calibre players they may very well be convinced, especially since Kari Lehtonen is a restricted free agent and someone like Jaroslav Halak could be valuable.

But the Lightning also fall into the same category as the Thrashers in so far as Tampa could use two or three young defencemen, which is a commodity the Canadiens just happen to have in abundance.

Tune in this weekend, there should be some fireworks.


Anonymous said...

If I was a betting man, and I am, I would have to say that Gainey will pull a rabbit out of his hat, but most
likely a 3 team trade. What I would really like is to see a trade with the kings to bring in J. Johnson then turning and sending him in a package with Chipchura and prospect for Jordan Stall, sign Komi, Tanguy and Beauchem. That would be a great start! what do you guys think.

kyleroussel said...

I think Gainey's on the brink. Does he trade away prospects, picks and young talent for a star now? Or does he let the team be horrid for a year and look for a franchise player in the next draft?

I think he has to stay away from Lecavalier at all costs. That contract, in addition to what it would cost in roster players, picks and prospects make him totally prohibitive.

Though I can see a scenario where a GM other than Gainey would do that deal, and use that as his swan song as he resigns or gets fired.

Andy J Smith illustration said...

Trading Chipchura? To where? Package him with Mathieu Carle and the return would be what? A 3rd rounder for the lot??

Sliver24 said...

I think Gainey needs to do everything in his power to bring Lecavalier to Montreal and to slap a C on his chest.

When's the last time we had a bona fide, died in the wool superstar in Montreal that didn't spend the entire night standing on blue paint?

I'll tell you when: 1984, when Guy Lafleur retired. That's a long, long time ago folks.

The fact that he's local and French is awesome too. If nothing else we'll at least get a break from all the ridiculous whining we've been subjected to over the past decade and a half.

My feeling is that Gainey will be given a chance to get this team back to its winning ways of 07/08 but that the timeline will be relatively short.

While I've always respected Gainey's cautions approach I've also often wished he'd be a little more aggressive. Maybe a little uncertainty in the status of his own job will give him the little nudge he needs to finally make something big happen.

That and the fact that none of the ones that have gotten away in the past - from Shanahan to Briere - have been nearly as big as the fish he potentially has a chance to hook right now.

pfhabs said...

Sorry Siver24 I have to disagree. this team is NOT 1 impact player away from the 3rd round let alone the Cup finals...Vinny's contract is a team crushing 11 years, no trade and $7.27 million cap hit PLUS roster players and prospects...too much even for le ti gars du chez nous. I find it amusing that off a terrible year that so many Canadiens fans think that a impact player of Vinny's stature will do anything more than frustrate those that want him the most. trading Subban, Pacioretty, McDonaugh who will be cap friendly for 5-7 years for a guy with 2 major injuries, cap unfriendly contract with no supporting cast in place is a dumb idea. open your eyes this is a bubble team with lots of holes already and not including Koivu, Komisarek and others not being signed...Vinny ne marche pas !

Sliver24 said...

While I agree, pfhabs, that Gainey shouldn't sell the farm to get Lecavalier, he should certainly be very aggressive in his pursuit.

Look back at the Stanley Cup winners over the last decade and you'll notice that they all have something in common: star centres.

This year the Pens had Crosby and Malkin (you could also include Jordan Staal). Detroit had Datsyuk and Zetterberg in '08. Anaheim had Andy McDonald (scoring a point a game that season) and Ryan Getzlaf in '07. In 2006 the 'Canes won with Eric Staal and Cory Stillman (he scored a point a game that year).

The '04 Lightning were led to the promised land by none other than Vinny with Cory Stillman once again contributing a point per game.

You have to go back to 2002-03 to find a Cup-winning team that didn't have at least one stud down the middle and that team was the New Jersey Devils. No explanation needed there, I'm guessing.

Vinny Lecavalier is one of those players that can lead a team to the promised land. He's done it before so there's no doubt about it.

On top of that the fact that the players you mentioned will be so affordable for the next several years only means that a trade for Vinny makes more sense. We'll be able to afford him!

Now if we could also somehow manage to keep Saku Koivu around as the second line centre (bye bye Plek) we'd have the makings of a championship team.

pfhabs said...

Sliver24...agree with your idea that you need a star/impact #1 centre and Vinny fits that bill BUT:

1. in a cap world $7.27 for 11 years is excessive and Vinny is already 30 yrs old and 2 major surgeries

2. the last 4 cup winners had great supporting cast. where on the Canadiens do you see a Malkin & Staal; a Datsuyk, Hulder; Perry & McDonald as supporting Crosby, Zetterberg and Getzlaf

3. on D we have only Markov...the idiot Bob has probably lost Komisarek; so where is our Pronger & Beauchemin supporting Neidemeyer; where is our Raphalski, Erriccson & Stuart supporting Lidstrom; where is our Letang, Gill, Scuderi supporting Gonchar

4. in goalie Giguere, Ward, Fluery and Osgoode were playing at the top of their game...Carey has some maturing to do before he's at their level

-so my point is do not waste prize prospects on Vinny because he has no supporting cast in Montreal as did the impact centres of Crosby, Zetterberg, Getzlaf & Staal had in their Cup winning years

-let the prospects play , develop and in 2-3 years we'll be cup contenders otherwise we waste prized, cap friendly front line prospects to fulfill a marketing plan not a Cup winning plan...

I want them to win another Cup not sell more jerseys

Anonymous said...

pfhabs, you have a strong argument, and i've never been on the 'bring vinny home' bandwagon, but i also think it makes sense to dip into an overload of defensive prospects to land a player of vinny's talent.

our team is not so far gone that an impact center wouldn't improve our current roster (as it stands, i suppose). lecavalier-koivu is a darn good tandem with lapierre coming into his own.

as for the contract, it's darn scary, especially after an injury-filled season, but at least it's front-loaded...

that said, i'm thankful we have a boat-load of prospects coming up the ranks because our d is crap. i just wish they were more nhl-ready and could help the team now. i'd rather give up some of that depth (that's what it's there for) to get the impact player we desperately need, whether it be vinny or not, and then hope we can land a beauchemin-type player on the market.

if i had my choice, i'd overpay for bouwmeester and not bother with vinny but that's just me.


pfhabs said...

there is a bucket full of reasons to have canned Gainey already but given the timing we have whom we have...lets see what he does between now and the 1st of July... highly doubt Bouwmeester would sign in Montreal he wants to go home (aka Alberta), Beauchemin is a possibility but we lost him once already in waiver draft for Columbus. if we lose Komisarek we're in deep do-do on D as Subban, McDonagh and Weber are not NHL ready but all will be solid NHLers in time and I rather have those guys for the next 5-7 years than a fading and breaking down star who is already showing cracks...DEFENCE wins championships