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.