It's mid-July, meaning it's that time of year when what looks to be the most minor hockey news around can be stretched and prodded and spun to mean just about anything.
Take for instance today's announcement that the Canadiens signed veteran backup netminder Curtis Sanford to a two-way, one-year contract.
A reasonable assessment of the deal would be that Sanford was brought in to replace Marc Denis as the starter in Hamilton and occasional emergency backup with the big club.
But really, what fun is reasonable in the dead of summer?
No, what would be far more entertaining would be to say that Sanford was brought in to replace Jaroslav Halak as Carey Price's backup in Montreal because Halak will be packaged in an effort to bring in a big name player, say one of the Patricks, either Sharp or Marleau.
Since I make every effort to entertain while I inform, let's just go with that hypothesis for a while, shall we?
First of all, Sanford is not a spectacular goalie, but he's a capable backup who could spell Price for 15 to 20 games this season if need be.
Seeing as Price is obviously going to be the guy this team will be banking on for the foreseeable future, having Halak around is a major luxury. He's cheap and he's good enough to be the starting goalie on, by my count, about 12 teams in the NHL. But it's clear that will never happen in Montreal, and considering his age (24) and minuscule cap hit ($775,000) Halak is a pretty valuable trade chip.
This is where Chicago becomes interesting because it was clear last year that Joel Quenneville does not have loads of confidence in Cristobal Huet, who was paid $5.625 million to watch Nikolai Khabibulin backstop the 'Hawks to the conference final.
Chicago has loads of salary cap issues and can't afford to go sign a pricey veteran to compete with Huet, so someone like Halak should be right up their alley. Meanwhile, Sharp accounts for a $3.9 million cap hit, which is a steal for someone who scored just under a goal every two games over the past two seasons, can kill penalties and can play both centre and wing.
But, much like Halak is a luxury in Montreal, Sharp looks like he may be in the same boat in Chicago because of the impending doom facing the team when Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith all hit restricted free agency next summer (Of course, if Price has a breakout season the Habs could be facing the same situation regarding his next contract as well).
There are reports out of Chicago that Sharp is being shopped, with one report specifically stating there have been discussions with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But unless the Blackhawks would be willing to give up Sharp for just Halak and some picks or prospects, there wouldn't be too much cap relief going back. Halak and Tomas Plekanec's combined salaries would likely top $3 million. Guillaume Latendresse could be interesting to Chicago at only $803,000, but he'll be eligible for salary arbitration next year, which is when Chicago needs the cap space.
But the Blackhawks do need a sixth defenceman so perhaps Josh Gorges would be a possibility, because that would clear $2 million off the books for Chicago while also filling a pressing need with a good, young, cheap player.
As far as Marleau is concerned, the only reason I could see interest in Halak there is that the Sharks plan on trading impending free agent Evgeni Nabokov, who appears willing to waive his no trade clause if asked. There's no backup to Nabokov signed as of yet, so I suppose Halak could be brought in to fill that role and serve as insurance should San Jose lose Nabokov as a free agent next summer.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson promised big changes for his playoff-choking team this offseason, yet did nothing in free agency aside from re-signing Ryan Clowe and Rob Blake for $7 million, which put San Jose right up against the salary cap.
At a salary of $6.3 million in the final year of his contract, trading Marleau would give Wilson some financial latitude while also allowing Joe Pavelski to take on a more prominent role on the team. Perhaps a package of Halak and Plekanec could entice Wilson to budge, a deal like that providing more than $3 million in cap space while taking on a centre who had a 69-point season only two years ago and has scored at least 20 goals in each of the least three years.
Marleau has yet to be approached about his own NTC, but I would have to imagine he wouldn't stand in the way if he was sent to a winning team.
Is Montreal that team? Not right now, but it could be next season just as easily as it could be a team scratching and clawing its way into the playoffs. That uncertainty would change in a hurry with the addition of either Sharp or Marleau, which would instantly make the Canadiens a very strong contender in the east.