OK, I tried, but I can't. I'm going to over-react my heart out.
Why? Because as I've stated previously, the Habs schedule from here until the Olympic break is treacherous. Because the Canadiens rivals for one of the bottom three Eastern Conference playoff berths all hold games in hand. Because this team has consistently shown that it is maddeningly inconsistent. Because losing a game when you give your best effort is one thing, but laying down in consecutive important games is an indicator of a far greater malaise than I think any Habs fan is willing to admit.
Well I, for one, am going to admit it. And I'm not going to pull out any excuses for it either. Believe it or not, the lack of an identified captain is not to blame for the Canadiens performance.
Neither is a supposed post-game locker room spat, because as Francois Gagnon of La Presse points out in his excellent blog post about the reported Andrei Markov-Carey Price showdown last week, the Habs won the next two games pretty convincingly. Furthermore, stuff like that happens all the time.
And finally, the back-and-forth debate over Jaroslav Halak and Price is not to blame either. How can goaltending be an issue when the team scores one goal in two games, and not one at even strength?
No, the issues this team face are rooted in other areas. Jacques Martin's coaching has become an issue of late, and that's normal when a supposed puck possession system remains in place even though the players are incapable of getting the puck. Or holding the puck. Or making a pass.
Scott Gomez alluded last night to a need to change the game plan, and then quickly absolved the coaching staff of blame. Well, it was too late by then. If a player ever - and I mean ever - says the words "game" and "plan" together in a sentence, it generally means the coach is cooked. I don't believe that to be the case here, but it's definitely not a good sign.
So, what to make of this horrible stretch of two games? I guess about the same importance I gave the previous two games. Never get too high and never get too low, athletes like to say. Except that the timing right now unfortunately does not allow for such rational level-headedness.
The Habs have eight games left before the Olympic break and, more importantly, the Olympic trade freeze of Feb. 12 at midnight. While some people appear to think that the freeze will serve as some sort of mini trade deadline, I believe it will have the opposite affect. Why would a team trade for a player on Feb. 12 when they can do it when the freeze lifts on Feb 28, thereby saving 16 days of that player's salary? For a $2 million a year player, that's a savings of just over $165,000 in salary. Also, if that player is going to play in the Olympics, why would you acquire him before the tournament?
Anyhow, my point here is that the March 3 trade deadline is only three days after the Olympic trade freeze is lifted, which means the Canadiens only have nine games left before that date. Normally, this is about the time where teams make their final decisions if they will be buyers or sellers, where they try to objectively determine if their team has a chance to make the playoffs, where the character and soul of a team is under constant evaluation.
If you were the ones in charge of that evaluation, what would you think of your team right now? Not only based on the past two games, but the entire season, or even just the month of January? I'm not sure I would be looking for ways to load up for a playoff run right about now, and if that's the direction Bob Gainey wants to go he needs to consider looking at which pieces he wants to move.
Obviously, there are the goalies to consider. Matthias Brunet of La Presse has a piece on Price which asks fans to be patient because 22-year-old goalies rarely have any success, which is something I've been preaching for quite some time. But, does hanging on to Price necessarily mean that Jaroslav Halak must go at the deadline? No, not necessarily. If a team comes calling looking to grab Halak and offers an actual roster player of some use to the Canadiens, then Gainey should jump on it. Otherwise, as a restricted free agent, Halak would still have a lot of value as a trade chip at the draft.
As far as the skaters are concerned, I would not be the least bit surprised to learn that Gainey has been offering up Paul Mara around to the good teams in the league looking for some depth on defence. Mara is a cheap option as he will only have a little under $350,000 left on his salary for the year, and he's an unrestricted free agent next year. If Gainey were willing to take a mid-round draft pick for him, I have no doubt he could find Mara a new home.
The only other UFAs on the team are Marc-Andre Bergeron, Glen Metropolit and Tomas Plekanec. I have to believe that Gainey will attempt to sign Plekanec after the season, or he might even be trying to do it as we speak, but I still think he should listen to offers at the deadline if enough teams are calling to inquire about his availability. If Gainey can create an auction situation surrounding Plekanec, the return could be quite significant simply because after Ilya Kovalchuk, he would be the most attractive forward available. Ultimately, though, I believe Gainey will hang on to him and try to sign him long-term.
Both Bergeron and Metropolit could be moved with little in the way of return, so why bother?.
But the big challenge for Gainey would be to find a taker for Roman Hamrlik, who has one year remaining at $5.5 million. For this season, there would be just over $1.1 million of Hamrlik's salary left to be paid. I don't think there's a team out there that would be willing to take on that kind of salary, but anyone who has seen him play in the playoffs knows he is a valuable cog. So perhaps Gainey can use that to persuade someone out there to give him a little bit of cap relief.
Looking over the Habs roster, those are the only potential "seller" moves I see. Which means Gainey might be best served just hanging on to his players and letting the chips fall where they may.
In the event Gainey wanted to be a buyer, that possibility was dealt a serious blow when Georges Laraque's potential transfer to AIK Stockholm was nixed, either by the NHL or by Laraque himself. Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet is reporting that the NHL stepped in and blocked the deal from happening because of Laraque's no-trade clause, which makes little to no sense. What I think happened is that Laraque refused to lift his no movement clause and go through waivers, and the NHL said if he doesn't do that then he can't play in Sweden.
In any case, that means the $575,000 Laraque has left on his salary will remain on Montreal's cap, and that's significant because having that much room on deadline day would allow you to acquire a player that makes about $2.7 million for the year.
As it is right now, the Canadiens are only carrying the minimum 20 players because their cap situation is so tight. That's why they only used 19 skaters last night in Tampa when Jaroslav Spacek came down with the flu. With the team this squeezed against the cap, I find it hard to believe Gainey would be able to acquire anything of significance to help the team this year.
So, barring an unforeseen move, I would imagine Gainey will be pretty inactive at the trade deadline for a second year in a row. But when you're neither good enough to buy or bad enough to sell, that shouldn't come as a huge surprise.