Monday, January 23, 2012

Habs Trade Talk - Rumours and Speculation

With the 2011-12 NHL Trade Deadline just over a month away (February 27th), believe it or not, the crazy volume of rumours surrounding your Montreal Canadiens is sure to continue to pick up steam. Barring a ridiculous win streak between now and then, for the first time in years, the Habs are likely to approach the final day of midseason moves as a clear seller.

Pierre Gauthier seems to have finally come to the conclusion that his job must be to make the Canadiens bigger and tougher to play against. This should give us an idea of the type of player he will be looking to acquire, with the Cammalleri for Bourque swap being a prime example of the type of move we might expect. As a seller, it is also likely that any of the team's pending UFA that the club doesn't anticipate re-signing are shipped out for picks and prospects.

Gauthier has provoked rumours of both kinds of trades recently, spending considerable time in California attending Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks games.

The Ducks have essentially committed to building for next season at this point, announcing that virtually their entire roster was available for the right price (except Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu). At first that may seem like a poor fit with the Canadiens who are in a similar position, but Anaheim has a number of players who could interest the Habs as long-term solutions if the Disney descendants opt for a bigger-scale rebuild. The most obvious fit would be Ryan Getzlaf, a big, tough, superstar centre that Habs fans have been dreaming of for years. The problem is that it will likely take a big overpayment to get Getzlaf out of Anaheim (as in he's "available," but not THAT available), and he can become a UFA in the summer of 2013. One year of Getzlaf isn't worth giving up all kinds of young assets, so a deal for him would only make sense if there was some certainty he would sign an extension. Similarly, if last season's Hart Trophy winner, big goal-scoring winger Corey Perry, were on the market (like Getzlaf, he probably isn't readily being offered), Gauthier would have to make an inquiry. But he has the same weakness as Getzlaf, also slated for unrestricted free agency in 2013. The better target might be Bobby Ryan, who is signed till 2015 (when he'll be a UFA) at a cap hit of $5.1M. The 6'2", 218 lbs, 24-year old winger has topped 30 goals each of the past 3 seasons but has seen his production dip this year, leading to his name popping up in rumours with various teams throughout the season. Certainly, if Gauthier could add a player like Ryan, combined with Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, and Rene Bourque as top 9 wingers, the club would take a huge step in shedding the "small and soft" label.

The Kings, meanwhile, have a talented roster at all positions and, despite early struggles, will be looking to make a long playoff run. In this case, they might be a good fit for rental players like Hal Gill or Andrei Kostitsyn (if the Canadiens decide to move him). Gauthier attending games may indicate he is looking at a roster player rather than just picks or junior prospects, so names that immediately jump out are Vyacheslav Voinov, Kyle Clifford, Andrei Loktionov, and Alec Martinez. Voinov won't come cheap; the 22 year old is in his NHL rookie season after three full years in the American League. The 5'11" Russian rearguard is adept at both ends of the ice, but particularly excels offensively, and given that he's a righty, could make an excellent partner for Alexei Emelin in Montreal. Clifford, 21, was L.A.'s 2nd round pick in 2009. The 6'1" left winger surprisingly made the jump straight from the OHL to the NHL last year and especially impressed in the post-season, scoring 3 goals and 5 points in 6 games. Clifford is seen as a third-fourth line winger, using his size effectively and being an effective combatant (seen in his 141 PIMs last year). Many saw Loktionov as a candidate for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year this season, but he hasn't quite lived up to the hype just yet. At 5'10", 180 lbs, he doesn't address Montreal's need for size, but if he develops well, he has gamebreaker potential. He has consistently been a near point-per-game AHL player, and scored his first 7 NHL points in 19 games last season, but has managed only 4 assists in 28 games with the Kings this year. Lastly, Martinez is a defenseman in the mold of a Raphael Diaz, with his advantage being a 6'1", 208 lbs frame. It is unlikely Gauthier targets him unless Diaz and/or Yannick Weber are moved elsewhere, but it could be a good opportunity to "buy low" since Martinez has scored just 2 points (both goals) in 23 games this season.

Of course, it is just as possible that no trade happens with either Los Angeles or Anaheim. Gauthier being in the area would seem to indicate that talks are underway, but it is certainly conceivable that nothing gets done. Tomorrow, I'll look at the reverse; going over which players are likely to be leaving Montreal between now and February 27th, and their possible destinations.

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