Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Habs Trade Talk - Who's Next to Go?

Montreal Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier shocked Habs fans earlier this month when he pulled sniper Mike Cammalleri out of a game against the Boston Bruins as a deal sending him to the Calgary Flames had been completed. In making the trade, Gauthier was clearly thinking about the future, as the Flames got the best overall player in the deal in Cammalleri. But Rene Bourque's cap hit comes in at $2.67M less per year, and Gauthier upgraded a 5th round pick to a 2nd in the process. This is the kind of trade that seldom goes unfollowed (one exception being the trading of Craig Rivet for Josh Gorges and the pick that became Max Pacioretty a few years back), and so it is likely that a number of other veterans will leave the city between now and the February 27th trade deadline. Here we look at the players most likely to follow Cammalleri out the door:

1) Hal Gill

It's hard not to love Hal Gill. The friendly giant has been a welcome presence in the Habs' locker room the last few seasons, serving as a quality mentor for younger players and the star of nearly every funny "Get to Know Your Canadiens" PR video. But it is clear that Gill's best days are increasingly far behind him as the 36-year old has struggled to keep up with the pace of play at 5-on-5 this season. Still, he is no small part as to why the Canadiens are tied for the best penalty killing efficacy in the league with the New Jersey Devils at 89.2%. For this skill alone, plus his Stanley Cup-winning experience, Gill is likely to draw interest from a number of teams hoping to contend prior to his becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer. Demand for his services will heat up as the deadline approaches, but early rumours have linked him to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, and Philadelphia Flyers. The expected return is likely to be a 2nd or 3rd round pick, or prospect of similar value.

2) Chris Campoli

Campoli is the second most likely player to leave the city within the next month as he certainly won't fit into the team's plans beyond this season. A late training camp UFA signing, Campoli went down with an injury in the season opener and hasn't looked particularly good since returning, struggling to stay in the line-up. The only reason he wouldn't be traded is if the Canadiens can't find a taker, but there is typically a market for experienced, mobile d-men on cheap, one-year contracts. When he is moved, not much will be expected back. It is more likely he is dealt for a late round pick (4th-7th) than he is packaged for something better. Possible suitors include the San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers.

3) Travis Moen

Like Gill, Moen is a locker room leader and has performed above and beyond expectations throughout the majority of his contract in Montreal. Signed to be a third or fourth line big body, Moen has been forced into top 6 roles on a regular basis and has always given a consistent effort. With 9 goals and 16 points already in 46 games this season, the 29-year old is well on pace to set career highs in production, sure to increase his value on the open market as a UFA this summer. Thus, if Gauthier can't ink him to a deal before the deadline, he should be shipped out for the best possible return, sure to be a draw after playing an integral part in Anaheim's Stanley Cup win in 2007. A second or third round pick would not be out of the question for Moen (see the price Gauthier paid for Dominic Moore in 2010) with destinations being any playoff team lacking forward depth (think San Jose Sharks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators, or Los Angeles Kings).

4) Andrei Kostitsyn

The final member of this group of four significant pending unrestricted free agents, Kostitsyn is perhaps the most likely to be re-signed. A product of Montreal's own system, a lack of consistency has meant that Kostitsyn has never lived up to his pre-draft billing that had the Canadiens select him 10th overall in a stacked 2003 1st round. Still, he is a thick, 6'0", goal-scoring winger who is capable of delivering bone-crunching hits when he feels like being physical and could look like one of the game's most skilled forwards if you assembled a reel of only his highlight-calibre markers. Proper asset management would indicate Gauthier must speak with Kostitsyn's agent as soon as possible, and if the two sides aren't heading for a deal, send Kostitsyn out at the deadline and worry about replacing him later on. He is a good fit as a top 9 forward in Montreal, but could likely land a 2nd round pick and good prospect from a team that wants to add some punch for the playoffs. An obvious fit might be the Nashville Predators where Kostitsyn could join his younger brother Sergei, though low scoring playoff teams like the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, or Los Angeles Kings could equally put offers forward.

These are the most obvious players to be dealt in the near future, but it isn't unforeseeable that Gauthier looks to move some bodies who are contracted beyond this season as well. Here are some who might see their time in Montreal cut short:

5) Tomas Kaberle

If Andrei Markov returns to the Canadiens line-up some time in early or mid February (a big question mark at this point as it doesn't appear he has even resumed skating as of yet), then Kaberle may have served as just a quick stop-gap with the team. Undoubtedly, he has worked out better in Montreal than he did in Carolina, with his 11 points in 19 games here projecting to 47 over a full season. But in most games, he has played sparingly at even strength on a bottom pairing, while also failing to single-handedly revive the dormant Habs' powerplay. On a team full of big, tough defensive blueliners, Kaberle's salary for his production might not be a problem, but with a healthy Markov, Raphael Diaz, P.K. Subban, and perhaps Yannick Weber in Montreal for the next few seasons, the remaining 2 years on Kaberle's deal at $4.25M per will be a salary cap burden. The question then becomes whether or not the 33-year old blueliner is tradeable after the Canadiens were suckered into taking on his contract out of desperation. His output has increased the odds of finding a taker, with the New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues being examples of playoff teams with some cap flexibility whose powerplays could use a new look.

6) Tomas Plekanec or David Desharnais

It wasn't long ago that including Plekanec's name on this list would have made me certifiably insane, but Desharnais's strong play has made moving one of the two centers a real possibility. The Habs need to upgrade down the middle by adding a true #1 pivot at the top end. Relying on small players like Plekanec and Desharnais to center the two primary offensive units is not a good formula, and it remains unclear whether Lars Eller can contribute enough to move up off the third line on a regular basis. Thus, an ideal formation would be a player like Ryan Getzlaf on the first line, one of Plekanec or Desharnais with big wingers on the second, and Eller centering a competent third trio. Despite his big contract, there are sure to be teams interested in Plekanec's responsible two-way game. His intensity and level of play have dipped this year, but he is a proven NHL vet under contract long-term and could be dealt in a package for the "upgrade" the team is seeking. Recent rumours have linked him to a possible deal (among other assets) with New Jersey for Zach Parise, dependent on Parise signing an extension. Desharnais, on the other hand, has much smaller value, but his worth may be as high as it will ever be as the diminutive center is having a breakout season offensively. He has shown great chemistry with Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole offensively, which is both a reason to keep him, and perhaps a reason to move him since it ties up the club's two top wingers (since Desharnais would have to line-up between big bodies to be most effective). His cheap contract could make him an interesting asset and with another small forward in prospect Brendan Gallagher sure to make his Montreal debut before long, the team may explore their options with DD - something I would entirely endorse. As one of the few native French-speakers on the club, however, if I had to put money on the line, I'd wager he stays, if for language reasons alone.

7) Yannick Weber

The struggles of Montreal's powerplay have been well-documented this season; so much so that many overlook Weber's 4 powerplay markers, ranking 2nd on the club behind Erik Cole's 7. Weber appeared to have a job to lose coming into training camp this season with Andrei Markov's injury, but he was outplayed by countryman Raphael Diaz defensively, meaning Weber has been in-and-out of the lineup in a swingman role occasionally playing the wing 5-on-5. There is some redundancy to having both Weber and Diaz - similar players - in the line-up, and it makes for a small and soft overall group of blueliners when both play on the back end. Though Weber has been the better of the two on the powerplay, the Canadiens appear higher on Diaz, and Weber - having been in North America since the 2006-07 season - has the better name and reputation league-wide, likely making him the more tradeable asset. Alone, he might not fetch more than a mid-round pick, but he may be used as a chip in a bigger package to address a need.

8) P.K. Subban

Now, understand that I highly doubt Pierre Gauthier would trade P.K. Subban, and in general I would be strongly against the move. But there are reasons his name has been floating on the rumour mill this season. He seems to have somewhat worn out his welcome with guys who were his buddies in the locker room earlier on in his career, like Hal Gill, Scott Gomez, and Mike Cammalleri, and his recent exchange with assistant coach Randy Ladouceur on the bench during a game won't help his reputation with the team's management. This, combined with his lackluster play this season would be reasons for a possible exit from Montreal, though it could prove to be a costly error. Subban is a complete package; good size, mobility, physicality, and great offensive instincts. Yes, he is prone to defensive zone lapses, but he is still a young player who is learning the game at the professional level. IF - please bare in mind I said IF - he is to be traded, for Canadiens fans not to storm the Bell Centre with torches and pitchforks, it would have to be as part of a package for a young star player. It is conceivable to deal him given the upcoming depth on D, but a Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry signed to an extension, or an Eric Staal-calibre big, star forward, or *perhaps* a top end prospect like Ryan Johansen or Brayden Schenn would have to be coming back for me to consider moving him. Trading him for any kind of lower-end package would severely hurt the team's future.

These are the main players I see moving. Of course, other deals are possible, like if someone happens to phone Gauthier about a Mathieu Darche or Petteri Nokelainen for a fourth line elsewhere, then sure, they could be moved for minimal returns. But it is clear that Mr. Gauthier will have plenty of dockets to cover over the next month and with so many balls in the air, it may actually be helpful to have Jacques Martin available for special assignments (the team announced yesterday that he - still being under contract - had accepted such a role to work with the General Manager).

No comments: