Wednesday, February 1, 2012

We'll Call It a Transition Year

Just yesterday I asked whether it was too late for the Canadiens to start a surge that would put them back into playoff contention. We may in fact never know whether it would have been too late or not; what we found out - last night at least - is that it was far too little. A goal on a great individual effort by Max Pacioretty was the only offense the team could muster (despite several great chances from notably Erik Cole), spoiling an all-star worthy effort from goaltender Carey Price against a team the Habs could not afford to lose to. It was a quick and hard slap back to reality following the high of that unpredictable 7-2 romp over the Detroit Red Wings prior to the break.

Montreal now ranks 13th in the East (tied in points with 12th place Tampa Bay and 14th place Buffalo), just two points ahead of 15th place Carolina (though with 2 games in hand). Worse, the team is 9 points back of current 8th place Toronto, and 8 back of 9th place Florida who holds a couple of games in hand on both the Canadiens and Leafs. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to tank.

My wishes... nay, demands... from hear on out are quite simple really. The Habs should lose the vast majority of their remaining games, save those against the Maple Leafs. For there would be little worse than to say the Canadiens finish outside the playoffs with Toronto in the top 8. They should tumble down the Eastern Conference standings, and even if finishing below Columbus is unrealistic at this point, earn a top 5 overall draft selection. To do so, Pierre Gauthier must think only about next season and beyond. There should be no immediate help trades, and if he can find a taker to undo the last immediate help move he made (acquiring Tomas Kaberle), the defenseman's contract should be shipped out. Further, if Gauthier thinks Andrei Kostitsyn and/or Travis Moen are part of the longer-term solution in Montreal, then they need to be re-signed within the next 3 weeks. If not, keeping them to help down the stretch only to lose them for nothing this summer is unacceptable horrendous asset management from a team going nowhere this season. Similarly, Hal Gill - who should not be considered a part of any future in Montreal, as good of a leader as he is - needs to be moved for the best offer by the deadline. If anyone has interest in Chris Campoli, he should go as well.

But that's not all. Gauthier has had plenty of time to observe his players and evaluate available talent around the league. If there is interest in Yannick Weber or Petteri Nokelainen, Gauthier needs to get what he can. A good offer for David Desharnais or Tomas Plekanec should even be considered, while searching for as many avenues as possible to upgrade the center position.

Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, my wish is for an overhauling of the front office this summer, prior to the entry draft. I have no problem with Trevor Timmins, though I'd love to see the scouting staff beefed up with others in supporting roles. The Gauthier / Bob Gainey regime, however, needs to end. They've had long enough to build a winner, and at this point appear to be just spinning their tires and flushing Geoff Molson's money. A new, fresh perspective, along with a hot shot top prospect and some refreshed talent should be enough to supplement the existing core and to give this group a chance at a rebound next season. Identify the core as below, do your best to upgrade the other spots while shedding some dead wood, and move forward, cutting your losses.

Max Pacioretty - ___ - Erik Cole
___ - ___ - ___
Rene Bourque - Lars Eller - ___
___ - ___ - Ryan White

Andrei Markov - Josh Gorges
___ - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - ___

Carey Price

(this is not to say that none of the blanks can be filled internally; it's more that these are the guys that would be part of my Cup-contending squad, while the others are replaceable / interchangeable)

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