Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Kink in the Plan

Whatever your thoughts of Pierre Gauthier's moves (or lack thereof) on deadline day, the always tight-lipped Habs general manager gave fans a little glimpse of his plan for the team yesterday. Whether he'll be the one ultimately executing the next phases of it or not, it is clear that he has goals to increase the overall size of the team to compensate for its smaller players, and that inconsistent play like that of Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn simply won't cut it.

These two principles sounds great in theory. They sound like parts of a recipe for turning your Montreal Canadiens into contenders once again. But while last night's Habs loss to the Lightning, combined with a Leafs loss, Caps and Canes wins, and a point for the Islanders fit absolutely perfectly into my personal Tanking desires, there appear to be a few holes or kinks in the team's current plan to turn their fortunes around.

A top 3 pick in this June's NHL Entry Draft will be a nice reward for surviving a putrid season of horrendous underachievement. But following moves this season that rid the team of the disappointing Cammalleri and Kostitsyn, even after adding a potential franchise forward through the draft, there remain problems that won't be easy to solve in the short term. While their play wasn't up to par, both Cammalleri and Kostitsyn were supposed to have important roles on the team; one as a premiere goal-scoring top 6 winger, and the other as a skilled and tough secondary scorer capable of potting 20+. While I appreciate what Rene Bourque can bring to the table, he certainly doesn't replace Cammalleri's contribution, and I'm doubting at this point that he can replace Kostitsyn's goals either.

So let's take a look at where the Canadiens stand right now. I'll even go ahead and assume the team manages to retain Travis Moen's services before he hits the open market on July 1st, and take the optimistic liberty of assuming the Habs will be able to perform some type of amnesty buyout to rid themselves of Scott Gomez's contract with the new CBA.


Rene Bourque ($3.333m) / Tomas Plekanec ($5.000m) / Brian Gionta ($5.000m)
Max Pacioretty ($1.625m) / David Desharnais ($0.850m) / Erik Cole ($4.500m)
Travis Moen ($1.850m) / Lars Eller ($1.300m) / Louis Leblanc ($1.170m)
Mike Blunden ($0.615m) / Ryan White ($0.625m) / Blake Geoffrion ($0.800m)
Andreas Engqvist ($0.700m)

Andrei Markov ($5.750m) / Josh Gorges ($3.900m)
Alexei Emelin ($2.500m) / P.K. Subban ($3.000m)
Tomas Kaberle ($4.250m) / Raphael Diaz ($2.000m)
Yannick Weber ($0.850m)

Carey Price ($6.500m) / Peter Budaj ($1.150m)

CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $57,268,333; BONUSES: $300,000
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $7,031,667

As is generally the case with a team currently sitting in last place in their conference, there are many, many problems here we can go over. I've given much attention to the need for a big, star, top 6 center, and that remains a hole on the roster. I'd say that finding such a player remains a priority if only because those types are difficult to add since they rarely become available.

But there's more. The third and fourth lines are very weak, due in part to Lars Eller's stunted offensive development and general inexperience of the group. I would love to see a team that could roll three offensive lines, and then feature Travis Moen and Ryan White flanking a big and tough center on the fourth unit, but the team seems far from achieving anything of the sort with bigger fish to fry first.

One of these big fish is the top 6 forward group. The Canadiens had seemingly gotten to a point where they no longer needed to rely on Andrei Kostitsyn for top 6 offense due to their forward depth. Having to insert a guy like Rene Bourque into the top 6, then, is a step backwards. Will Brian Gionta get back to his near-30 goal production, or will he play like he did prior to his injuries this season? Can pint-sized David Desharnais repeat this year's production over the long haul? Will he always need twin towers on either side of him in the team's top forwards, Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole? If so, that certainly handicaps line juggling flexibility. And what of Tomas Plekanec - is this poor season just an outlier? Pacioretty and Cole are pieces for a winning team, and Plekanec can be a solid 2nd line center on a championship team, but that still leaves three slots needing some kind of possible upgrade or change.

In short, to fix the forward group quickly, you would need to add 1-2 top 6 wingers, and ideally upgrade the center position. That's a tall order to fill in one summer, especially with a huge lack of talent available on the free agent market. Some of the few names to consider include Zach Parise, Jiri Hudler, and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, but there isn't much else, and even those 3 are each 6'0" or shorter. Plus with the shallow market, each of these guys is sure to get an overpayment as a UFA. We can conclude, then, that it is going to take some awfully creative work for Gauthier or whoever is GM to "fix" the team's forward group prior to the 2012-13 season, even if one problem could be solved via the draft (more on that tomorrow).

And then there's the defense, perhaps the team's biggest Achilles heel this season. If we assume that Andrei Markov will be back and will play like a top pairing defender, then that obviously helps the situation, giving the team two competent pairings. But there is still a need to add a top 4 guy on defense, and ideally one who could pick up the slack if Markov were to get hurt again (think Roman Hamrlik of a few seasons ago). A problem is that much of this "new guy"'s future cap hit is presently being made by Tomas Kaberle, a player not trustworthy enough to take on the role. The hope would be that with Markov and P.K. Subban on the top PP unit next season, the need for Kaberle would disappear and the team would find a way to move him. Taking a run at possible UFA Ryan Suter this summer would cure much of what ails the team's back end, but there are lesser money options who could also be signed to help the situation, such as Dennis Wideman, Brad Stuart, or Bryan Allen. A key will be that if Suter isn't the guy (meaning the player signed isn't part of a very long-term plan), then the Habs should be looking to get someone on a short-term deal. There are an incredible amount of defensive prospects who should be ready to make the leap in the next 1-3 years, so the team will eventually need to find room (though there is no need to rush anyone).

So what does this all mean? I'm not suggesting that you start licking your chops at the prospect of taking Nathan MacKinnon first overall in 2013, but there is much work to do for whoever will be managing the team into the summer and next season. Some unpopular decisions will have to be made; for one I could foresee the trading of Lars Eller before he reaches his full potential for a player to fill a top 6 wing slot. But once the team properly identifies a core and its needs around it, we should start to see some real progress.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Happened on Deadline Day

What a whirlwind yesterday was. Well, as much of a whirlwind as watching paint dry for much of the day can be anyway.

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2011-12 NHL trade deadline has come and gone with a whimper rather than much of a bang. The players in the Canadiens organization will remain with the team at least until June, and no new NHL faces will be brought in.

In the hours that followed, there was great frustration and anger among Hab fans at what was perceived as an underwhelming day for general manager Pierre Gauthier. Let's break it down by looking at what did and didn't happen.

The Moves That Were Made

The Habs got the ball rolling yesterday by completing the day's first transaction, sending Andrei Kostitsyn to the Nashville Predators for a 2013 2nd round pick and the cancellation of the conditional 5th rounder they had given the Preds in the Hal Gill deal.

Reaction to the move was negative for the most part. Many did not want Kostitsyn to be dealt, hoping the team would be able to re-sign him. A player with reasonable size, capable of throwing hits, and skilled enough to score 20 goals even in Montreal is not all that easy to replace. And even if you can find such a player, he would likely cost you as much or more than Kostitsyn's new contract will pay him, even after his impending UFA raise.

But even those that did want to deal him before risking losing him for nothing - for the most part - expected more of a return. I had suggested previously that I expected Kostitsyn to be worth little more than a 2nd round pick, citing few comparables having been dealt this season as a caution against overvaluing him. The market was perhaps set by a deal on Saturday that sent Wojtek Wolski from the New York Rangers to the Florida Panthers for a third round pick and minor leaguer Mike Vernace. At 6'3", Wolski has a bigger frame than Kostitsyn, but has struggled even more with his consistency. Even this season, he was forced to spend 6 games in the American Hockey League as the Rangers were unsatisfied with his play and lacked a roster spot for him. Last season, Wolski scored 35 points in 73 games (.48 PPG) compared to Kostitsyn's 45 in 81 (.56 PPG). On their careers, 26-year old Wolski totals 250 points in 404 games (.62 PPG) while 27-year old Kostitsyn has 210 points in 379 games (.55 PPG). Reasonably even, though Wolski's recent decline would make me believe Kostitsyn's value was slightly higher in the scoring winger market. A 2nd round pick, then, seems like absolutely fair value.

So why are people upset? Because the same Nashville Predators gave up their first round selection to acquire fourth line center Paul Gaustad. Like Kostitsyn, Gaustad will be a UFA on July 1st, and is 3 years older. His career high is just 36 points, totaling 181 over 479 games. Could the Habs not have extracted a bigger premium from the Preds - a team that lacks scoring punch - for the Belarusian forward? All else equal, Kostitsyn appears to be the better player and thus should carry the greater value, but comparing them is virtually apples and oranges.

Gaustad is a 6'5" centerman, adept in the face-off circle. No one would confuse him for being an overly physical player, but he can take the body and drop the gloves at times. He's the type of guy teams go to war with. He won't earn as much money on his new contract as Kostitsyn, but there are likely to be far more teams in line to acquire his services. And that is likely what it came down to on deadline day. Supply and demand. Few teams called the Canadiens about Kostitsyn, while Buffalo was taking offers on Gaustad right till the last minute.

Is this at all Gauthier's fault? Maybe. Certainly it's a popular theory that the man who still runs the Canadiens' ship (the Tony Marinaro story about Geoff Molson calling the shots was basically completely disproven yesterday since Molson was with the players in Fort Lauderdale while Gauthier, Bob Gainey, and Larry Carriere set up a war room to deal with trades in Tampa) does not extract maximal value for his assets. We don't know what went on behind the scenes, but it's possible Gauthier only spoke with a handful of teams about Kostitsyn, rather than aggressively pawning his wares a la Brian Burke. That a deal was worked out with the Predators seems very convenient given the rumours linking the teams and the recent Gill trade.

The other move was the claiming of tough guy Brad Staubitz off re-entry waivers from the Minnesota Wild. Staubitz is a 27-year old 6'1", 210 lbs, right-handed enforcer who can play either left wing or left defense. Certainly not known for his hands, he has scored just 8 goals and 18 points over 196 NHL games to date. He has also racked up 432 penalty minutes in that span, undoubtedly the reason the Canadiens brought him in. Trying to get tougher? Not exactly, said Pierre Gauthier. But trying to find a balance in the line-up to compensate for the smaller, younger players who have established themselves in the line-up.

Since he was claimed on re-entry waivers, the Canadiens are only responsible for half off Staubitz's cap hit this season, meaning $287,500. Not that it really matters anyway, with the team far from the cap at this point in the season and Staubitz to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Consider this an audition for the enforcer role; if he gels well, perhaps he figures into the longer-term plans, but if not, nothing lost.

What Didn't Happen

In all honesty, it was a strange, strange day. For the number of players said to be available, very few deals were actually reached. I'm not speaking just about blockbuster moves like Rick Nash either. For some reason, teams that seemed to have few reasons not to move pending free agents or to the contrary to add depth chose not to do so, standing pat.

Why did it play out like that? All accounts seem to indicate that, early in the day anyway, the prices so-called sellers set for their players were far too high. Looking at the returns teams got in the days leading up to Monday, I wouldn't say that's far off. Teams may have been scared away from renting players at the risk of mortgaging too many future assets. But wouldn't supply and demand indicate that as buyers left the market and the deadline approached, the price for players would drop and most players would eventually be moved? Particularly speaking in the case of pending unrestricted free agents? Were the teams holding these players just too stubborn to budge, costing their teams entry draft picks in the process?

Did this happen to...
Jaroslav Spacek in Carolina?
Jason Blake in Anaheim?
Dustin Penner in Los Angeles?
David Jones in Colorado?
Sheldon Souray in Dallas?
Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau in New York?
Mikhail Grabovski in Toronto?
or Chris Campoli in Montreal?

I can't imagine there weren't offers out there for every one of these players, and yet they didn't move. The same could be said for non-UFA players rumoured to be on the market like Steve Ott, Derek Roy, or Roman Hamrlik. Lots of chatter in the media and on Twitter, but little action.

In some cases, these teams may still have playoff aspirations and thus are willing to risk losing the players for nothing. In other cases, the teams may be holding on to hope that they will be able to re-sign the player before July 1st. But so many names staying put indicates to me that something else may be up.

So what is that something? I'd suggest there is a changing of attitudes around the league now with management teams fully adjusted to the realities of the current collective bargaining agreement (just in time to hopefully reach a new one this summer). Teams may be understanding that proper management is no longer about spending mid or late picks on depth players at the deadline. The best way to run a team is to hold on to those picks and use them plus quality depth free agent signings to build a filled-out organization from the ground up. Teams are more often filling holes - even temporary ones - with their younger players, hoping to speed up their maturity by putting them into pressure situations, allowing them to gain valuable NHL experience, and at the same time enjoying cheap and talented roster plugs.

For an example of this, look no further than perennial contenders the Detroit Red Wings and their highly acclaimed general manager Ken Holland. Traditionally, Detroit might have sacrificed some lower tier prospects or late picks to add a couple of veterans for the playoff push. Sure, this year, they dealt a first rounder to repatriate Kyle Quincey, but he's only 26 and will be an RFA this summer - sticking around to help fill a bit of the hole on defense should Nicklas Lidstrom and/or Brad Stuart not return next season. But what did they do on deadline day itself? The Wings were involved in only a single deal and that was to actually trade AWAY veteran blueliner Mike Commodore to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a return that is likely to amount to nothing at all. Consistent with this theory, in speaking to the media, Holland was quickly to point to 23-year old defenseman Brendan Smith as ready to be pressed into service for Detroit down the stretch and into the post-season.

So maybe... just maybe... there were no teams interested in taking Campoli on deadline day. Perhaps teams would rather play their own Brendan Smiths or Frederic St. Denis or whoever they may have in their own system. Certainly it's possible that the general quietness of the day was caused just by a lack of sellers combined with a weak unrestricted free agent class to come this summer, and we may see more deals next February, but I would still expect the trend of fewer depth rentals to continue.

Evaluating the Day

Looking at Gauthier's work yesterday, I found myself somewhat underwhelmed. To be fair, Gauthier had few assets to deal with, as injuries to Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche tied his hands to an extent, while players like Brian Gionta and Andrei Markov being out may have also limited some avenues he could have explored.

I started Monday morning with two goals in mind: first to acquire an additional 1st round pick in 2012, and second to find a taker for Tomas Kaberle's contract. Unfortunately, neither came to pass. I would have loved to see the team add additional picks for Campoli or a guy like Petteri Nokelainen (who must have been worth SOMETHING if Gaustad and a 4th was equal to a first), or generally anyone who wasn't seen as part of the long-term plan (Hi Yannick Weber). But it didn't happen. A big concern for me is that players like Kaberle and Nokelainen are easiest to move at the deadline. Come summer time, there will be plenty of equal calibre (or superior) options available to teams on the free agent market, meaning no one is likely to offer up assets to take them from the Canadiens. It is frustrating that it may then be 9-12 months before Montreal can rid themselves of Kaberle's big contract.

So I found myself underwhelmed and frustrated. But unhappy? Not necessarily. I am pleased that the team holds their own first plus two second rounders for the coming draft, and their first plus three 2nd rounders in 2013. Not having drafted in the second round the past 3 years, the Canadiens system was pretty bare this season, and it will be a great time to restock. Sure, it's true that second round picks are not guaranteed to be future NHLers, but they also have the potential to be impact players. Plus one or more of the picks could be used to move up in a draft or to acquire other young players. So I find myself cautiously optimistic about the team's future on the prospect end, hoping for a top 3 pick this June to add an impact player to the roster in the near future. For the remainder of the present season, let's just keep hoping to remain in a lottery pick position, and to enjoy watching a Toronto Maple Leaf implosion.

Monday, February 27, 2012

LIVE Coverage - 2012 NHL Trade Deadline

As we did for the 2011 NHL Draft and Free Agent Frenzy, we will be bringing you live coverage with all the latest trades as they happen, plus instant analysis all day long. There will be a Habs-focus to this live blog, no doubt, but we will still cover news from around the league.

Monday, February 27th

Trade Deadline - 3:00 PM EST
Pierre Gauthier press conference - 6:30 PM EST

- 9:00 AM - The Habs officially cancel practice this morning.

- 9:19 AM - Bob McKenzie points to Habs as a team to watch for possible off the chart surprises today.

- 9:19 AM - Some players named this morning in play: Steve Staios, Antti Niemi, James van Riemsdyk. Samuel Pahlsson, Jaroslav Spacek. The New York Islanders are said to not be dealing pending-UFAs Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau or Evgeni Nabokov.

- 9:26 AM - Darren Dreger now suggests Parenteau is on the market (after Renaud Lavoie said opposite moments ago), though Nabokov still not available.

- 9:38 AM - Twitter rumour monger Incarcerated Bob says Andrei Kostitsyn has been traded and trade call is going through. PLEASE note that Incarcerated Bob, El Cloun, El Chouin, DeepthroatCH, Eklund, Hockeyy Insiderr, The Creasy, and others are NOT legitimate sources. Stick with mainstream media today.

- 9:45 AM - Renaud Lavoie indicates the New York Islanders' asking price for P.A. Parenteau (UFA rental) is a first round selection.

- 9:49 AM - The Montreal Canadiens have a war room in Tampa Bay, where Pierre Gauthier, Bob Gainey, and assistant coach / assistant GM Larry Carriere work on deals.

- 10:06 AM - Bob McKenzie indicates the Habs are the favourites to be the first team to make a deal today.

- 10:08 AM - Darren Dreger puts Ryan White's name out there as generating interest from other GMs. He's been added to our big board at the bottom of this post.

- 10:10 AM - Bob McKenzie says there are unconfirmed reports Andrei Kostitsyn is heading to Nashville. No word on return yet. Stay tuned.

- 10:14 AM - From the "what?!" file, former Canadien tough guy Georges Laraque has told the French media that a Tampa Bay Lightning player informed him that Rick Nash will be traded to Tampa.

- 10:16 AM - Louis Jean of Sportsnet says he has heard anyone NOT named Carey Price, P.K. Subban, Josh Gorges, and perhaps Max Pacioretty is available.

- 10:21 AM - Per Renaud Lavoie,
Andrei Kostitsyn "knows" he's been traded to Nashville, but hasn't spoken to Pierre Gauthier yet. No word on return yet.

- 10:45 AM - Kostitsyn deal done. See completed trades list below.

- 11:10 AM - TSN reports former Hab forward Mikhail Grabovski is in play in Toronto. They claim there is a late 1st round pick on the table for him, but Brian Burke wants more.

- 11:13 AM - Darren Dreger says Boston is looking at either Winnipeg's Johnny Oduya or Colorado's David Jones to reinforce their blueline.

- 11:44 AM - Indication is Leafs trying hard to get pending UFA Grabovski signed. GM Brian Burke says doing nothing today would not be the worst thing possible. Says he received a trade offer for goaltender James Reimer days ago but turned out down flat.

- 11:47 AM - Here's a funny little scoop. The Columbus Blue Jackets pulled down a Rick Nash banner from outside their arena today. Proof is on YouTube: Is a deal closer than we think it is? Nash played for the Jackets yesterday, and participated in the team's morning skate today.

- 11:50 AM - Montreal journalist L.A. Lariviere reports that he expects Chris Campoli to be next player out of Montreal. This, as predicted (see Habs big board at bottom of this post). Other Montreal journalists Tweeting that no Hab seems particularly surprised or upset about Kostitsyn's departure.

- 11:58 AM - Always reliable Columbus reporter Aaron Portzline indicates world from Jackets senior advisor Craig Patrick is that the team has "more than 15" open offers on a "handful of players," but nothing they like just yet.

- 12:02 PM - Less than 3 hours till deadline. Reports that Bryan Allen and Tomas Vokoun were pulled out of practice with Carolina and Washington, but nothing confirmed as of yet. Do we have more action coming?

- 12:04 PM - The Montreal Canadiens have claimed d-man Brad Staubitz off waivers. Winnipeg claimes Grant Clitsome. More below in confirmed deal section.

- 12:11 PM - Brian Burke talks to TSN on the phone, saying Grabovski is officially off the table today. The contract doesn't have to get done today, but he believes it'll get done. He also mentioned the prices for goaltenders today are far too high for him, and/or involve contracts extending beyond this season. Says he would be ok with not making any moves today and believes that's the most likely scenario right now.

- 12:15 PM - La Presse journalist Richard Labbe indicates that neither Travis Moen nor Mathieu Darche has received medical clearance yet, and thus neither is on the trade market today.

- 12:51 PM - Andrei Kostitsyn addresses the Montreal media before leaving to join the Preds. Says he has yet to speak with his brother Sergei since the trade. Doesn't like country music. Scott Gomez was his best friend on the team. He and Randy Cunneyworth didn't have the best rapport, as he was unhappy with his ice time / usage.

- 1:03 PM - Another strange rumour as the Detroit Red Wings may have a deal in place to send pending UFA Brad Stuart to the New York Rangers for picks, per NewsDay's Steve Zipay. That would be a 2nd d-man leaving the Wings for future assets today, indicating they must have something bigger in mind. Lubomir Visnovsky, perhaps?

- 1:09 PM - Renaud Lavoie gives us a bit of REAL insight into the Canadiens' braintrust (hi, Tony Marinaro) by indicating that Geoff Molson remained in Fort Lauderdale with the players, while Pierre Gauthier, Bob Gainey, and Larry Carriere are together in Tampa Bay.

- 1:15 PM - Bob McKenzie indicates Carolina will retain Bryan Allen, even if a new contract can't be agreed upon today. Pierre LeBrun chimes in that former Canadiens d-man Jaroslav Spacek is expected to be dealt away from the Hurricanes within the next hour, however.

- 1:45 PM - Bob McKenzie indicates Colorado may be close to dealing Daniel Winnick, who has received considerable interest. San Jose in the lead.

- 1:46 PM - Sportsnet's Louis Jean has a Travis Moen update. No contract talks have yet taken place, but he'd like to stay in Montreal and the team would like to retain him.

- 2:50 PM - 10 minutes till the deadline and we have confirmation from JF Chaumont that Habs Chris Campoli and Yannick Weber are both on the team bus presently being boarded. It seems - for now anyway - that Pierre Gauthier couldn't find a taker for their services.

Today's Latest Completed Transactions Around the League

- 10:45 AM - The Montreal Canadiens traded Andrei Kostitsyn to the Nashville Predators for a 2013 2nd round pick, plus the conditional 5th round pick Montreal sent Nashville in the Hal Gill trade.

This is a deal that had to happen. I would have liked to see Kostitsyn get a little bit of a bigger return, and it's unfortunate he goes to a team that doesn't hold a 2012 2nd rounder (Habs have it already from the Gill trade). But needed to get value in return for Kostitsyn before losing him for nothing on July 1st. The Canadiens now hold two 2nd round picks in 2012, and three 2nd round picks in 2013, after not having a second round pick in any of the last 3 drafts. For the Preds, a team that lacks offensive fire power, they are rolling the dice that reuniting Andrei with his brother Sergei creates some kind of a spark and no off-ice issues.

If you are underwhelmed at the return, before being mad at Pierre Gauthier, be mad at Andrei Kostitsyn himself whose horrid play of late turned off a lot of potential takers and damaged his value. Also note that the 2013 draft is expected to be deeper than the 2012, so that pick may hold more value.

- 12:04 PM - Noon means waiver time. The Montreal Canadiens have claimed forward Brad Staubitz off re-entry waivers from the Minnesota Wild.

Staubitz, 27, is a 6'1", 210 lbs defenseman who isn't known for his offensive game, but is a tough, physical customer. Staubitz played 43 games for the Wild this season (no points, 73 PIM, -7) before being sent down to play 4 games in the AHL. Staubitz is a competent fighter and will be a UFA at year's end. Since he was on re-entry waivers, the Canadiens get him for half-price, meaning his cap hit this season is just $287,500. His acquisition allows the Canadiens to bring in a warm NHL body if they trade d-men elsewhere (likely Chris Campoli) later today. Staubitz is capable of playing the wing as well.

The Winnipeg Jets claimed defenseman Grant Clitsome off waivers.

Clitsome has one more year on his contract at over $1M. Surprising he wasn't worth any sort of draft pick to Columbus, but a depth defenseman at best.

- 12:43 PM - The Detroit Red Wings have dealt defenseman Mike Commodore to the Tampa Bay Lightning in return for a conditional 7th round pick.

Strange to see the Wings "selling" a player at this point, but Commodore hasn't been effective since signing with Detroit. He has played only 17 NHL games this season (hence the very low return). The Lightning adding a d-man for "nothing" lets them moving pending UFAs Brett Clark and Matt Gilroy if reasonable offers come in.

- 12:58 PM - The Edmonton Oilers trade defenseman Tom Gilbert to the Minnesota Wild for defenseman Nick Schultz.

Interesting trade of an offensive-oriented d-man from the Oil for a solid, more defensive guy in Schultz. Similar contracts, similar age. I'd score this as a win for Minnesota for now, as I like Gilbert's all-around game better than Schultz's.

- 1:43 PM - The Toronto Maple Leafs trade defenseman Keith Aulie to the Tampa Lightning for prospect forward Carter Ashton.

This one comes a little out of the blue, but is a pretty big move. Aulie looked good last year but was passed in the depth chart by Jake Gardiner, making him expendable. The Lightning are in need of younger d-men to build around. Ashton is a 20-year old AHL rookie who has scored 19 goals and 35 points in 56 games. His offensive upside is unclear, but he has good size at 6'3", 205 lbs, is a solid skater, and plays a strong two-way game. Tampa selected him in the first round, 29th overall, in 2009. Seems like a solid move for the Leafs to deal out of depth and bring in a big, young forward. Hard to admit it, but really like it for Toronto.

- 1:56 PM - The San Jose Sharks have acquired forwards Daniel Winnick and T.J. Galiardi, and a 7th round pick from the Colorado Avalanche for Jamie McGinn, Michael Sgarbossa, and Mike Connolly.

Winnick and Galiardi are good depth forwards entering the post-season. Sgarbossa is an impressive junior-aged prospect, while McGill - a 6'1", 210 lbs winger and still only 23 - has scored 24 points in 61 games with San Jose this year. A clear deal of future assets for present ones, with the Sharks gearing up with grizzled vets for a deep playoff drive.

- 1:57 PM - The Ottawa Senators have traded defenseman Brian Lee to the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman Matt Gilroy.

Gilroy is an upgrade on Lee for the present season, but will be a UFA this summer. Tampa gets an asset with some staying power, though Lee has far from lived up to the hype that once made him a first round selection.

- 1:58 PM - The Vancouver Canucks have acquired center Samuel Pahlsson from the Columbus Blue Jackets for 2 fourth round picks.

Pahlsson is a great pick-up for the Canucks, not unlike Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins last year. Centering a line with Travis Moen and Rob Niedermayer, Pahlsson was an integral piece to Anaheim's Stanley Cup championship. At age 34, it will be interesting to see what he has left in the tank, but the price is cheap to rent him before he becomes a UFA this summer. I'd call it a very good pick-up for Vancouver.

- 2:07 PM - The Chicago Blackhawks acquire defenseman Johnny Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets for 2nd and 3rd round picks in 2013.

Oduya will be an unrestricted free agent this summer but is a decent rental on D (though he has gone down hill the last year and a half) for a team that is struggling mightily of late. The price paid for a guy whose best hockey seems behind him (though he's still only 30) seems excessive, but such has been the nature of the defenseman market leading up to the deadline.

- 2:55 PM - The Boston Bruins have acquired Brian Rolston and defenseman Mike Mottau from the New York Islanders for Yannick Riendeau and Marc Cantin.

The B's add a veteran for their playoff push. Rolston cleared waivers at noon. A salary dump from the Isles for no real return.

- 2:59 PM - The Nashville Predators have acquired center Paul Gaustad and a 4th round selection from the Buffalo Sabres for a first round pick.

There was mass interest in Gaustad in the days leading up to the deadline, as a big, two-way fourth line center is the kind of guy teams like to stock up on before the post-season.

- 3:00 PM - The Boston Bruins acquired defenseman Greg Zanon from the Minnesota Wild for defenseman Steve Kampfer.

The Bruins trade a younger defenseman still trying to establish himself at the NHL level for a veteran shotblocker for their playoff drive.

- 3:00 PM - The New York Rangers acquired tough guy John Scott from the Chicago Blackhawks for a 5th round pick.

- 3:35 PM - The biggest trade of the day (arguably) comes in after the deadline. The Vancouver Canucks have traded forward Cody Hodgson and d-man Alexander Sulzer to the Buffalo Sabres for prospect Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani.

2 promising young talents dealt for one another in Hodgson and Kassian. Interesting move that comes in late. Hodgson has tons of potential, but Kassian is a mean big body with offensive upside.

Habs News and Rumour Big Board

Player NamePhotoPosContractThe ScoopStatus
The Hot Seat (Most Likely to be Moved)
Campoli, ChrisD0 yrs remaining (UFA), $1.75M- Healthy scratch yesterday
- Little trade value
- Numerous teams interested in adding depth D
Kostitsyn, AndreiRW/LW0 yrs remaining (UFA), $3.25M- Played yesterday, limited minutes
- Poor season, but Wojtek Wolski had value
- Stated wants to stay in Montreal
Dealt to Nashville for 2nd round pick in 2013.
Nokelainen, PetteriC0 yrs remaining (RFA), $550K- Little talk of him, but healthy again
- Playoff team may want his face-off ability
- RFA but doubting fit in long-term plans
- Can recoup late pick spent on him
The Rumoured (Mid-Long Shot Deals)
Moen, TravisLW0 yrs remaining (UFA), $1.5M- Injured, not yet skating, no return date set
- Bob McKenzie claims Habs not making him available
- Would be a hot commodity if healthy

Not cleared for contact; allegedly unavailable
Plekanec, TomasC4 yrs remaining (UFA), $5M- Rumoured yesterday to be available by mainstream media
- Agent denies wanting a trade
- Only to be moved in an "upgrade" deal

Name continues to be floated
White, RyanLW0 yrs remaining (RFA), $625K- Darren Dreger indicates many teams are calling about him
- Unclear if Gauthier considers him part of core moving forward
Darche, MathieuLW0 yrs remaining (UFA), $700K- Currently sick/injured, but returning soon
- Two-way depth guy for playoff team
- Little value, but doesn't hurt to add a pick

Not cleared for contact; allegedly unavailable
Subban, P.K.D0 yrs remaining (RFA), $875K- Sportsnet says may be available
- Other team sources say haven't heard he's on market
- Trading now would be a huge mistake
Kaberle, TomasD2 yrs remaining (UFA), $4.25M- Is there a market for him? Zidlicky trade hints yes
- Production may interest some clubs
- Will PG deal him before Markov's return? If taker, he should!
Speculation (Others who Could be Available)
Weber, YannickD1 yr remaining (RFA), $850K- Re-joined Top 6 on D yesterday with Campoli sitting
- Hasn't earned full time D roster spot
- Still has potential + some value
Desharnais, DavidC1 yr remaining (RFA), $850K- IF Plekanec is on market, DD could be as well
- Team wants to get bigger
- Value MAY be as high as it will ever be
Gomez, ScottD2 yrs remaining (UFA), $7.36M- Let's call this one wishful thinking
- Definitely available, but unlikely any other team bites
Palushaj, AaronRW1 yr remaining (RFA), $850K- Hasn't shown he can play consistently in NHL
- Will be waiver eligible next season
- Young + cheap for team needing forward depth
Eller, LarsC1 yr remaining (RFA), $850K- Only IF the Canadiens need to sacrifice a player of value to acquire a big name
- Cunneyworth hasn't loved him this season
- Very skilled, but inconsistent effort

A Great Weekend for Tanking

To paraphrase R&B sensation Rihanna about the Montreal Canadiens weekend:

"Cheers - to the tankin' weekend.
Habs tanked that, yeah yeah.
Oh, let reality sink in.
Habs tankin' it, yeah yeah.
Don't let their losses get ya down,
They'll turn it 'round in the first round,
Draft party Montreal - Grigs or Galch - I'd tank for that.
I'd tank for thaaaaaat."

Let's start with Friday. A Habs loss was important, both for dropping their own standing and also for helping the Washington Capitals to pass the Leafs. The out-of-town scoreboard featured 2 key upsets, with the East's 13th place New York Islanders picking up 2 points against the first place New York Rangers, and the 12th place Buffalo Sabres defeating the 2nd place Boston Bruins, allowing those teams to gain ground on Montreal.

The Habs may have been off Saturday, but the Leafs lost a huge one to the Caps - a result worthy of a fist pump. The Jets - also fighting for a playoff spot ahead of Toronto - nabbed a point against St. Louis, as did the Sabres against the Rangers and the Carolina Hurricanes against the Florida Panthers. The 2 points for Florida also helps them to stay ahead of the Leafs should they lose their division lead to Winnipeg or Washington.

Finally, another Hab loss on Sunday has left them squarely in 15th place in the East, with the game also meaning a 2-point gain for the Panthers to give them a division lead cushion. Also Sunday, 11th place Tampa Bay beat 6th place New Jersey to earn them some more points before more of their players are expected to be sold off today.

Painful to watch the Habs blow another 2-0 lead yesterday? Maybe in the short term. But in the grand scheme of things, the weekend was a huge step towards adding a big, star center like Mikhail Grigorenko or Alex Galchenyuk to the line-up.

And the NHL results weren't the only thing to make Habs fans smile about the future over the weekend. Though recently hot Hab prospect and Hamilton Bulldog winger Blake Geoffrion was quieter with no points and just a shootout goal in 2 games, those at the junior level picked up the slack.

Let's start with Patrick Holland, the prospect acquired from Calgary in the Mike Cammalleri trade. Incredibly, he has scored FOUR points in EACH of his last FOUR games! He has 3 goals and 13 assists during that span, and totals 26-points over an active 10-game point scoring streak. Holland is far from a bluechipper, but there will be something there to watch as he transitions to the pro game in the AHL next season. Despite his current streak, Holland remains just 3rd in team scoring with 96 points in 62 games... but still good enough for 6th in overall league scoring (and first in assists)!

Sticking with the WHL, everyone's favourite little-big man Brendan Gallagher snapped a 2-game pointless streak by totaling 3 goals over a pair of contests this weekend. Gallagher is now up to 38 goals in 46 games, ranking 8th in the WHL, with all of those ahead of him having played 11 or more games more than he has.

Over in the QMJHL, Michael Bournival added 2 goals and 2 helpers to his stat line in Saturday and Sunday match-ups. Bournival has fallen off the goal-per-game track he had going, but still totals 27 goals and 51 points through 35 games. He is one goal away from his last season's total in 21 fewer games.

Also in the Q, Montreal's most recent first round selection, Nathan Beaulieu, scored his 9th goal of the season on Sunday. With 44 points in 46 games, he is only 1 point off his last season's total in 19 fewer games. He is 8th in the QMJHL for points amongst d-men, with all above him (including 6th ranked Morgan Ellis who had a quiet weekend) having played between 4 and 14 additional games.

Not known for his offensive touch, Jarred Tinordi set a new career high for goals in the OHL by scoring his... second... of the season. The London Knights captain has 16 points in 42 games after scoring 14 in 63 during his rookie campaign. He has continued his steady, physical play that should make him a force to be reckoned with at the NHL level. While playing on the CHL's top squad doesn't hurt, his impressive +39 rating ranks first in the Ontario League, +3 ahead of his nearest competitor (and +10 above his nearest teammate).

After scoring a goal and an assist Friday night, North Dakota forward Danny Kristo reached an important milestone on Saturday. With 1 assist, he reached the 100-point plateau for his college career, and that in just 108 games. This is his first year above the 1.00 point-per-game average thus far, as he has tied his carrer highs for both goals (15) and points (36) in 33 games, 8 fewer than he hit those numbers in during his rookie season. I am hopeful Kristo will be signed and should join the Hamilton Bulldogs next season along with all the other prospects listed above, creating an exciting incoming class.

So that's the weekend for you. But we've got a couple months to talk more about prospects and the draft. Today's focus is squarely on the Trade Deadline, with just hours remaining for General Managers to make their final moves of the season. What will happen? We'll be bringing you live coverage and analysis of moves from around the league both right here and on Twitter all day long. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Habs Fans: How to Scoreboard Watch Effectively

Does a losing season have you confused? With the Canadiens hoping more for a top draft pick than a playoff spot at this point, are you unsure who you should be cheering for down the stretch? Then you've come to the right place!

Personally, I have two major goals for the remainder of the 2011-12 regular season, which are:

1 - For the Montreal Canadiens to finish as low as possible in the overall league standings, thus earning as high a draft pick as possible.
2 - For the Toronto Maple Leafs to miss the playoffs.

The second one might sound petty, but I can only imagine the taunting that would follow if the Leafs made the post-season while the Habs did not.

So how do we achieve these goals? Here's my take on the hierarchy in which you should want teams to win, starting with the teams that need to win most:

1) Carolina Hurricanes: Currently 28th overall with 57 points in 60 games. Objective - finish higher than Montreal. Expected to sell off more parts on the deadline.

2) New York Islanders: Currently 26th overall with 58 points in 60 games. Objective - finish higher than Montreal.

3) Tampa Bay Lightning: Currently 23rd overall with 60 points in 59 games. Objective - finish higher than Montreal. Already in firesale mode, having traded Dominic Moore, Pavel Kubina, and Steve Downie for draft picks. More departures expected, which will mean falling lower.

4) Buffalo Sabres: Currently 25th overall with 59 points in 60 games. Objective - finish higher than Montreal. Depth cast-offs expected.

5) Washington Capitals: Currently 10th in the East with 63 points in 60 games. Objective - finish higher than Toronto. Rumoured to be trying to sell off some pieces, but sit only 2 points back of the 8th place Leafs in even games played.

6) Winnipeg Jets: Currently 9th in the East with 65 points in 62 games. Objective - Finish higher than Toronto. They'll go for it; let's hope for a good story of them getting there. Tied with Leafs in points, but Toronto holds 2 games in hand + the non-shootout wins tiebreaker.

7) Anaheim Ducks: Currently 24th overall with 60 points in 60 games. Objective - Cheer for Saku Koivu... erm... finish higher than Montreal. The Ducks have had a very hot second half so hopefully that trend continues and they stay above the Canadiens in the league standings.

8) Edmonton Oilers: Currently 29th overall with 52 points in 59 games. Objective - Longshot to finish ahead of Montreal. The Oilers have 2 games in hand on the Canadiens and sit 6 points behind them. It would take a major streak from all of their young talent to see them rise up the ladder, but might as well hope for that if they're not playing any of the above teams.

9) Minnesota Wild: Currently 22nd overall with 61 points in 59 games. Objective - Finish higher than Montreal. If the Oil are a longshot to pass the Habs, the Wild are a longshot to finish below them. But with 20 games remaining, a cold streak is still a possibility, so when not playing teams 1-8, let's hope Minnesota wins.

10) Florida Panthers: Currently third in the East as the Southeast Division leader, with 65 points in 58 games. Objective - Finish higher than Toronto. Florida is up 2 points on the Caps with 2 games in hand, but if they start to skid, Washington winning won't be enough to keep Toronto out of the post-season. Thus, Florida needs to win some games down the stretch as well.

So now you know who you should get behind to help us achieve 2 key goals. To make sure it's clear, if any team on this list is playing a team that isn't on it, we should want the team listed above to win. Further, if team 8 is playing team 2 on this list for example, you should want team 2 to win, and so on.

One obvious caveat is that, while in most years, if the Habs were in, say, 8th place at this point, we would absolutely dread 3-point games between teams in 7th and 9th place, this year we want as many 3-point games between the above teams as we can get. The more points to spread around, the better!

What makes this list interesting is that, of the Canadiens' 21 remaining regular season games, 14 are either against one of those 10 teams or against the Leafs. Games on March 3 and April 7th against Toronto are the big ones that I would love to see Montreal take, while the 12 games against other teams either trying to make the post-season or near the bottom of the league's standings are ones it won't hurt so badly if the team drops.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What Yesterday's Trade Means for Habs

Let's talk about yesterday. I'll save you the painstaking process of reading more about another embarrassing home loss, this one by a 3-0 score at the hands of the Dallas Stars. Could this one be blamed on a flu virus running rampant through the dressing room? Perhaps in part, with Tomas Plekanec sitting out due to illness, David Desharnais said to have been sick all weekend, and Mathieu Darche unable to finish the game because of his symptoms. But either way, the Canadiens Bell Centre record fell to 11-14-8 on the season despite playing in what is considered one of the best - if not the best - home rinks in the league. With Tampa Bay and Buffalo posting wins last night, and Winnipeg picking up a loser point, the Canadiens took another step towards a lottery pick with their dismal effort, currently in position to draft fourth overall, with Carolina just one point behind them and holding a game in hand (plus the tiebreaker). Simply put, it was a good night for the Blow for Grigorenko campaign.

Enough about that right now. The focus this week is primarily on General Manager Pierre Gauthier and what he may or may not do in the time leading up to the trade deadline, as it should be. Playoffs are out of reach; the important thing now is to be building for next season and beyond. In that light, Twitter was abuzz with Hab-related Tweets following a three team transaction. If you missed it, here is the move as it went down:

Colorado sent defenseman Kyle Quincey to the Tampa Bay Lightning in return for pesky forward Steve Downie; the Lightning then sent Qunicey to the Detroit Red Wings in return for Detroit's 2012 first round pick and - for contract limit reasons only - minor league defenseman Sebastien Piche.

Let's start with a little background. Quincey, if you'll recall, was originally a Red Wings draft pick. He was considered a solid prospect, but eventually lost out the in numbers game, unable to crack a deep Detroit blueline. As such, the Wings had to place him on waivers, where he was claimed by Los Angeles, and eventually traded to Colorado. Yes, you read that right. Detroit waived him. 3 and a half years ago. And yesterday gave up a first round pick to get him back. Imagine if Pierre Gauthier made such a move; Habs fans would lynch him. Yet Ken Holland was being praised by some for acquiring an underrated player who could help to fill a gap if Brad Stuart opts to leave Detroit as an unrestricted free agent this summer. (that's not a jab at Holland; more so one at Habs fans, who need to relax and understand that circumstances change over time)

If Piche's name sounds somewhat familiar to you, it's because he was invited to Habs' rookie camp back in 2007, but was never offered a contract. He was never drafted, and since signing a deal with the Wings as a free agent, has bounced between the AHL and ECHL. Nothing to see there.

Many fans were quick to take this trade and jump to conclusions about the worth of some Canadiens players that may be on the market. If Kyle Quincey could be dealt first for Steve Downie and then for a late first round pick, then surely there must be a market for Chris Campoli or Tomas Kaberle. If Downie was indirectly worth a first round pick, then a guy who plays a similar role but is better in the locker room like Travis Moen should be worth the same if he were healthy. And a much more skilled forward like Andrei Kostitsyn is likely worth even more!

Not so fast - let's not get carried away. The cases are completely different. Both Quincey and Downie are set to become just restricted free agents this summer, meaning that they are assets beyond the next 20 games plus playoffs. Downie is only 24 and has a 20-goal season under his belt. He plays with an edge and can drop the gloves. He was phenomenal in the playoffs last year, scoring 14 points in 17 games. The downsides, of course, are that he crosses the line at times, having received numerous suspensions, and has been rumoured to be a poor teammate. His offensive numbers to date may be inflated by having Steven Stamkos and/or Vincent Lecavalier as centers. That Quincey would be worth as much as Downie, or worth a first round pick, was surprising to many, and may say something about the demand for defensemen - always hot commodities at this time of year. But he's also only 26, has good size at 6'2" and 206 lbs, and has had seasons of 38 and 29 points, with 23 in 54 games this season.

Moen, Kostitsyn, and Campoli are all pending unrestricted free agents, meaning their value should be pegged to other rentals rather than younger or contracted players.

For Moen, if he were healthy, the closest comparable seems to be Dominic Moore. Some 5 days ago, the Lightning traded Moore and a 7th round pick to San Jose for a 2nd. For what Moore brings in face-off ability, Moen compensates with size and toughness, plus whereas Moore was having a subpar season, Moen might have set career highs if he stayed off the IR. Thus, I would say Moen's value is slightly higher than Moore's, in all likelihood worth a mid-to-late 2nd round pick by himself, and *perhaps* a tad bit more. He isn't Downie, and wouldn't get a 1st from anybody. Of course, there is a good chance that with his injury, he stays with the Canadiens. Then we'd just have to hope he can come to terms on an agreeable contract with Gauthier so as not to lose him for no return in July.

For Campoli, I do agree that the prices paid for d-men thus far would indicate that someone is probably willing to part with *something* for his services. The Quincey trades, however, have nothing to do with setting a value for him. There are many pending-UFA defensemen that teams could opt for over Campoli, meaning the Canadiens are not in a position of strength when it comes to brokering a deal. Even after the moves they've made thus far, looking at the Tampa Bay Lightning's roster alone, pending free agents Brett Clark and Matt Gilroy are likely to generate as much buzz as the much-malgined Habs' defenseman. No, not every team has quite as many players to offer up, but if you got excited thinking Montreal might end up with as much as a third round pick for Campoli, then a reality check is likely to come (though crazier things HAVE happened).

Kostitsyn is easily the toughest of the three to gauge at this point, as it is hard to find comparables who have been moved. Alexei Ponikarovsky was dealt for a 4th round pick a few weeks ago, but his play has declined the past few seasons, so surely Kostitsyn is worth considerably more at this point. A 6'0" (but thick) goal-scoring winger who can play physical at times and, having just turned 27, with many productive seasons ahead (though as a pending UFA, they are no guarantee to any club) should draw some interest from around the league. In fact, the Canadiens would be wise to attempt to get him signed since replacing the skill set he brings would likely cost a bigger cap hit on the free agent market this summer. But if that's not to be, and/or if they are done with waiting for his inconsistencies to normalize, then he must be moved before the team loses him for nothing this summer. So perhaps we can get a value estimate by looking at the 2011 deadline. Former Hab Chris Higgins was having a similar season to Kostitsyn's when he was dealt to Vancouver last year, and the Canucks ponied up a 3rd round selection and a reasonable prospect in defenseman Evan Oberg. Dustin Penner has been similarly inconsistent over his career, but had already scored 21 goals by the time he was dealt last season, returning 1st and 3rd round selections, along with prospect Colton Teubert. The Buffalo Sabres gave up a 2nd round pick to acquire Brad Boyes, a player softer than Kostitsyn, but who had already scored 41 points by deadline time (compared to Kostitsyn's 24), has 40- and 30-goal seasons on his resume, and had one more year remaining on his contract.

So what is Kostitsyn worth? Likely somewhere in the middle of all of that. I think the return Boyes got is probably the closest, meaning the Habs might be able to get a 2nd round pick for him. Perhaps add a decent prospect to that, but not likely more. Fans dreaming of a 1st round pick ++ are likely doing just that - dreaming.

So in short, what did yesterday's trade mean for the Habs? Not a whole lot. With players like Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina being moved, we have some indication of what the market value for d-men is, but there are many dominoes left to fall between now and Monday.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Habs Trade Talk - Deadline Dos and Don'ts

There's a big week in store for your Montreal Canadiens. And it has absolutely nothing to do with 3 winnable games against the Dallas Stars, Washington Capitals, and Florida Panthers.

Pierre Gauthier and his staff have until 3 PM EST next Monday (February 27th) to complete their final deals until after a team raises the Stanley Cup this June. For the first time in quite a while, the Canadiens appear to find themselves out of the running at the deadline, which should make them one of the league's few pure sellers. In economic terms, being one of the few is always a benefit, since by laws of supply-and-demand, the relative value of your assets increases, which means Gauthier is in a pretty powerful position. He has NHL-able talent to provide to the highest bidders.

Gauthier opened for business early in dealing Hal Gill to the Nashville Predators last week in a trade where all seem to agree he got as much as he could hope for in return for the 36-year old pending UFA. Given the number of dockets he has to manage this week, getting one off the table early is not a bad idea, particularly when it's unlikely the price for Gill would have gone up any higher a week later. If anything, by then, others teams with a need for a specialty player like him might have found their answers elsewhere.

But Gauthier still has many long nights ahead, not that he looks like he ever sleeps (or eats for that matter) anyway. The fact that the Canadiens are out of the playoff race likely means the team's future assets are safe, but that doesn't mean there are no places that Gauthier could still trip up. Here we look at some Dos and Don'ts for the man running the good ship Hab over the next 6 days.

Things To Do

1) Talk to the agents for pending unrestricted free agents Andrei Kostitsyn and Travis Moen. If Kostitsyn can be extended at $3.5M or less, and Moen at his current salary, get it done. I understand those who get very frustrated with Kostitsyn's inconsistencies, but the fact is the team won't be able to replace him with a big 20+ goal scorer who can play with physicality for any less money than he makes. If next season's third line looks something like Rene Bourque - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn, the team should be in good shape.

As for Moen, the fact that he is currently injured, whether or not it had to do with him being rushed back into the lineup inexplicably, means the team may not be able to trade him even if they wanted to. It's still possible that he'll be in the line-up Sunday vs. the Florida Panthers which would put his name back on the market, but he isn't yet skating and we've had no real updates on his health. Moen is a great guy to have on a fourth line alongside a Ryan White. Add a young player like Louis Leblanc or Blake Geoffrion, and the team's bottom 6 looks pretty sound.

The most important "do," is that if either of these guys isn't signed this week, they must be dealt elsewhere. Their value in Montreal for another 20 games is very minimal. The return the may bring in, perhaps a 2nd round pick each, will be of much greater help to the club in the big picture.

2) Try to offload some contracts. Two players in particular, to me, don't fit into this team's long-term structure. The obvious one is Scott Gomez, though moving him will be easier said than done. The team is likely going to have to wait till the summer to deal with his problem contract, whether through a possible new CBA-permitted no-cap-hit buyout, or by trading him for another poor contract given his actual dollar amount owed drops for the next two seasons.

The other one is Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle defenders will point to his 17 points in 31 games with the Habs as strong production, and they're not wrong. That pace would mean a 45-point 82-game season, which are good numbers for a blueliner. But calling Kaberle a blueliner might be a bit of a stretch; he is the furthest thing from dependable in his own end and needs to play sheltered minutes with a strong defensive partner. Seeing him on the ice beside Chris Campoli has created enough nightmares for Hab fans already. If the team was within earshot of a playoff spot, I would say Kaberle has his place here until season's end due to Andrei Markov's uncertain status between now and April. But the Russian is working hard to get back into shape, and at this point there is little reason to doubt his presence in the team's opening night line-up next October. Since our focus should be building for next season, with Markov and the likes of P.K. Subban, Raphael Diaz, and Yannick Weber in Montreal, Kaberle is redundant and should be replaced with a more complete player. His production during his time with the Canadiens might actually make up a moveable asset, even though the return will be limited (and likely less than the Habs would have gotten for selling a Jaroslav Spacek rental). That's the reason to trade him now instead of waiting to see how Markov progresses; demand for Kaberle and his contract won't always be there.

3) Trade the other UFAs. If moving Kaberle and/or Gomez may be difficult, moving Chris Campoli should be easier. He won't return much more than a late round draft pick, but depth defensemen rentals are always in demand come deadline. Another pending UFA, Mathieu Darche, may have generated some interest with his resurgent play as well, and though he would like to stay in Montreal, if anyone offers any kind of pick or prospect for his services, Gauthier would be silly to ignore it.

4) Test market interest in still-useful players. Yannick Weber jumps to mind as a player being wasted in his present role in Montreal, but who other teams may see potential in. Weber needs to either be developed properly as an offensive defenseman or sent to an organization that will give him that chance before he is completely depleted as an asset. If Petteri Nokelainen returns to the line-up this week - a possibility given he is skating again - the Canadiens should at the least be able to recoup the 7th round pick spent to acquire him, if not improve upon it from a team that needs face-off help going into the playoffs. Aaron Palushaj doesn't look to have much of a future in Montreal, especially with the addition of Blake Geoffrion and the graduation of Brendan Gallagher and Michael Bournival to Hamilton next season. Perhaps there is a club that would swap a younger prospect or draft pick for him as a more NHL-ready player.

The more controversial one, which I've mentioned before, is the idea of floating either Tomas Plekanec or David Desharnais. Trading either before having a replacement plan in place would be a HUGE risk, but it never hurts to see if there might be a can't-refuse offer out there. In case you missed my previous discussion about moving one of them, the idea is that the Canadiens should add a BIG top 6 center to improve their match-ups against bigger forward lines and bigger shutdown D pairings. As I'd like Lars Eller to remain the third line center, bringing in a large pivot would mean moving either Pleks or DD. The harder part will be finding the right player to replace one of them; say a Mikhail Grigorenko or Ryan Getzlaf.

5) Don't ignore any sweepstakes for contracted established players. Just because the Canadiens are a "seller," doesn't mean they should be out of the running if any signed veterans who could help the team become available. Marquee players don't become available every day. If a player is on the market, Gauthier shouldn't close any doors. Especially if he's already sold some players off by then, he may have considerable future assets to work with. The biggest name known to be at least "somewhat" available right now is Columbus's Rick Nash. His contract may not be the most attractive, but the package he brings to the table is one that would help the Canadiens in a big way. The more pressing need might be for a marquee center with size, but adding Nash to a team with Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole would help to make the Habs a tough team to defend against. Of course, Nash may be a moot point, as there are no confirmed reports that he would even consider waiving his no-movement clause to come to Montreal even if a deal were worked out.

Things To Avoid

1) Trading significant future assets. That means no 2012 draft picks (this year's first has to be COMPLETELY off limits), Brendan Gallagher, Michael Bournival, Jarred Tinordi (who celebrated his 20th birthday yesterday), Nathan Beaulieu, or Danny Kristo. Heck, I'd even add Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz, and Greg Pateryn to this group. The exception is in the case of #5 of the things to do, of course, since to bring in a premiere player, a prospect or two may have to be sacrificed. But in general, these names should be considered off-limits during a poor season.

2) Dealing recklessly with Columbus. Yes, Rick Nash *could* be a nice addition. But he also comes with a cap hit of $7.8M per season until 2018 which is a big chunk of change, even for a 60-point player. I would still take Nash, but wouldn't be willing to sacrifice anything and everything to acquire him. If that means the Habs are outbid for his services, so be it.

It's not just Nash who is allegedly available from the Blue Jackets though. They may also seek to part with Jeff Carter after acquiring him last June. Carter has appeared unhappy to play in Columbus since the day he was traded, the issue has gotten worse as a nagging foot injury has limited him to just 38 games. If you had asked me prior to this season if I'd have interest in Carter, I'd have said absolutely. A 6'3" goal-scoring center seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. But now consider his injuries, combined with his scoring just 22 points in those 38 games in his first season outside of Philadelphia, and - most importantly - the fact that his $5.3M cap hit extends until 2022 (when he'll be 37). Yes, Carter is a much better player than Scott Gomez, but his contract is also much longer and could handicap the team in a similar way. Thus, I would stay far away from any trade talks involving him.

Another Jacket with an unfavourable contract and likely on the market is Derick Brassard. Again, a 6'1" offensive center would appear to fit the bill nicely, but after setting career highs with 17 goals and 47 points as a 23-year old last season, his play has gone way south this year, undoubtedly making the Jackets regret his $3.2M annually deal that ends in 2014. Brassard has just 24 points in 51 games and was even a healthy scratch at times. The obvious connection to Montreal is a language one, with Brassard hailing from Hull, QC. But unless the Jackets are going to return the favour and take a contract like Gomez or Kaberle's from the Canadiens in the deal, I would be very hesitant to bring in Brassard.

3) Trading core pieces to address needs. If Gauthier does find an available player that fits into the team's plan, he must avoid the trap of addressing a need while creating another. The following roster players are my untouchable list which should not be included in any transaction: Carey Price, P.K. Subban, Alexei Emelin, Lars Eller, Josh Gorges, Max Pacioretty, and Erik Cole. This is my core, while there is flexibility for the remainder.

4) This last one is not for Gauthier, but for Habs fans. Avoid following made-up internet rumour mongers. That means Eklund, Incarcerated Bob, Hockeyy Insiderr, The Creasy, El Cloun (and his Vestiaire gang)... and Bruce Garrioch... If you follow them for strictly entertainment purposes to read whatever nonsense proposals they put out there, then fine. I follow some of them for that purpose as well. But please PLEASE don't take any of their alleged "rumours" too seriously. Most of it is either made up for some, or simply re-posting whatever any random anonymous source "leaks" to them for others.

If Gauthier can abide by all of this, it should be a relatively successful week. One "do" for Hab fans: Hang in there, and stay tuned to and/or our Twitter account @DailyCanadiens for all the latest insights and analysis as the transactions unfold. I'll be in Madrid over the weekend, so posts are more likely to be after-the-fact analysis depending on timing, but I will be stationed in my European workspace Monday ready to bring you all the news as-it-happens.

Monday, February 20, 2012

One Week 'till D-Day

If you had spoken to me two weeks ago, I would have told you I held only excited, optimistic views about the quickly approaching NHL trade deadline. Every game seemed a struggle for the Canadiens, and the team was tumbling towards last place in the Eastern Conference. A re-tooling and aiming for a top draft pick looked poised to begin any moment. I was excited at the prospect of acquiring, well, more prospects, whether directly through moves or trading for future draft picks. I was hopeful that some salaries, such as that of Tomas Kaberle, could be moved elsewhere.

That was two weeks ago. With the deadline now just a week away, if you had spoken to me prior to last night's game against the New Jersey Devils, the main word I would have had to describe my feelings would have been scared. With a 5-1-1 record over their previous 7 games, remarkably, thanks in no small part to skids by both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals, the Canadiens had a chance to move to within just 4 small points of the 8th and final playoff spot if they had beaten New Jersey. Even I, who has repeatedly said I don't see the playoffs as a possibility this season, would have had to concede to the belief/dream of a miracle run that sees the club squeak in.

So why be scared of this? Because as much as I always would want the team to make the playoffs, even as an 8th seed with long-shot odds of advancing, given my doubt in their ability to qualify this season, I feared Pierre Gauthier sticking with a "going for it" mindset and thus not trading assets while he could get reasonable value for them. Assets like pending UFAs Andrei Kostitsyn, Chris Campoli, and Travis Moen (if he gets healthy). Worse, might Gauthier even have been tempted to deal an excess prospect or pick for a rental to try to help push the team upwards?

That positive view comes from looking above the Canadiens in the standings, but the truth is, if you look at their rank and below, despite the hot streak, nothing much has changed. The teams in 9th and 11th through 15th have all performed much better of late than the 8th place Leafs and 10th place Caps, so the Habs haven't actually made up much ground. Last night's loss, then, was a huge blow to that playoff dream, and should set the team back on the re-tooling course. With 58 points in 60 games, Montreal would draft 5th overall as of today (pre-lottery), which could be 4th if Buffalo wins its game in hand. The team to sell is nigh.

I hear what you're saying. "Don't be silly Dan. It's clear they were going to be sellers. They traded Hal Gill!" Yes, they did, but keep in mind that Gill's role with the team had been greatly reduced as the season went on. He was typically playing 13-14 minutes a night of late. Getting the amazing package they did for him was a no-brainer move whether going for a playoff spot or not. The Habs should be seeking more deals of that type if it truly is as much of a seller's market as the value obtained makes it appear to be. A 2nd round pick and solid prospect in Blake Geoffrion will go along way to help securing the team's future. In his first 2 games as a Hamilton Bulldog, Geoffrion has collected a total of 1 goal, 4 assists, and 13 shots on goal, being named 1st and 2nd star on Saturday and Sunday respectively. If Gill (16:23 of ice and a +2 in his first Nashville game - a 3-2 win - by the way) can get such assets, Chris Campoli must be worth something as well. I mean the Habs themselves did once give up a late round pick for Todd Simpson, or Paul Mara just last season.

So let's enjoy what should be a fun week for those like me who love the NHL draft and following young prospects. For the first time in many, many years, the Canadiens should come out of deadline week with some nice assets in the bank. It seems set in stone that Pierre Gauthier will be plenty active anyway. There are still a few pitfalls to avoid, of course, and so tomorrow I will look at some moves the team must avoid.

[By the way, if you haven't read Dave Stubbs' piece on Hal Gill and his leaving Montreal, do yourself a favour and check it out here:
Would be nice to see him join the Habs staff, or sign as a depth d-man for next season. Staff is unlikely as he still has a few miles in the tank, but playing here again as a #6 or 7 could be a solid fit.]

Friday, February 17, 2012

Habs Send Hal Gill to Nashville

The Montreal Canadiens announced today the trade of Hal Gill to the Nashville Predators, along with a conditional draft pick, in return for Blake Geoffrion, Robert Slaney, and a 2nd round pick in 2012. The conditional pick is a 5th rounder in 2013, which the Predators will receive if Geoffrion plays 41 or more games for Montreal next season.

Let's start with the big man - not that any player in this trade is "small." Hal Gill was signed as an unrestricted free agent during the great purge of 2009. Many were critical of his 2 year, $2.25M per season deal, as it was felt that he was too slow and even then his best days were behind him. But Gill performed beyond expectations. He is a slow starter, but is a true heart and soul type player, saving his best games for the post-season when they matter the most. He formed a phenomenal shutdown pair with Josh Gorges during the 2009-10 run to the Conference Finals, and the following season was invaluable mentoring a young P.K. Subban. Gill was a leader in the dressing room, and undoubtedly the most likeable player in the "Get to Know Your Canadiens" video segments (did the Canadiens leak the predictable fact that Gill would be traded by leaving him out of the most recent question video?). He was considered important enough to earn one more year at his previous salary last summer, and this time around the deal was met with much approval. His departure would leave a leadership vacuum in the room, but thankfully last summer's signing Erik Cole has been perhaps the team's top leader throughout this season. Gill's absence will allow Cole to wear a well-deserved "A" on his jersey for the remainder of the year.

But Gill's age showed this season. With Andrei Markov out, and Roman Hamrlik and James Wisniewski playing elsewhere, the Canadiens couldn't afford to shelter Gill's minutes during the regular season, and as he wasn't his old dependable self, his ice time dwindled. He remained the team's best penalty killer, perhaps one of the best in the league, and that is the main strength he can bring to a young and mobile Predators' blueline. The 36-year old provided valuable services to the Canadiens, and he will be missed. But as sad as I am to see him go, I couldn't be happier with the return. Let's look at the players being acquired.

Robert Slaney is a strange throw-in for the Canadiens to inquire about. Was it a contracts thing? A money thing? Who knows, but the 23-year old seems far from a legitimate NHL prospect at this point. The 6'2", 203 lbs. Newfoundland native has good size no doubt, but the left winger has struggled to establish himself at the AHL level since being signed as a free agent from the QMJHL's Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. He has spent the majority of the last 3 seasons in the ECHL, where this year he has 18 points in 30 games. In 52 AHL games over 3 years, he has registered just 8 assists. He is described as a third or fourth line type who, while not overly physical, uses his body well to protect the puck. He adds some depth to the system for a Hamilton Bulldogs team likely to be decimated by call-ups between now and the trade deadline.

Blake Geoffrion, on the other hand, is a nice prospect to add to the stockpile. Having turned 24 two weeks ago, Geoffrion is nearing the "now or never" phase of his career to live up to the hype that had Nashville select him in the 2nd round, 56th overall, in 2006. Either way his acquisition by the Canadiens is a nice story, as - in case you were unaware - Geoffrion is the grandson of Montreal legend Bernard "Boom Boom" Geoffrion. But it doesn't stop there. This also means his great grandfather was another Hab legend, Howie Morenz. And even his father, Dan Geoffrion, was a Canadiens 1st round pick, though he would only play 32 games for Montreal. Thus, assuming Blake does eventually play for the Habs (and there is little reason to doubt he will get a shot), he will be a fourth generation Montreal Canadien!

About the player himself, Geoffrion is a 6'1", 190 lbs winger with strong offensive instincts. He seemed poised to breakout last season, picking up 6 goals and an assist over his first 11 NHL games with the Preds (including a hat trick), but cooled off and added only one more assist over his next 9 games. He was expected to be a lock to spend this season with the Predators, but after scoring just 3 assists through 22 games, he was sent down to the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, where he has managed 9 points through 20 games. Certainly not the season Geoffrion had hoped for, but perhaps a change of scenery will do him some good. Sometimes a new/better fit is all it takes, and there is enough potential still there that it is something Hab fans can hope for. Geoffrion gets his hands dirty in front of the net and is skilled enough to someday be a 20-goal scorer in the league.

With regards to his style, Geoffrion uses his frame effectively, able to play a two-way power game. He is a strong skater, meaning that even if his offense doesn't pan out, he could be a serviceable third or fourth liner all the same. He will report to the Hamilton Bulldogs for now, but expect him to be back in the NHL before the season is through. He will be a restricted free agent this summer after finishing his entry level contract which has a cap hit of $1,062,500 after bonuses. Geoffrion is a rather active Tweeter, so give him a follow here: @BlakeGeoffrion.

All in all, with the 2nd round pick, I would call this a win for Pierre Gauthier and the Canadiens. The return was as good - if not better - than anyone could have expected for Gill, and Gauthier struck while the iron was hot before teams with a need for a defensive d-man had all filled their holes. This is not to say the Predators "lose" the deal, but as a Hab fan, I'm quite happy with the return.