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.]