Why Bob Gainey's Focus Should Be on Building Toward Next Season
By all estimates, from the media to bloggers to the bleacher reporters, the Montreal Canadiens 2008-2009 season has been a disaster.
Although many are panicking and hoping for General Manager Bob Gainey to make a trade, myself among them, stating that the Canadiens needed to acquire Sean Avery to add character and size to a small, plain team.
After watching the Canadiens embarrass themselves through two games in Alberta, it is painfully clear that this team is average at best.
Much speculation has been made about acquiring Vincent Lecalvier, and it is perhaps in the works by Bob Gainey. But Lecalvier, should he be acquired, is not the saviour for this season. There needs to be an eye on the future, and that perhaps, Bob Gainey should throw in the towel for this season.
Looking at many of the up-coming restricted and unrestricted free agents, it is obvious who the Canadiens should target as priorities, and others who Bob Gainey should let walk or possibly deal at the deadline.
Mr. Enigma, Kovalev is an up-coming unrestricted free agent, who has been an overall disappointment in Montreal this season.
His passion, character, and heart have all been questioned at certain points this season, and he has shown that he is not a big-game player. After a terrific 2007-2008 campaign where he led the team in goals (35) and points (84), he's only had 13 goals and 39 points this season—surprising since Kovalev has always been considered a player who plays harder during a contract season.
The Kovalev debacle may be a blessing to the organization. Instead of a repeat performance by Kovalev, where he helped to propel players such as Tomas Plekanec and Alexei Kostitsyn to another level last season, all three have looked ordinary and plain, their chemistry completely gone, and none of found that sort of chemistry with anyone else on the team.
Kovalev probably can't be dealt. His reputation as a drifter hurts his trade value. The best Gainey can hope for is a quiet end to a disappointing season, where both the player and organization can go different paths next season. I wouldn't be surprised if Kovalev returned to Russia to end his career.
Mike Komisarek's name has been brought up may times as potential trade bait for any possible scenario involving Vincent Lecalvier. This, in my humble opinion, would be a mistake.
I have no problems accepting Vincent Lecalvier to the Montreal Canadiens organization, but three names should not be included in any possible scenario: Mike Komisarek, Andrei Markov, and Carey Price.
Komisarek's value to the team is unquestionable. At 6'4'' and 243 lbs, Komisarek is Montreal's biggest and most efficient defenseman. He plays 25 minutes a night against the opposition's top players and is a ruthless hitter. Had Komisarek not injured his shoulder in an ill-advised fight against the Bruins Milan Lucic, perhaps Montreal's season is different.
Komisarek is a UFA once the season is over. He made $1.9 million this season, yet is in for a huge pay raise. Montreal should budget around $4 million as a starting point for negotiations with Komisarek. Players like him are a commodity.
The Finnish Captain has had his usual type of season. Hurt for a few weeks, play for a few weeks, repeat. As someone making $4.75 million dollars, more has been expected of Koivu, especially after posting respectable numbers the previous season.
Koivu has been playing hurt, but his skill level has diminished. Someone making his type of money has to preform, and sadly, Koivu has not.
Although it would be premature to deal Koivu at the deadline, could this summer be the end of Koivu in Montreal? As a captain, he has never guided the Canadiens past the second round of the playoffs, but that is no fault of his own.
Koivu has always been an inspirational presence on the team, and I feel as if he respects the logo for which he plays for and understands the history involved. If Koivu was willing to take a pay cut, and perhaps play a reduced role as a checking or third line player, I am positive the Canadiens would welcome him back, although this scenario could play out like the Markus Naslund debacle in Vancouver last season.
For all of Saku's class and passion, I would welcome him back, as I'm sure most others would as well.
Alex Tanguay, before his shoulder separation, had 26 points in 34 games, respectable numbers. It has been hard to judge Tanguay's place on the team this season as I personally believe that Tanguay has traditionally played well in a "wing man" role, a perfect compliment to a top centre man, such as his days in Colorado beside Joe Sakic or Peter Forsberg.
That said, if a centreman was acquired at the deadline, or in the off-season, Tanguay would be the perfect compliment.
Tanguay would be worth keeping around next season, as he is a skilled Cup winner, something this team lacks. Tanguay, however, may seek a long term deal, at around his current price of $5.375 million, which may be too much for the Habs to keep around long term.
Steve Begin/Tom Kostopoulos
Steve Begin and Tom Kostopoulos seem like one in the same. Both are gamers, pluggers, a dime a dozen type of player.
If I had to keep one, I would keep Tom Kostopoulos. He's been a consistent hard worker, and his playoff series last Spring against the Bruins demonstrated the kind of character and lunch-pale mentality that Kostopoulos brings to the arena every day.
If I were Bob Gainey, I'd re-sign Kostopoulos. Perhaps give him a raise over the $900,000 he's been making the past two seasons. I'd go as far as $1.5 million for the workhorse.
Steve Begin brings the same kind of character and mentality that Kostopolous brings, yet Begin has been injury prone the past few seasons and he is clearly not the same kind of banger that he was two seasons ago. It looks like Begin has lost a step, and if Gainey could find a taker for Begin, he'd be sure to get a mid-round pick for him. If not, Begin and the team should bid adieu to one another once the season has ended.
Arguably Robert Lang was Montreal's most consistent and relevant forward until a season ending Achille's Tendon injury ruined what was a productive season.
Lang, brought in to fill a gap down the middle, was a consummate professional during his stay in Montreal. He played many roles for the team, from power play quarterback to penalty-killer, and was a significant cog in their power play.
Lang, at 38, is perhaps worth a look once again. It seems as if he was enjoying his time in Montreal, and perhaps Lang could be signed for one more season at a lower price than the $4 million he is currently making. At $2.5 or $3 million, he would be worth to have for a young team.
Francis Bouillon/Mathieu Dandenault/Patrice Brisebois
All three of Montreal's francophone defenseman are up for unrestricted free agency at the end of the season, and by all indications Patrice Brisebois will retire once the season is over.
Francis Bouillon and Mathieu Dandenault bring a lot to the Montreal Canadiens. Both are small but tough. Both can be efficient penalty killers and both are great at blocking shots. They both can also skate like the wind.
Dandenault, at age 33, is in his 11th NHL season. He brings a grittiness and a winning mentality, winning cups in Detroit prior to joining the Canadiens as a free agent. His contract, at $1.7 million a year, is a reasonable price for a versatile player.
If Dandenault was sought after by a few teams at the deadline, Gainey should possibly consider dealing him for a pick. If he'd be willing to take the same kind of deal from the Habs, he should be back.
Francis Bouillon is much like Dandenault, although he cannot play forward like Dandenault will sometimes do.
At 32, Bouillon may be looking to cash in on one last big pay raise, meaning that the Canadiens may either have to open up their wallets for the diminutive defenseman, or they will see him walk. For a guy who gives it his all every night and is willing to do what it takes to win, I'd consider giving him a raise, although his $1.875 million dollar deal is already a pretty generous contract considering the type of player he is.
Chris Higgins/Tomas Plekanec
Both Chris Higgins and Tomas Plekanec have been disappointments for the Montreal Canadiens this season, and have not really proven why they should be signed long-term.
As Restricted Free Agents, the Habs can match any potential offer for these two, who make $1.9 million and $1.8 million respectively, reasonable contracts for the pair of 25 year-olds.
If any scenario arises where assets need to be dealt for, say, a Vincent Lecalvier type of player, one, if not both of these underachieving forwards could be dealt. I'm sure if neither is gone by the deadline, they may find themselves out of town on draft day.
You either love or hate Guillaume Latendresse; there is no way around that.
For all of the potential talent that Latendresse harbours, he doesn't show it. At times he is painful to watch, giving away the puck and looking a step too slow.
He is, however, a big body up front: something the Canadiens lack. Outside of Pacioretty, Latendresse is Montreal's other power winger, and perhaps given the right circumstances, he could live up to the hype.
As an RFA with a mid-level deal, at $850k, he could easily be re-signed for perhaps under a million. Latendresse, however, must show that he deserves that kind of money when he returns from a shoulder injury.
If Montreal continues its collapse, Gainey must realize what this team needs in order for it to be competitive next season. Accumulating draft picks, freeing up cap space, and figuring out what needs to be done should be his priorities for the rest of the season. A franchise's future depends on it.
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