As the Montreal Canadiens bring this regular season to a close, it's impossible to think that newly minted GM Pierre Gauthier won't have an eye towards the future.
This is not a bad team and after former GM Bob Gainey's overhaul, it is starting to gel.
Still, there are gaps and holes and moving into 2010-11.
Gauthier is going to have some huge bargaining chips with which to upgrade the core.
I firmly believe that by the time the NHL Entry Draft is done, either Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak will have a new home address.
The team simply cannot afford both restricted free agents in the cap system, and I sincerely doubt either (especially Halak) will be interested in resigning for a potential backup role.
One will be moved, and a veteran backup acquired or signed. Yesterday, I argued that it should be Carey Price, potential and all, who gets his passport stamped.
At Forward, it's not hard to imagine that the team's patience may have worn out with Andrei Kostitsyn, who can at times be dominant, but too often disinterested.
It'd be a shame to trade such a player at a low value, but he is in a tough spot. He's too good to drop out of the top six, but not good enough to keep a place there.
If he goes, I am sure his brother would be in play too.
On defense, things look good, but perhaps Jaroslav Spacek might find himself on the wrong end of a cap world. He's a solid veteran, but so are Hal Gill (cheaper) and Roman Hamrlik (no trade clause).
With the talent waiting in Hamilton, and a sticky cap situation, Spacek seems like a logical piece of trade bait.
How Things Look Now
It appears as if most the NHL roster for next season is largely going to be intact at forward.
Tomas Plekanec is the major UFA, and Hockey Night in Canada reports that his signing is but a formality at this point.
If that's true, the team is firmly committed to its top two centers, as well as two of its four scoring wings (Mike Cammelleri and Brian Gionta both have four years left on their deals signed last summer).
The team also has a host of mid-range prospects at the AHL and yo-yo NHL level that are ready to compete for those spots likely to open when aging players like Glen Metropolit and Dominic Moore leave to free agency.
In terms of an immediate need, the major hole seems to be a top-line, big winger.
The jury is out on Benoit Pouliot. Space could also be made if the team decided to end the Andrei Kostitsyn experiment.
The bottom six should be populated adequately by some combination of Travis Moen, Max Lapierre, Sergei Kostitsyn, Tommy Pyatt, Ryan White, Ben Maxwell, David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty, Brock Trotter, and maybe one of the upcoming UFAs, Moore, Metropolit, and Mathieu Darche.
Aside from the big winger, the team may also be in the market for a top notch forward prospect.
The only players in their system who most observers figure could still become impact players are college draft picks Dany Kristo and Louis Leblanc.
Neither, though, address the team's need for a physical winger. AHL players, Max Pacioretty and Ben Maxwell (who is currently with the team) could also develop, but neither seems poised to be a dominant force.
On defense, things are a lot rosier.
World Junior hero and AHL first team all-star PK Subban is the future, and he's joined by similar, if less flashy offensive defense men, Yannick Weber and Mathieu Carle.
Current NHL player, Andrei Markov is the cornerstone of the team. Josh Gorges and Ryan O'Byrne are not too old.
Veterans Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill are solid, although eventually one or more may find themselves on the way out thanks to their generous cap hits.
In the prospect cupboard, there is also David Fischer, a former first round pick, but a bit of a project. There is also mercurial KHLer and Pierre McGuire favorite, Alexei Emelin. It's impossible to say if either will ever amount to anything for Montreal, though.
Still, with Markov likely to be around for quite some time, three young guys who are nearly ready in Hamilton, and two younger players already in Montreal, the Habs have to be happy with their defensive depth.
Which brings us to the net, where an abudence of riches is the cause of so much angst.
As I said yesterday, both Halak and Price should be fine options for the next decade. If they're not, Cedric Desjardins is an All-Star in Hamilton and perhaps another diamond in the rough.
If Gauthier follows the logic above, I can see him going into the draft with a firm eye towards a top six winger with size and a desire to use it, as well as a restocking of the forward prospect pool.
With Carey Price, Jaroslav Spacek, and possibly the Kostitsyn brothers to dangle, it should make for a fun draft.
Next time, I'll look at potential homes for Price and who might fill the needs the Habs will have going into next year.
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