July 8th, 2008
So the dust has setled, money has been thrown around as if it grows on trees, and we inch closer and closer to the 2008-2009 NHL season. It's the time of year when GM's, after months of analysing, scouting, and meticulous planning, get out their cell phones and start wooing agents and their clients to come play for their team. Massive contracts are being signed left and right, however as usual, Bob Gainey has been relatively quiet since July 1-obviously the rumors were flying around, however he only made two, perhaps three significant signings. The difference between Gainey and the majority of NHL GM's is that he took action before the deadline, at the Entry Draft to be specific. Let's take a look back at what he did.
Going into the Draft, the Canadiens held the 25th pick overall, a lower spot than most Habs fans are used to since the Canadiens shocked the hockey world by taking the Eastern Conference and the reigns of the Northeast Division away from the Ottawa Senators. Gainey had a decision to make-take the best player available at that spot, or trade it, either to move up or to acquire and expirienced impact player-which is exactly what he did;
"We have a trade to announce!" squeaked Gary Bettman, arousing cheers from the crowd.
"The Calgary Flames trade Alex Tanguay and a 5th round pick in this year's draft to Montreal for a 1st round pick in this year's draft and a 2nd round pick in next year's draft."
So Gainey got his man. Tanguay had apparently been on the Habs radar for a while now, going back to the beggining of the season when Alex Kovalev scorned head coach Guy Carbonneau for not calling a time-out in the last two minutes of a game against the Florida Panthers. The city and media was enraged and were all calling for Kovalev to be shipped out, we've had enough of this big-mouthed, lazy, selfish, useless waste of 4.5 million dollars! Out with him! Off with his head! (That all changed when Kovalev put up 84 points in a huge bounce-back year-he was a main reason for the Habs success.)
The next day rumors were flying rampant, Kovalev for Tanguay straight up...but cooler heads prevailed, the Canadiens dealt with Kovy and life went on...the rumors picked up again at the trade deadline, now involving Michael Ryder, the Bonavista boy who was spending more and more time in the pressbox due to his lack of scoring and basically not doing anything useful while he wasn't doing his main job, which is too shoot and score. But nothing developped here either, the Marian Hossa saga ended in disapointment, and Mats Sundin was still a Leaf.
Things change fast in the NHL eh?
Tanguay is a Hab (and for cheap too in my honest opinion), Hossa took the "if you can't beat them, join them" route in signing a year-long deal with the Wings (a total slap in the face to the Pens, but more importantly, Sid the Kid!), and Mats Sundin is still hopelessly lost, however there is still hope in Montreal that the former Laffs captain would come to Montreal and lead us back to the Promised Land-not only would that DESTROY the hearts of Leafs fans everywhere, but too win #25 during the Centennial year would sure be something.
Speaking of Sundin and such. Carbonneau, speaking to the media at the Habs development camp, stated that they had not signed Streit to make room for Sundin. It's obvious Gainey still has major interest...for awhile we all thought Georges Laraque was our big UFA signing (which suits me just fine, can't wait to see someone on the Habs GIVE a beating rather than get one...I'd like to see someone try to run Price now...), but it seems we are still in contention for Sundin. For now. If he decides to retire, or strike it rich with the Canucks (insanity, 20 million for two years) things don't change much;
Projected Lines (without Sundin):
(Brisebois/Valentenko) --> Carbo stated Brisebois has this spot if he doesn't retire.
Pretty much the same as last year, with the exception of a MUCH tougher fourth line/depth fowards with the addition of Laraque, a talented winger for Saku Koivu, and a more two-way third line. Higgins would probably end up on the top two lines though...I just think Sergei suits the role better, but we'll see.
Now, let's say Sundin comes out and says "Guys, I'm coming back. Let's hear those offers." The frenzy will start all over again. Looking at the cap numbers and team needs, here are the teams that have a shot at Sundin:
*Most of these teams are here due to cap availability and not on previous rumors or interest.
So let's do this team by team (considering and hoping Sundin sticks to his guns-money is not that much of an option and he wants a chance to win the Cup.)
Thrashers: Here's an easy one-no chance to win the Cup, let alone make the playoffs.
Sabres: Possibility, as they are in the East, however another non-contender.
Avalanche: Definetly have potential, however still need to sign Sakic and some RFA's (Svatos). Also doesn't correspond geographically with what Mats wants.
Kings: Rebuilding mode. Out west. No chance.
Canadiens: Showed they have what it takes last year, just need that last piece to get over the hump. Have all the pieces in place, Sundin would fit perfectly into the system-big, talented center, good in the face-off circle, big and physical, which is what the Habs needed against Philly last year. Cup contender with or without Sundin in my mind, but MUCH, MUCH better with.
Predators: Bubble team, out west. No chance.
Islanders: In the East, however nowhere close to the Cup.
Senators: Here's an interesting one. The Sens have the space, and they have a good enough team to bounce back from their freefall at the tail end of last season, which almost saw them miss the playoffs altogether before getting blown out of the water by the Pens. In 06' Spezza got man-handled by the Ducks, a Sundin would have been nice back then eh? I can see him sliding into the second line center spot, and if he's willing to play for Montreal who says who won't also make the exception for the Sens. It depends if Bryan Murray has interest, and still has room since he still has some RFA's to sign.
Coyotes: Slowly but surely becoming a better team, however they got their man in Jokinen. Don't think they'd make a pitch.
Canucks: The final major player in the Sundin Sweeps. They have the room, and at 10 million a year, its hard to resist (if Sundin is greedy). If he wants to win, this ain't the place for it. It would be Toronto all over again...without Naslund and Morrison, its basically up to him, the Sedins, and Steve Bernier to carry the offensive load. At least in Montreal (Koivu, Kovalev, Kostitsyn Bros, Plekanec, Higgins) and in Ottawa (Spezza, Healtey, Alfredsson, Vermette) you have support.
So that leaves us with three teams with legitamite chances at Sundin, and the Leafs, if he takes a pay-cut, since they only have just over seven million in cap space. If he wants a winner, cut it down to Montreal and Ottawa. With the interest they have shown, the centenial year, the passion of the fans, the young core, and the chance to be part of history, I think Sundin will end up a Hab...as long as he doesn't pull a Niedermayer/Selanne.
Assuming he does sign with the Habs, what happens to the lines? The depth at center would be ridiculous (in a good way). So, here are a few options;
Projected Lines (with Sundin) #1:
Projected Lines (with Sundin) #2:
Projected Lines (with Sundin) #3:
There are so many options, I'll just leave it at that. Carbonneau would have a nice little dilemna on his hands, one I'm sure he won't mind. All I know is if the Habs land Sundin, this team would be for real, and a shot at the Cup in a Habs fan's mind sends chills down your back and goosebumps on your arms. We saw the atmosphere last year. Imagine a team with this kind of firepower. A year of expirience for the Kostitsyn brothers. Price has a year and a playoff under his belt-the man with the ice veins ain't a rookie anymore. Possibly another mentor who can contribute in Sundin. Another speedy, impact wnger in Tanguay. Contract years for Koivu, Kovalev, Plekanec, Higgins, Komisarek, Tanguay. A rejuvinated Kovalev with more weapons in his arsenal. A powerplay that could possibly be even mightier than before, despite the loss of Streit. Laraque who brings a sense of protection and relief to the skill guys who don't have to worry so much about the cheap shots, and can play their game, and Price won't get run so often, because it'll mean some Laraque haymakers to the jaw. And of course a city that is behind its team through good or bad, better or worse.
(Now let's hope Sundin actually signs here...)
P.S: The NHL really should use a Hab in the "Is this the Year?" commercial this season. Last year teams like Bufallo and Carolina had reps....???? They didn't even make the playoffs!
"Is this the year the Habs return to glory?"