Thirty-five games into the season, more games played than any other team, the Montreal Canadiens find themselves a mere 2 points out of 29th spot overall. That’s more than enough reason to think this team is not a Stanley Cup contender. And in this modern NHL salary cap era that’s enough reason to rebuild for next season.
A common, successful strategy to rebuild is by selling off several players to the highest bidders for draft picks and prospects. However, Montreal is fresh off a summer headlined by their GM’s super-spending on free agents; and the expensive acquisition of Scott Gomez. This recent history puts the Habs GM in a tough position if he were to start selling.
Many critics have penned this season a make-or-break year for Bob Gainey’s Montreal Canadiens. It’s really up to the new ownership group and BG himself to decide whether they feel the same way. Because with every game this team fails to compete, they are pushed closer to the imminent sell and rebuild. Maybe only a new Habs GM would be able to perform such a task. Let's go Patrick Roy.
The good news, the free agent acquisitions have put in some excellent performances this season; they have some very strong pieces in the organization to build around; and they have a few players that can be seen as very movable for some draft picks or prospects.
Roman Hamrlik will have only one season left on his contract after this season. His performance in the absence of Andrei Markov would have many believe he is capable of playing at the level a 5.5 mil/yr defenceman should play. He really has stepped up his game most nights.
Glen Metropolit, one of the better Habs this season, plays with the heart of a lion out there. This guy could definitely help out a team in the playoffs. Of each of the players I mention, Metropolit would be the toughest to see go to another team as he brings his A-game every game.
With Max Lapierre playing most of this year as the second line winger in place of the injured Gionta, I would think Lapierre could be moved back to centre the fourth line with Metropolit’s departure and Gionta’s return. I also think this year is merely an off season for Lapierre.
Matt Carle and Shawn Belle both put in respectable performances this season when called upon. The two defence prospects have served their time in the AHL and should warrant the Canadiens moving Ryan O’Byrne.
Sergei Kostitsyn, Matt D’Agostini...
And then there’s Jaroslav Halak leading the way of the soon to be ex-Habs. His trade value is up for debate. The recent play of 24 year old Cedrick Desjardins should help intensify the trade talk surrounding Halak. I would think that hanging on to Halak until after the Olympics and before the trade deadline would be the best case scenario. Let the goaltender show what he can do against the world’s best.
Let’s pretend for a minute the Habs finish in 29th spot overall this season, and each player mentioned above were traded or lost via free agency. What would the depth chart look like? We will also pretend Bob Gainey re-signs Tomas Plekanec.
A Kostitsyn Plekanec Cammalleri
Pacioretty Gomez Gionta
Pouliot Maxwell Trotter
Pyatt Lapierre Moen
That line-up isn’t much worse than the one they are icing right now. Throw in an NHL ready high draft pick (Taylor Hall?) and a UFA signing and it looks much better. The more than 8 million in cap space that would be created by losing Hamrlik, Mara, and Metropolit (the latter two are ufa this offseason) would be enough to upgrade Plekanec and Prices contracts over the summer and make room for a free agent signing.
The Habs should put themselves in a strong drafting position. They don't have too far to fall. Maybe they'll even find someone willing to take Scott Gomez off their hands.