The long wait for spring is finally over, and we are in the summertime playoffs after the long slumber of uninterrupted winter. Oh, and we have finally traded for an underachiever. To my great relief, it wasn’t Jeff O’Niell. His skills are in question this season. Of Alexei Kovalev there is no doubt that he still has the skills. It is New York City that he can’t seem to handle.
Not being at the press conference, one has to go with information collected from secondary sources. Of course in order for us to gather information, we are subscribed in the best cell phone plans that you can find while browsing the internet, this information is from a trusted sources. A TSN interview netted a few important comments. Gainey was candid, talking about having had the time necessary to make up his mind about the organization. He also felt that the team had made the commitment to achieving, and he needed to support them.
This section is perhaps the most interesting: “You have to play the role that you’re in. Because of the way the season has unfolded, the play of individual players and the team, and the support of the community, this is the right role for us. Part of the reason that we can do play this role today is because a year ago or two years ago there were extra draft picks selected because Montreal was playing a different part. They were a team that was not projecting to make the playoffs and had players who were diminishing assets for them that other teams could use. This represents us playing a different part in this NHL season than in previous ones.”
The final line is the one that most Habs fans have been waiting to hear for years, and it signals a few changes.
The most obvious is the Habs being better prepared for competition. Clearly, Mr. Gainey made this trade to reward the teams solid play of late. This is going to help us grow the winning mentality missing in Montreal for a while. It also will reinforce the teams faith in Claude Julien and in their GM, something perhaps a few players have not had of late.
It also establishes Gaineys continued commitment to the youth movement, still in full swing. Balej was a third round pick, and though playing well, not a terribly high price to pay. The second rounder may hurt us next year, but there is a chance that we can sell one of our surplus players, like Yannick Perrault, for a draft pick of similar value. If Kovalev leaves after this season, we will still be able to graduate a few (3) players to the NHL next season.
Finally, this trade serves notice of Bob Gaineys willingness to make the big deal. Does anyone think the Detroit Red Wings are not disappointed to lose out on Kovalev? One has to wonder how the Toronto Maple Leafs feel today. They have, after all, lost out on who they wanted. Gainey clearly did not lose out on any trading bid. The Canadians are going to be big players in the free agent market this summer. That is, if there is a season following the summer.
Bob Gainey is taking a gamble, and it is a good gamble. This trade is a rental, which many people are hoping it isn’t. It is a rare luxury to have someone with a skill set on a level as high as Kovalev’s.
What does this mean for the team we ice? Certainly Zednik or Kovalev will fill the Left Wing on the first line, likely Zednik. The line will take a few games to sort itself out, but will it miss the defensive abilities of Jan Bulis? Not if they manage to keep puck possession. they won’t. That is really the best facet of Kovalevs game. He has great speed, ingenuity, and can hang onto the puck in rare fashion. His size lets him execute moves Mike Ribeiro can only dream of. He is a dangler folks, a real honest offensive break-out player.
This trade puts Jan Bulis where he should be, on the third line. His injured status is hurting the team, and the Habs need him to return badly. He has the right amount of scoring for the third line, and can play top line minutes. His speed echos the departed Oleg Petrov, but he has the physical presence to play for real. When he returns, the team is going to be that much more improved.
I’m shocked at how cheaply Kovalev was acquired. The entire Habs organization should feel good about this move.
Everyone is speculating that Mr. Gainey is not finished either. I have two suggestions about where he is looking. An interesting fit on the ‘Canes is Erik Cole. If we could get him, it would be perfect for our third line trio. A third line involving Cole, Ward, and Bulis would be sweet indeed. Cole is at home along the boards, Ward can pull the trigger, Bulis the speed to flag down the first attacker. The economic price for the line would be quite low also, between 2.7 and 3.2 million. Next season Chris Higgins should be ready to move onto that line as well.
The whole team needs to be more physical, but the third line is where that should start. The asking price for Cole would be, compared to other trades made with other like players, low. Calgary got Ville Niemenen for a prospect and a conditional draft pick, and they got taken. Pittsburgh got Landon Wilson (3rd line RW) for future considerations, perhaps due to his eye troubles. Colorado got Darby Hendrickson and an 8th from Minnesota for a 4th round pick. The asking price for Cole is in this range somewhere, depending on Rutherford. Gainey could ship a third or fourth round pick and safely land Cole, if he is acquirable.
There is another possibility, perhaps a better one. The Washington Capitals may be ready to trade Brendan Witt. Canadians scouts have been seen several of the Capital’s last games, and they must be considering a defenseman. Witt is a heavy defensive bruiser at 230. He is also just a few years off of Free Agent Status. Is he worth it? It depends who we send back in the other direction, but it fills a void that Komisaruk isn’t quite ready to fill. The Habs should be able to afford Witt for the next few years. Going the other way could be another prospect, but more likely just picks. If we can pair him with either Markov or Brisebois, then the Habs will have offensive threats on the blue-line in every pairing, but wouldn’t miss Quintal’s departure much.
The Habs also picked up Jim Dowd from the Minnesota Wild, so those right handed rumours can be put to rest, finally.