With the trade deadline approaching, and the Habs’ continuous fall in the standings, many people have been calling for a change. But at what cost are fans willing to give up to obtain a premium player? Trading Sergei Samsonov, Janne Niinimaa, or David Aebischer would be relatively impossible considering their contracts and performances. Thus, one must look elsewhere if they plan on bringing in a talented player to help for the playoff push.
The Habs have a number of talented young men in their system that Bob Gainey will be reluctant to part with. Prospects, such as Jaroslav Halak, Andrei Kostitsyn, Mikhail Grabovsky, David Fischer, and to an extent Alexander Perezhogin, have all been a part of trade rumors as of late. But why should the Habs, a team still considered to be in a rebuilding phase, move one of their talented youngsters for an older, injury prone player like Peter Forsberg?
Even if the Habs set their sight on a younger rental player, the risk would likely be too high for Gainey’s liking. To give up a potential star like Andrei Kostitsyn for someone who may not even re-sign with the team after this season would be a mistake. With so many UFAs on the roster going into next season, the Habs really don’t need another one to worry about. If anything, the team should look to move one or two of its UFAs to open a spot for a younger player.
The list of players to potentially leave the Habs for unrestricted free agency next year includes Sheldon Souray, Andrei Markov, Craig Rivet, Radek Bonk, Mike Johnson, David Aebischer, Aaron Downey, and Janne Niinimaa. A lot has already been said about the situation with the defenseman, and most would agree that Gainey has to sign Markov as soon as possible. The team may also lose two of the best shut-down forwards in the league in Bonk and Johnson if they choose not to re-sign in Montreal.
Some would comment that the team has so few roster spots available for the developing prospects, so it would be best to move some prospects out for veterans to help Montreal in a run for the Cup. The problem with moving out prospects in favor of veterans is that many of our current veterans have contracts expiring at the end of the season. Trading our young guys, especially those on the cusp of crossing over to the NHL, to obtain a veteran player might help us now, but will pose serious problems next season.
There is also talk of being able to move out AHL goaltender Halak because the team still has 2007 World Junior (Under-20) gold medalist Carey Price set to make his jump to the pros (AHL) next season. However, with Aebischer likely leaving as a free agent this summer, someone will need to back up Cristobal Huet next year. Halak is the likely candidate as he has out-played Yann Danis this season in Hamilton, and has more experience than Price.
It is uncertain as to which goaltender will be the better of the two in the future. On one hand you have Price who has international experience and was picked 5th OA in the 2005 entry draft. On the other you have Halak, a 9th round draft pick who has worked hard to find get himself to the level he is at now. Both have the potential to be quality net-minders, but only time will tell who will get their and how far they’ll run with the opportunity. Thus, moving one of them could prove to be a mistake down the line. The safe road says to keep both and let one of them challenge each other.
Yet another important aspect to consider regarding the younger players is the quality of the Habs’ farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs. Currently, the Dogs are winning a battle for a playoffs spot in the AHL’s North Division. With several developing players on the farm team, it would be important for the players to gain as much experience as possible in the playoffs. However, trading an AHLer or calling one up could hurt the chemistry and potentially hurt the Bulldogs’ playoff chances. Thus, a player like Kostitsyn or Halak will likely finish out the season in Hamilton and have an opportunity to win a roster spot next training camp.
Who will replace the veteran players if they leave at the end of the season? Gainey could always sign some new players, but that is too risky to count on. It would be much safer to hold onto the prospects and attempt to re-sign the important players we have now. Gainey really has to decide whether or not this team can go deep into the playoffs and potentially win a Stanley cup with a few more pieces. Only if and when he does believe this would he move the future for the now. Don’t count on it this year, though.