That’s all that left until the trade deadline this Tuesday, and you have to believe that the outcome of Montreal’s next two matches will weight heavily on GM Bob Gainey’s decision to make a deal or not. Why are the games so important? They come against the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs, two teams currently behind the Habs in the eastern conference playoff race.
Montreal will play the Islanders in New York at 12:30pm EST tomorrow afternoon, and you can bet that Carbonneau will do all he can to make sure the team is awake for this one. Montreal hasn’t exactly had a great record in matinee games this season, let alone weekend match-ups. The Islanders beat Toronto in a shootout yesterday, and currently sit 2 points back from the Canadiens with two games in hand.
It’s a similar situation with the Maple Leafs, who Montreal will face Monday night in at the Bell Centre. Toronto is 3 points back from Montreal, but also holds two games in hand. Those extra games for the Leafs and Islanders may prove vital to their playoff run.
At least, for the Habs, they aren’t the lone team currently grasping onto one of the final playoff spots. The Carolina Hurricanes currently sit one point back from the Canadiens while the Atlanta Thrashers are only two points ahead.
There is simply too much uncertainty heading into the trade deadline right now for Bob Gainey to possibly make a trade that makes sense for this team. Gainey can’t add a player for a run and give up a prospect and/or pick at the same time because there’s still a chance that Montreal might not make the post season. One the reverse, he can’t afford to move out an impending UFA for a prospect and/or pick because that would hinder the team’s shot at a playoff spot.
The only trades that would make any sense for the team right now are either impossible to complete. For example, many would still like the team to move out Sergei Samsonov, Janne Niinimaa, or David Aebischer for a big center or all-around defenseman.
With the injury to Cristobal Huet, Aebischer will need to stick around incase Jaroslav Halak drops the ball, so he likely won’t be moved. Samsonov successfully cleared waivers and his $3.5M contract still has a year left on it. Teams won’t be lining up to acquire a player that handicaps their cap situation with an overpaid and underperformed player such as Samsonov. Finally, it is Janne Niinimaa who has the best shot at being moved out because there is little left to be paid on his $2.508M contract.
Honestly, the only deals that would work for Montreal would be ones that included a roster player for a roster player. It is unlikely that Gainey would want to move any of the payers he currently has under contract for next season, so one must look to the list of impending UFAs to see who Gainey may be shopping: Sheldon Souray, Craig Rivet, Andrei Markov, Radek Bonk, and Mike Johnson.
Bonk and Johnson have been crucial parts to Montreal’s penalty kill unit and checking line. The two have also shown great chemistry, and Gainey would rather sign them trade them away, especially since the team is looking to make the playoffs. Andrei Markov is Montreal’s number one defenseman, and losing him in any form would be an absolute blow to the team’s defensive core, so talks of a new contract are surely already in the works. Don’t expect any of these three players to be traded Tuesday.
That leaves Souray and Rivet. Both have become leaders for this team both on, and off the ice. Both also wear the ‘A’ on their sweaters proudly. However, one has to wonder if both will fit under the cap next season, or whether both truly want to return.
For Souray, his daughter is in California, and there has been speculation even before this season started that he may look southwest for a new home come July 1st. Rivet, on the other hand, has been a Montreal Canadiens his entire career, and has bled blue-blanc-rouge with Saku Koivu for many years now. However, when rookie Head Coach Guy Carbonneau made the 32-year-old a healthy scratch prior to a game against the Vancouver Canucks on January 17th, it left Rivet bewildered and disillusioned concerning his position with the franchise.
Whether or not either of these physical defenders have requested a change of scenery moving into the deadline remains to be seen, but it shouldn’t be too long before we find out first hand. Neither will admit it if it’s true though, as both have reassured media and fans that they’re concentrated on helping Montreal win as many games as possible in order to make the playoffs.
No matter what happens, Tuesday will be an interesting day around the league. There are plenty of teams looking to move out players, and enough looking to add that there should be a lot of very interesting deals take place. If Gainey does make a move it will either include one of Souray or Rivet, or it will be of minor impact to add leadership and depth as the Habs hunt for a playoff spot.