Bob Gainey’s trade deadline day was one in which he shocked observers by what he did and what he didn’t do.
Last week, Gainey made no secret of his intentions regarding this year’s trading deadline. The Canadiens were in search of an elite player to add to their team. Speaking to the press, Gainey reiterated that he wouldn’t be making any sideways moves. Furthermore, Gainey professed a confidence that the team as it stood would be one that he would feel comfortable going into the playoffs with.
Unfortunately, as the weekend progressed it became apparent that many of the elite players that Gainey was seeking were quickly dropping out of the NHL’s annual madness of deadline deal making. The Canadiens had arguably targeted four players they thought would be available. However, almost as soon as Gainey made this announcement his potential pool of elite players began to shrink.
Firstly, Mats Sundin decided not to waive his no-trade clause. This was followed by Calgary general manager Darryl Sutter announcing that Alex Tanguay would remain a Flame. And one wonders if Olli Jokinen of the Florida Panthers was ever truly available.
All of this commotion left Marian Hossa as the Canadiens inevitable target.
Watching the television coverage from all sources today, it seemed inevitable that Hossa was going to be either an Ottawa Senator or a Montreal Canadien. As the day dragged on it just seemed a matter of time before he moved.
And move he did ……. to the Pittsburgh Penguins?
For all the Marian Hossa discussion that’s taken place in the last month (and it has been enough to fill countless hours of television time) the Pittsburgh Penguins never came up, that is until they actually made the deal. And while one could argue about the virtue of this deal for Pittsburgh, one must think that Gainey may have done the right thing by not trading for Hossa.
In judging the price that the Penguins paid for Hossa, one has to wonder how steep a potential deal was for Montreal. In his press conference after the deadline, Gainey revealed that Atlanta was pursuing a deal that involved three Canadiens skaters from tonight’s game plus a fourth element. Without getting into the rumoured players that were on the block, one has to think, was the price for Hossa simply too high?
The Canadiens of this year have taken their fans on a magical ride that appears to be heading straight to the playoffs. As Gainey reiterated today, making the playoffs was and still is the goal for this team. And while that seems like inevitable, does the team’s success compel Gainey to sacrifice potential pieces of the Habs future as well as some of the team’s key contributors in order to win this year and does the acquisition of Hossa guarantee playoff success? Judging by his past playoff performances there are more questions than answers.
Since becoming GM of the Canadiens, Gainey has built the Habs through the draft and by nurturing the team’s young talent. At this point, there’s no reason to believe that the Canadiens won’t be improved next year and the year after that. With this year’s success, Gainey’s plan has started paying dividends, ones that would be compromised in acquiring Marian Hossa.
Part of the problem with Hossa is your definition of him as a player. To some he represents an elite talent, and at the end of this year he will surely look to be paid like one. For others however, he is a notch below players like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and his own teammate, Ilya Kovalchuk.
Does Gainey want to pay Hossa nine million dollars next year? Is he worth it? Is he going to elevate the Habs into the late rounds of the playoffs?
For Gainey the price to answer those questions was a little too high. Obviously for Pittsburgh it wasn’t.
And while the Canadiens failure to land Hossa was surprising, the trading of Cristobal Huet was shocking to many.
I put myself into that group until I thought about it more.
At the end of the year, Huet becomes an unrestricted free agent. As the season wore on it became apparent that Huet didn’t figure in the Habs future. And while Huet played well for stretches this season, there were also bouts with consistency. Huet this year failed to evaluate his game to be the unquestioned number one starter. This combined with the knowledge that a future contract with Huet would include a raise in salary along with a potential long term tenure made him expendable.
Many have now turned their focus to Carey Price and while that is being written about extensively elsewhere I’ll focus on two other aspects to this deal that aren’t getting as much attention.
Firstly, the decision to not sign Huet is also rife with implications for the Canadiens salary cap. If the team chose to resign Huet it would translate into a fair amount of the team’s cap going towards goaltending. Furthermore, a Price/Halak tandem is a cheaper alternative than a Huet/Price combo. The fact that Huet was failing to separate himself from Price made Gainey’s decision easier. During this summer the Canadiens are going to have to resign Mark Streit, Andrei Kostitsyn, and probably Mike Komisarek to long term contracts that will include significant pay raises. In today’s NHL teams must be careful to allocate their funds into the proper positions and players.
Secondly, the Canadiens were running the risk of losing Jaroslav Halak. Despite not getting the sheer amount of press that Price enjoys, Halak has established himself as a top goaltending prospect coveted by other teams in the league. His stint last year with the Canadiens as well as Halak’s high level of play in the AHL has led many to argue that Halak, not Price may be the Habs goaltender of the future. And while time will tell if this is true, it seems to me that Halak hasn’t been given a fair shot this year. Perhaps, that will now change.
Many today have commented about this being a gamble by Gainey. These “experts” feel that Price’s inexperience may be to the Habs detriment. However, was Huet going to be the solution to this problem this spring?
And while it’s premature to compare Price to Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, he is now been entrusted with the keys to the Habs playoff hopes, and only time will tell if he’s up to the task.
On the television today, we are bombarded with analysis about Gainey’s moves today. The truth is that nobody will know if the right decisions were made until a few months ago. But before you bet against Gainey, just remember that …
-he was pilloried in the press this summer for not resigning Sheldon Souray and for not signing Daniel Briere
-that his summer moves led many in the press to believe that the Canadiens would finish near the basement in the Eastern Conference
-that many felt that the team was stuck with an uninterested Alexei Kovalev
Funny how hindsight can change opinions.