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With a quiet week for the Canadiens, the mailbag was a little lighter this week, but there were still some interesting questions and comments that deserve to be highlighted. Among other things, I’ll once again address the question of faceoffs, and I’ll talk about my ‘controvercial’ marking scheme.

First, though, I’ll put my two cents worth in about a couple of trade ideas that have been submitted. There have been some doozies, but some others that, at least on the surface, look fairly good.

Ribeiro, Hainsey, and a 2nd round pick for a top-pairing defenseman

On the surface, this looks like a very good trade – at least from Montreal’s perspective. We have the coverage, in Plekanec, to seemingly be able to make a transition away from Ribeiro as our second line centre. Hainsey can only be considered a bust here in Montreal, and moving his size and ample potential might still turn a head or two. As for the second round pick – that would be tough to give up in the new NHL; that’s how a team is largely going to build from now on, I believe.

The question remains, though, can this package net us a top flight defender? My answer is probably not. Let me explain.

The problem with many trade ideas, even when they look good on paper, is that they don’t really take into consideration the other team. Yes, it looks like we’re giving up a lot in Ribsy, Hainsey’s potential, and a pick. In reality, though, we’d be trading a smallish centre who’s had one good year and is not looking particularly great now, a bust of a defender, and some potential. It’s actually probably the draft choice which is worth the most to any other team.

Ribeiro was great for us last season, absolutely. And it seems like he’s started to recapture his game a little recently as well, true. However, I think you’ll find that he’s worth far more to the Canadiens, in no small part because of he’s from Quebec (I know, I know, Portugal, but he’s the French darling). To an opposing team, he’s a smallish guy who has tons of skill, but little grit and a tendency to float too much. And while we can say Plekanec seems fully ready to take his spot, the reality is that Plex is a rookie, and his great start may tail off incredibly as of next game – is that a chance we’re willing to take?

Hainsey cleared waivers, and that should tell you how much trade value he has on the open market. When a team passes on getting him for free, you can be sure that kicking him in a trade is more like an insult and a drain on their salary cap structure. Until he starts playing like he means it, Hainsey is going to remain a Canadien. Stop crying.

Bonk and Sundstrom to Colorado for Laperierre and Hinote

The lure of Laperierre is always there for the Canadiens fan. The fact that he wants to one day play in Montreal is also a big factor. Of course, that also means that opposing teams can charge just a little more for us to get him. It’s never a smart thing to deal from a position of weakness.

Bonk had a tough start to the season, sure, but let’s give him a little time to adjust to a new team and a completely new way of playing the game. We are not the Ottawa Senators. And, in case fans haven’t been able to watch, Bonk has been playing infinitely better in his last three games. He’s big, very strong on the boards, and plays an extremely good defensive game. The only reason to consider trading him would be cap issues, and since we have none, I see absolutely no reason why moving him would be useful.

Sundstrom is perhaps the most underrated Canadien player. Okay, he’s not brilliant in the offensive zone, however he’s probably one of the best defensive forwards in the game. Positionally he’s wonderful, and even though he’s not strong, he is extremely smart and wins as many battles with his head as he does with his stick or body.

This trade proposal, therefore, is one that begs the question: why? Why bother even considering a trade that will net us an energy fourth liner that we seem to covet, along with another (small) solid bottom six player. If this deal were to go down, Colorado would be fleecing us something awful.

Very briefly, I’ll talk about the faceoff situation here in Montreal. First of all, the pure statistics: we have a winning percentage of just barely under 50%. Now, when you take into consideration that we have only one really weak faceoff guy – Ribeiro – then perhaps things aren’t quite as bad as they seem.

Perreault is a super faceoff man, for sure. But, as one reader pointed out, what does that extra 5% or so that he brings give us? Especially when balanced with his putrid defensive play?

Honestly, while it’s a minor problem that needs to be worked on, this is not the end of the world. This year the team has a very strong defensive mindset, and that greatly negates much of the advantage opponents get when winning faceoffs. Sure, you can point to the few goals that have been scored off the draw, but the simple fact is that’s always going to happen – for both teams. I remember Perreault losing draws and costing us goals as well…

Do you think Ryder will start playing at the level he was last year? What could get him there?

The first thing that has to be considered is his ankle. Now, I don’t know how many of you have had an ankle sprain, but I’ve had many – and some quite bad. Even though he’s back on the ice, I can pretty much guarantee you that he’s still feeling pain. That doesn’t excuse him for lacklustre play, however, and I still see a little too much of that. There was a time last season when I felt he was the only one on his line going at 100% for each shift. That certainly can’t be said for this year.

To answer the question directly, yes, I do feel he’ll get to where he was last season. The evidence that I can point to supporting that statement (too much CSI for me) is his last two games when, more and more, he got himself to the front of the net and into shooting position. He’s also far more combative than he was before; he’s finishing checks like he did last year.

Do you think a Zednik, Ribeiro, Ryder line can work? Or should Zednik go back to playing with Koivu and Kovalev? How often will dressing 7 defencemen occur?

Zednik can, and at this point, probably will be playing with Ribeiro and Ryder when he returns. Perezhogin is doing an excellent job on the first line, and I think it benefits the rookie greatly playing with someone who speaks his language. The problem for Zednik is that he’ll go to the second where he’ll have the same issues he had on the first line: two guys who always want to control the puck.

We’ve actually got a very pleasant problem in Montreal: We have too many offensively talented players. If Zednik goes to the second line, he’ll be there with another guy who likes to play the same sort of game in Ryder. Sure, Ribeiro can get them the puck, but when cycling, there are three players who need to continually contribute, not one with two others who want to beat two guys to get to the net and shoot. Zednik returning is going to be an interesting situation.

I don’t think we’ll be dressing seven defenders unless we’re loaded with injuries. In fact, I think the only reason we saw seven recently is because Dandenault has the ability to play forward as well. With Zed, and presumably Sundstrom, returning to the lineup soon, I think we’ll go back to six defenders and a fairly talented forward sitting. I wonder, though, if good health means a return to the minors for Higgins, who seems to be the rookie getting the least amount of time.

How long can Gainey hang in there with the sub-par play of Ribs (at both ends of the ice) when Zednik returns? Patrick, Albany, NY

Fortunately, I think Ribeiro has taken the hint and his play is starting to improve – drastically as of the last game. However, if he goes back to playing floundering hockey, I can see him being benched by Julien in favour of Plekanec on the second line.

As to Gainey’s patience, however, while I’m sure he’s frustrated to this point in Ribeiro’s play, the GM is a very patient man. He’s never been one to make snap decisions. That said, if he feels that Plekanec can take over the spot and he has a good offer on the line for Ribeiro, then I wouldn’t be in the least shocked to see a trade. The last rumours I heard involving Ribeiro were somewhere in Florida…

Finally, I’ve had a few questions on my ‘ratings’ system that I attach after the games. I’m frankly surprised that it took this long for people to question it, though I have, in the past answered that in other venues (we don’t talk about THOSE places anymore).

Naturally, these are completely subjective ratings, and I don’t use any silly mathematical formula to find a mark. In fact, it’s quite simple really. If a player plays what I consider for him to be an average game, he earns himself an average mark – a B. Obviously, then, that’s why there are a plethora (always love to work that word in) of B’s – as the average game is the norm.

Consequently, if a player plays below what I think are his standards, I’ll lower the mark. A B- indicates that a player made a couple of bonehead moves, but nothing major. Down in the C level, you can assume that I felt that he probably caused his teammates some agitation, the coach to have a few more grey hairs (or in Julien’s case, less hair) and me to have minor heart palpitations. If I find myself constantly yelling at a player (my wife does NOT like watching hockey with me) and he’s making me grab for the oxygen because he’s totally off his game, he gets a D. On the rare occasion a player gets an F, you can assume I believe that someone who knows nothing about hockey captured the player and is out there on the ice wearing his jersey.

On the other end of the spectrum, a B+ tells you that the player went above and beyond what I feel he’s capable of doing. Once you hit A marks, you’re looking at guys who dominate games. For instance, we’ve all seen Koivu’s average game where he plays well, but doesn’t really stand out abnormally. However, as in his recent contests, he seems to be everywhere on the ice, dominating at both ends. That’s quality play.

Of course if someone scores a goal even if they’ve had a bad game, I’ll raise the mark a little just for being in the right place at the right time, but contrary to what some people believe, I won’t raise it a full grade for getting points. Goals win games, sure, but lousy play loses far more.

That’s it for this week; here’s hoping for another full mailbox for the next!

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