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We have just hit the quarter mark in the Canadiens’ schedule, meaning it is an opportune time to begin contemplating various issues the team will have to tackle in the near future. Namely, what needs should be addressed in the coming months and how to deal with the underachieving Scott Gomez. In this week’s ATB, we take a look at both those subjects, as usual, through the eyes of our board members.

Earlier this week, HW’s Brian La Rose asked “Having seen the last several few games without Markov and the likelihood that Markov will miss at least a good chunk of the season, what area should the Habs try and improve in the not-too-distant future?”. Unsurprisingly, the debate was split between the acquisition of a scoring-forward or a defenseman to help compensate for Markov’s absence.

I have long opined that the Habs primary need is for a sizable, scoring winger and, in recent board discussions, I have dismissed the notion of acquiring a blueliner. However, The Chicoutimi Cucumber’s following argument was most thought provoking and has contributed to shifting my perspective: “Further to the D-man idea…even with Markov, if we were to add (say) Regehr, we’d go from having a very good all-around defence to having a truly impressive defence corps. One way to ‘address a weakness’ is not to address it all per se, but rather to build so forcefully on on your strengths so as to render the weakness irrelevant. A powerhouse defence corps would make the top-6 forward issue less significant.”

Looking at recent cup winners, their backends were all ridiculously strong. Pronger and Niedermayer in Anaheim, Lidstrom and Rafalski in Detroit, Keith and Seabrook in Chicago. While, either internally or externally, the team will need to fill its need for a scorer, the idea of building a towering defence is an excellent way to minimize a weaker offense and let forward prospects develop. After all, if the opposition cannot score, there is far less pressure on young, emerging attackers to produce immediately.

REV-G wonders what to do with Scott Gomez and asks if it is plausible to consider sending him to the minors in order to bury his egregious salary: “So my question is, barring a trade which I can’t see any team willing or wanting to do, do you think at any point during the season we would consider sending him to Hamilton and use the available money to bring in another center? In my mind the positives are obvious, but there are some definite negatives. How much would we hurt our reputation and would that make it more difficult for us to sign free agents? Also how much does it affect the rest of our players, team morale and the dressing room?”

In response to the above query, many members, such as JC Petit, dismissed the notion of sending him down to the minors while also expressing a certain degree of confidence in the Alaskan centre: “Hey! let’s be patient here, and cautious about the changes to make to this team. To send down a guy like Gomez would be devastating to the team spirit, IMO. You don’t have to be a great psychologist to forecast that this kind of decision would not be well received by the older players in the line-up. Gomez has his faults, but he also has shown in the past that he usually plays better when the going gets tougher.”

Like our board members, I agree that sending down Gomez would be a foolish decision. It has the potential to both hurt the team’s chemistry and reputation. And, the fact remains that he has another three years on his deal after this one.

Nonetheless, the Gomez situation is not one that can be ignored until the expiry of his deal. In spite of his leadership qualities and likable personality, unless he seriously picks up his play then he can only be considered a hindrance to the development of the squad. Over the next three years, he will earn $17.5 million dollars. However, since his contract is backloaded, the total buyout cost exceeds $16.2 million. As for the notion of trading him, unless the Habs package him with a high-draft pick or prospect, much like with Vladimir Malakhov when he was shipped out of New Jersey, it seems unlikely any team would take on his exorbitant salary.

That’s all for this week’s of ATB. Until next week, see you on the boards.

Louis Moustakas can be reached for comments, questions, cross-checks and, of course, fan-mail at [email protected]

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