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With the trade deadline now a month away, talk is beginning to swing towards
trades which is where our primary focus is in this edition of the mailbag. 
Should the Habs consider bringing back Alexei Kovalev?  Do they need an
upgrade on Alex Auld?  Also, we put an eye to the future and discuss some
of the Habs’ pending UFA blueliners.

Joining me to answer these questions are HW writers Mandy P. and Louis

Question 1: Should the Habs consider bringing back Alexei Kovalev
this season?

Brian La Rose: It’s a no brainer in my opinion, not a chance. 
Fans of the Ottawa Senators, a joke of a team in their own right this season,
feel Kovalev is primarily responsible for most of those problems, why should
Montreal go take that problem away?  He also doesn’t fit the Habs’ system,
one where the wingers are required to play an up-tempo counter attack pace. 
Couple that with his penchant for laziness and he’d be in Jacques Martin’s
doghouse by the midway point of the 1st period in his first game back. 

The cap also has to be considered here; the Habs have a max acquisition space
of about $3.7 million (full season cap hit), Kovalev makes $5 million. 
This means Montreal would have to move a player making a seven figure salary to
make this work.  Taking away the obvious in the top-6, this leaves Lars
Eller, Benoit Pouliot, and Travis Moen as trade options.  I know I
certainly don’t want to deal any of those for for Kovalev and I don’t think the
Habs do either, particularly as that would prohibit any other move being made. 
This deal isn’t happening, no matter how much certain members of the Montreal
media keep trying to hype it up.

Louis Moustakas: To me, this falls into the ‘crazy enough to work’
category. I realize he has been underwhelming in his years in Ottawa and that
his age is catching up to him. In addition, his enigmatic personality
and penchant for the Montreal limelight might irritate the Canadiens’ new
leadership core. Having said all of that, the fact remains that he loves
Montreal and is a consistent playoff performer, with 98 points over 116
post-season contests. He could be had rather cheaply in a trade and, as a
short-term addition, provide a boost to a struggling offense.

Mandy P.: Resounding no. Why would the Canadiens bring back someone
with 8 goals in 44 games, three of which were scored in a single game. Kovalev
has been frequently benched this season and would be a completely unnecessary
addition to the team. Going back to when he was with the Habs, the way he would
float through a game with no impact and often having a detrimental effect on the
whole team… I see no reason to have this mercurial, enigmatic player on this

Question 2: For the Habs to go deep this season, is a backup who
can handle more games required?

Brian La Rose: I think another goalie would be beneficial here
depending on what the Habs plan to do with their limited remaining cap space. 
Not necessarily as a replacement to Auld but something along the lines of
Michael Leighton a few years ago, a 3rd string stop-gap option that basically
gives the Habs options if Price needs a break or gets hurt.  There aren’t a
lot of affordable upgrades at backup right now in the NHL, they’re either not
much of an upgrade on Auld or they make too much money which makes the options
extremely limited though.  Curtis Sanford could potentially be that
stop-gap but doing so would kill the Bulldogs’ playoff hopes; I’m
sure management wants to see their prospects get some playoff experience which
makes that option less desirable, unless Auld is waived and sent down to replace

Louis Moustakas: A better backup goaltender is not necessarily
required immediately this season, but down the road it seems unsustainable to
play Carey Price 70+ games a year. In his first season in the NHL, which came on
the heels of a year that featured a WJC Gold Medal and a Calder Cup in the AHL,
Price looked worn down at playoff time. Likewise, last year Jaroslav Halak
clearly lost some steam once in the conference final. The point is, not all
goaltenders are meant to be workhorses and, should Price ever hit a cold streak
or get injured, the team needs a better option than Alex Auld.

Mandy P.: By not giving Auld a home start till game #45, and having
the team implode that night, the Habs have put themselves in a bind. He can’t be
completely blamed for the Calgary game, but now the Canadiens will be twice as
wary to have him play at the Bell Centre. An interesting alternative would be to
bring up Sanford, who has played about 100 games in the NHL and leads the AHL in
GAA. He’s been playing well for Hamilton and if the Habs bring him up and send
Auld down, they would save $400,000 (pro-rated) on the cap. That would give the
Canadiens some leeway to make a few vital moves to strengthen the depleted
defence corps and perhaps add another forward to the mix.

Question 3: Roman Hamrlik and Hal Gill – At year’s end, re-sign
both, one, or neither?

Brian La Rose: It’s pretty easy to make a case for either.  All
things equal, I’d prefer to keep Hamrlik and let Gill go as Hamrlik, even though
he has lost a step, is still a pretty valuable member of the defence corps. 
But, money will play a role as well and in that instance, Gill may be the better
option and even though he’d be a year older and a bit slower, he’d still be a
passable #6.  Keeping both isn’t ideal as having half a defence corps 36 or
older is a recipe for disaster – you can argue it already is on some nights. 
Either way, if the Habs do choose to bring one or both of these blueliners back,
it better be on a 1 year deal to avoid the dreaded 35+ deal that Jaroslav Spacek
is currently on.  If I had to pick a money threshold, I wouldn’t go higher
than $2.75M for Hamrlik (a 50% pay cut is probably all the Habs can honestly
ask) and $1.5 M for Gill.

Louis Moustakas: Hamrlik has stepped in time and again to fill in for
injuries and forms a comfortable pairing with countryman Spacek, who has
one-year left on his deal. Since the lockout, he has produced at least 26 points
per year and has been a plus player all but once (he was -2 in 2009-10).  No
doubt a pay cut is in order, but Hamrlik still has his place on the Canadiens
blueline and has been a consistent performer throughout his career.
As for Gill, as much as he is a proven leader and a useful defender, the
Canadiens team identity is built on speed and that is something that the
towering blueliner sorely lacks. Furthermore, with the likely returns of Gorges
and Markov along with the potential retention of Wisniewski, there may simply no
longer be room on the squad for him.

Mandy P.: Depending on what happens between now and the end of the
season, I would say both, at a decent price. But if I had to choose, I’d pick
Gill, because of his invaluable penalty killing skills and leadership ability in
the room. In addition, Hamrlik is really showing his age this season, having to
fill Markov and Gorges’ minutes once again.

If you have a question you’d like answered in a future edition of the
mailbag, please e-mail me at [email protected].