The Montreal Canadiens were building their team with the intention of seriously competing for a Stanley Cup in 2008-09, which coincides with their 100th anniversary.
But as GM Bob Gainey looks at his team today, he sees one that might be a year ahead of schedule. He also sees a team that, if the right moves are made at the trade deadline, has as good a chance as any of the other elite teams in the East to win the conference and advance to the Stanley Cup final.
So you can expect Gainey, who is the epitome of pragmatic, to be approaching the deadline with a little more gumption than he might otherwise have done.
Even though his team’s defense corps also needs to be addressed, Gainey has long believed the Canadiens are most in need of a big, durable No. 1 center; and he’s right.
Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec are fine players, but can either of them face tough checking for four playoff series?
Gainey has also made it no secret within his inner circle the player he most sees as a fit for that role is Florida Panthers center Olli Jokinen.
But how to get one of the most coveted players in the league out of Florida?
Jokinen would be a coup for any GM. He’s big, mean, productive and very well priced at a cap hit of $5.25 million for the next two seasons.
The friction between Jokinen and Florida GM-coach Jacques Martin is very real.
Martin would be open to making a deal, but he’s going to want a significant package in return. (As an aside, Martin has apparently been told by Panthers ownership he’ll be fired if his team doesn’t make the playoffs. Word is Martin has been told he can trade Jokinen if he pleases, but he must make the playoffs.)
Gainey is also believed not to be adverse to trading team captain Saku Koivu, who has only 12 goals this season, is a minus player and could probably use a change of scenery. But Koivu is four years older than Jokinen and far less productive, so Gainey would have to enhance the offer.
Perhaps a package of Koivu, Jaroslav Halak, a first-round pick and a prospect would be enough. Gainey could also include Alexander Perezhogin, who is having a fine season in Russia this year, but whose contract rights are still owned by the Canadiens.
If Gainey really wants to get bold, he could then deal Michael Ryder to the Calgary Flames for Alex Tanguay.
That would give the Canadiens a first line of Plekanec between Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexei Kovalev and a second unit of Jokinen between Tanguay and Christopher Higgins.
It would also give them a much better chance of getting out of the Eastern Conference.
THE RICHARDS CONUNDRUM
This space has long believed the Tampa Bay Lightning has become the first casualty of the salary cap era. And because of it, GM Jay Feaster will get nothing close to market value for Brad Richards if he decides to trade him.
GMs around the league are slowly coming to the realization that cap space is a valuable asset, one every bit as valuable as having a productive player in your lineup.
Dealing Richards would give the Lightning the cap relief they require if they want to sign Vincent Lecavalier and Dan Boyle long-term and address their goaltending situation.
So even if Feaster deals Richards and gets almost nothing back in return, he’ll actually be gaining an asset in cap space.
That’s the reality when you mismanage your cap the way the Lightning has.
So if Feaster does deal Richards before Tuesday, don’t expect a bevy in return. If the rumors of Columbus are correct, the Lightning can perhaps expect goaltending prospect Steve Mason and not much more.
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