Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey has already made one move to improve his team, but given his past tendencies and the Habs’ current struggles you have to wonder if he’s contemplating selling off parts of his team. Specifically, Alex Kovalev.
Not many anticipated the Habs would be shipping out players leading up to the March 4 deadline, but it’s becoming increasingly evident that Montreal is not a true contender this year. Mathieu Schneider is a nice addition on the blueline, but it’s hard to believe his presence will elevate Montreal to the ranks of the NHL elite.
All this has to have Gainey wondering what he could fetch for the soon-to-be-36-year-old Kovalev, who like Alex Tanguay, Saku Koivu and Mike Komisarek, can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Gainey has never hesitated to sell off significant players at the deadline, even when his team is either holding or fighting hard for a playoff spot.
Last season, he traded his No. 1 goalie, Cristobal Huet, to Washington with his team in the thick of a battle for the East’s No. 1 seed. That occurred two years after Gainey moved Jose Theodore – whom many still considered a starter at that point – to Colorado leading up to the deadline. In 2007, Gainey shipped out longtime Habs defenseman Craig Rivet to San Jose.
The truth is, dealing Kovalev isn’t even an exercise in towel-throwing. The Russian’s mercurial nature has got the collective mercury of Habs fans and management rising once again. After an 84-point season last year, Kovalev might not hit 60 this year.
And it’s not like the Habs have to become all-out sellers. Gainey has already picked up Schneider and should be steadfast in his pursuit of impact players – especially those under contract beyond this season – who can compliment the still-young core Montreal has.
But why not explore dealing Kovalev, a player who’s providing very little right now and who surely doesn’t represent much hope for the future, to at least partially replenish the prospect well you’ll have to delve into if in fact you are to land a big-name deadline acquisition?
Given Gainey’s track record, it’s a plausible path.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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