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THN.com Blog: Montreal misses mark with free agent buys

Michael Cammalleri was one of three smallish forwards the Canadiens picked up this week. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Michael Cammalleri was one of three smallish forwards the Canadiens picked up this week. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

One thing we know for sure about the Montreal Canadiens’ off-season is it won’t include a team-bonding trip to an amusement park.

After all, “You must be this high to go on the rides.”

In truth, if I were a Habs supporter the size of the players brought in by GM Bob Gainey over the past couple days wouldn’t even be my biggest concern. While you’d always prefer your skilled players to come in a large package, it’s by no means required in today’s game. Neither Pavel Datsyuk nor Henrik Zetterberg hit the six-foot mark and Detroit seems to be getting by just fine with those two as its top forwards.

Then again, they posses the kind of dynamic front-line talent you can build a team around – unlike anybody brought in by Montreal recently.

You could make a convincing – though not overwhelming – argument that Montreal upgraded its top-six forward supply by replacing Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay with Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta.

What can’t be argued is that the Habs chewed threw the one valuable resource they possessed – cap space – and failed to land the franchise-defining player they’ve lacked for years.

By the time they take care of their RFAs, the Canadiens will be pushing up against the cap, yet still without a big No. 1 center or stud defenseman in their midst.

The unknown element in all of this is what Gainey’s options were. Maybe he made the play of his life for Vincent Lecavalier and the deal just wasn’t there to be made. Maybe he tried to pry Chris Pronger out of Anaheim with some variation on the package he eventually used to get Gomez and the Ducks simply said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.”

Perhaps he made strong overtures for Marians Hossa and Gaborik and both, like many prominent free agents before them, chose to take a pass on La Belle Province.

But by bringing in the players he did, Gainey has committed to going with second-liners as his lead horses. Ultimately, it comes down to a question of having the courage to rebuild versus being content with life in the middle.

Since the Canadiens seem incapable of attracting top-level UFAs, the only way they can hope to get a dynamic player in their midst is through trade or the draft.

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By making the acquisitions they did, the Habs have hampered their ability to absorb the big contract a star player brings, while simultaneously ensuring they’ll be just good enough to miss out on a drafted prospect who can genuinely invigorate the franchise down the road.

Montreal won’t be any worse on the ice next season and could even be marginally better. The overarching point, though, is the Canadiens are as far away from being really good as they’ve ever been.

THN.COM SHOOTOUT
Host Ken Campbell sits down with writers Adam Proteau and Ryan Dixon to discuss... Winners and losers on free-agent day… The Habs facelift… The Dany Heatley saga… And Brian Burke’s moves. Producer: Ted Cooper.

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 Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

 

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