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A crowded crease

Jaroslav Halak has started six of Montreal's past nine games. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Jaroslav Halak has started six of Montreal's past nine games. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

The trade status of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak has become a favorite guessing game for Montreal fans and pundits alike.

Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette recently reported Halak’s strong performance is keeping pressure on GM Bob Gainey to decide if he’ll retain or trade the netminder by the March 3 trade deadline.

Colleague Stu Cowan, meanwhile, reported Habs fans appear split over whether Gainey should peddle Halak or Carey Price. Cowan wondered if Gainey’s opinion of Halak has changed since he attempted to shop the goalie to Philadelphia last month or if the Habs GM is showcasing the young Slovak. 

Gainey recently addressed the situation, suggesting Halak may have been frustrated three weeks ago over his lack of playing time. While Gainey wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a trade should the right situation arise, he didn’t sound like he was actively shopping the netminder.

Halak could be dealt by the trade deadline, but that would more depend on the Habs’ placement in the standings, their injury status and roster needs by that time.

Unlike Cristobal Huet, whom Gainey shipped to Washington at the 2008 deadline for a second round pick, Halak is a restricted free agent, meaning the Habs merely have to qualify his rights in June.
 
Halak could receive an offer sheet from a rival team this July, but if the salary cap flat-lines that might not be a serious threat, which would allow Gainey to shop him at his leisure.

Though Gainey could decide his playoff chances are best with two strong young goalies rather than one.

If he does decide to swap a netminder, rest assured it’ll be Halak, not Price. Gainey appears to still have faith the latter is the Habs starter for the next decade.

• Tim Sassone of the Chicago Daily Herald recently dismissed the suggestion the Blackhawks might be interested in Atlanta Thrashers superstar Ilya Kovalchuk should he hit the trade market in the coming weeks.

Sassone noted the basis of the rumor was merely an executive from a Western Conference team musing to ESPN reporter Pierre LeBrun he wouldn’t be surprised if the Blackhawks made a pitch. 

Sassone also doubts the Blackhawks would make such a bold move, given the Thrashers remain committed to re-signing Kovalchuk, the potential high price of acquiring him merely as a playoff rental and the potentially adverse effect such a move would have on team chemistry.

Given how well the Blackhawks are playing this season it would make little sense for management to make such a bold move now. Let’s not forget they also signed a veteran scoring forward last summer in Marian Hossa and with their already considerable firepower there’s no reason to add more.

They also don’t have to dump any salary now, having the option of waiting until the off-season to do so to get under next season’s cap.

• Speaking of which, a report in the Edmonton Journal over the weekend claimed there’s persistent talk of the Hawks shipping sophomore winger Kris Versteeg to the Colorado Avalanche next summer for a second round pick and prospect Kevin Shattenkirk.

While anything’s possible, one has to wonder if this is indeed a necessary move for the Avs, who’ve surprised everyone this season thanks to the strong play of their young forwards. 

Given the Avs’ tendency to give up a lot of shots, perhaps they’d be better served bolstering their blueline in the off-season. Plus, Versteeg’s $3-million salary might be too rich for this cost-conscious team to absorb.

• Rick DiPietro’s long-awaited return to the New York Islanders lineup led New York Post columnist Dan Martin to suggest goalie Martin Biron will be the odd man out.

Martin writes the Isles could shop Biron, but his poor performance of late might not attract much of a return.

He might not have much value now, but with the Olympic break coming in mid-February – along with a two-week freeze on player movement – Biron could still attract attention from teams seeking experienced goaltending depth, although at this point the return would probably be a draft pick.

It’s been rumored the Buffalo Sabres might try to bring him back, but given Biron’s shaky play of late and the fact Patrick Lalime has played well in his few recent starts, that appears unlikely.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.

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