Monday, March 17, 2008

Hossa, Sundin and Higgins

If you believe the reports coming out of the media, then you will have noticed that Bob Gainey was an active player in trade deadline talks. Apart from the lacklustre Huet trade, he had legitimate offers on the table for Marian Hossa and even Mats Sundin.

While it's plain to see why anyone would want Hossa or Sundin on their side going into a playoff series, what I found unusual about the trades was the appearance of Christopher Higgins name in both rumours.

Trading the golden boy of Habs prospects would surely have repercussions, right?

This fan thought so:

Why is it, that after having built this team through the draft and showing patience, Gainey would suddenly decide "Nah, I'm doing this all wrong. I need to give 3 draft picks in one of the best projected drafts in the last decade, as well of one my best and brightest young stars, who works his ass off, plays every night and shows great leadership, to get a 37 year old who might help me win the Stanley Cup and most likely won't be back in October."

Interestingly, though it was probably facetiously written, this is exactly the question Canadiens fans should be asking.

Why is Gainey willing to give up Chris Higgins?
Some might even ask: why was he desperate to get rid of Chris Higgins?

I believe the answer to this question is perceived value.

The GMs around the league, as well as the majority of fans, see Chris Higgins as a hard-working potential 40-goal scorer who's on the road to captaincy in this league. Bob Gainey knows this, and perhaps for a minute thought that they might not think that forever, maybe not even for very much longer.

Trading is a risk. To win a trade, you have to trade your assets at their highest point for assets you think could be on the rise. That way a trade that looks even on the day can look like a landslide for one team if the players progress in the way the GM gambled they would.

If you listen to the fans, there is no budge on Higgins. He is part of the future, and is well loved. Personally, I like the player, I like the man, I love the play.

But here's my problem: I have a feeling the Habs are not quite the dynasty team we are hoping for. We could possibly win a Cup like Tampa did, but miss out on building the New Jerseyesque or Detroit-like contender
we long for.

If we are looking for a big missing piece like Hossa, for example, we have to understand it doesn't come free. Look down the possible trade bait and you'll find players the Habs fans would be amenable to trading but a lot they would not. Along with Higgins, Plekanec, Kovalev, both Kostitsyns, Komisarek, Markov, Price, McDonagh, Pacioretty, Chipchura, Latendresse, Lapierre, etc. In such a balanced league, a team that is not winning but only aspiring to does not have the luxury of naming 10 players untouchable.

As a GM of a rebuilding team, you will be in direct competition with 24 GMs in the same position every year. Average GMs will languish. Good GMs will take risks. Great GMs will understand the timing of trades and know that few if any players should be untouchables.

So, why is Gainey willing to give up Chris Higgins then?

Perhaps that Higgins is a 25-goal man who may always experience long droughts. Perhaps that his unabashed style of speaking after the games rubs people the wrong way in the room. Perhaps he will be drafting an upgrade on Higgins this summer. Perhaps he's not as irreplaceable as once thought.

Rather than any of those things above to do with Chris, I believe it's all to do with Gainey here. I think it's precisely because he's one of those great GMs who knows he'll have to take risks to win. If the Huet trade put a dent in my faith in Bob, these two trades (even if only rumoured) show me he's as creative as we need him to be to get this dynasty assembled.

If the present is bright, the future with Gainey looks brighter still...

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