Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Out of Africa: Digesting Habs Occurrences from Late February

Seeing lions in winter for the first time has to be a good omen, doesn't it? How about having a young male lion mark our 4X4 as his territory after giving up on the freshly killed wildebeest in search of shade.

With sporadic internet contact I was able to maintain some grip on the Habs comings and goings during my time on safari. However, as the thoughts built up, there just wasn't the chance to react through this site. Now I'm back, I thought I'd get some things off my chest.

First things first: First!

Wow! I never expected to be first at any point beyond October. However, I might have expected to be 10 points clear of 9th at some point, given that I thought 96-100 points was the goal. But let's be honest, did anyone expect 10 points from 9th would be 1st?

If nothing else, what this shows is that the Habs can beat anyone in the East (and so can most of their other conference rivals). In which case getting to the playoffs gives you a golden opportunity to make that final for the Cup. So 96 points for the playoffs, and regardless what happens for these last weeks, if we make it in we can be positive about our chances.

Second: Huet getting traded.

Not unbelievable. Only getting a second rounder, now that's unbelievable.

If I'm selling my house and the market crashes where offers of 50% of its former value start coming through, I might wait. Sometimes, there might not be the luxury of waiting, such as if I was leaving the country. But from what I can tell, Bob Gainey is not leaving the country, and, as such, should have held onto Huet.

People who talk about losing Huet for nothing are talking nonsense. First of all, he would be insurance in case of injury or slump for the remainder of the season (hardly nothing.

On top of that, he is under contract until July 1st, not April 10th. 15 playoff-calibre teams (who may all have thought they had the goods to go all the way) will come up empty handed in June. Many among those will question their goaltending. This will create a temporary market for goaltenders. A Huet signature on a modest contract (1-2 years) would then make him a marketable commodity. At worst, a non-playoff team with no goaltending future at all like Washington sacrifices a low draft pick. Alternatively, he could be traded for a later draft pick in return for a window in which the team can discuss contract with him (a la Scott Hartnell).

Both scenarios require some courage and creativity, but isn't that what Gainey is being paid for. I didn't think we were paying him to follow Rejean Houle's lead in trading impending free agents for second round picks. With a hint of foreboding, my previous Pollock vs. Houle feature spells out what I think of Gainey here:

Getting close to the trade deadline...

... what might Rejean Houle do?

Trade Huet after his agent turns down the first offer. Couldn't lose a UFA for nothing (Better a San Jose second rounder than your captain for 20 games).

Third: No superstar added.

The trade deadline amounted to a net loss (excuse the pun) for the Habs. One star was traded. No player was gained.

On the surface this is fine. The Habs have been playing well, and continue to play well since the deadline. But ultimately, the team has needs to be addressed if it has designs on the Cup. First and foremost is the need to get Saku Koivu a consistent winger to complement his skills.

It's all well and good that the Plekanec line is firing, but come the playoffs and renewed focus among opposing checkers and intense scrutiny on teams offensive tricks, the Habs will need more options. And for all their merits, Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn might not be up to it. Michael Ryder and Higgins may be, but who can tell?

Personally, I would be open to making a trade for a player like Marian Hossa even if it means giving up 4 players in return. First of all, it is really difficult to find a player that fits the bill of fast, big sniper in this league. Secondly, it's for opportunities like these that our depth has been built up. Plus, I also like evaluating the trade by the best player in it.

From the sounds of it, I am out on my own here, but I would like the chance to have one Marian Hossa on the team vs. 4 players (or picks) that we hope may one day be as good as Hossa or his shadow. While Higgins is a great player, it is time people stopped Brain Savaging him and admit that although he may have a 40-goal season in him, he is currently and may always be a 20-30 goal player, no matter how fast he scores in October. Pittsburgh have done the right thing and have made a move that will enable them to separate Malkin and Crosby, or at the very least get two lines scoring.

Once we lost out on Hossa, was there time to go for another scorer? Could Bob have changed his focus sooner? If the answer to either is yes, then I would be disappointed.

Fourth: The Bulldogs get the reins.

Besides Price, Halak and Grabovski have been given another chance. O'Byrne's role is expanding, as are those for Kostitsyns, Latendresse and Lapierre. Even Yann Danis (long deserving of a break) is getting an expanded role in the organisation.

How can one not be positive about these things?

The one key here will be to ensure any veterans left on the sidelines be coached to react the right way – that is to wait patiently for their chance to return.

Lastly: People giving Koivu the thanks for all your help, now get lost treatment

We've seen this a few times in our own comments. And, there have been numerous comments around other blogs, websites and radio/TV shows that reflect this point of view.

Of course, there's inevitability about the whole thing. We can't have too many darlings, and we must find some goats even during the good times. Koivu shouldn't take it personally, nor should his fans.

For the most part, I'll take my own advice as I've already dealt with this here. But ,in response to our readers who agreed with the comment left yesterday on Koivu and bad penalties, I came across this great post, which sheds some more light on his value to the team – well well worth a click (The Habs Happy Hooker).

All that being said, positive attitude is positively winning me over now. The one goal for the year was to see the Habs fight for 96 points, and I couldn't be happier that they are putting themselves in good position to do that. I look forward to the next month where points will be won and lost and emotions will tip this way and that among writers and readers alike.

This is what being a fan is all about.

Go Habs Go.

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