The Canadiens are a good team on the verge of being a consistently good team. Good goalie, good defensive system (as long as the players don't tire) and a decent attack spread over multiple players.
What recent injuries have reminded us once again, however, is that much of this recipe for success is finely balanced on the optimal group of players, and once a player or two is removed the structure begins to teeter.
Originally, many people would have believed that removing Markov from the lineup would cause serious damage to the base of the team. While the damage was not outwardly showing for a few games, it's clear now that damage has been done. Without Markov, the Canadiens ability to absorb the effects of injury are diminished. So much ability wrapped in a single uniform will do that. Evidence, down goes Gomez, down goes PP, down goes attacking resilience.
The Markov injury is that it is a certainty for the rest of the year. Some people see that as unfortunate, while others look to it as a window of opportunity. Indeed, the knowledge that salary added will not have to be removed with a return from injury does make things easier. Yet, this is not perhaps a situation one wishes to find themselves in. Nevertheless, the Canadiens do have the cap space (relief, actually) to add up to Markov's salary for the length of his absence. Because he is heftily reimbursed, this means that options abound.
If Spacek is injured for any more than 5 games or so, then it may be that the needle will be pointing to critical on Pierre Gauthier's line-up gauge, and that he has to move swiftly, with something more than a Bulldog call up to amend the course of his club.
Let's, for the sake of a bit of lively discussion, assume that this is the case. Assume that Gauthier must now be stirred to replace Markov after a month of dawdling.
This morning, to appease my curiosity, I went through NHL rosters and made a list of candidates of potentially available, as well as somewhat feasible, trade options.
I'm not sure if you've ever watched "Deal or No Deal". Hopefully not for your sakes. It's an on-air lottery where the contestants are led to believe over half an hour that they are doing something other than picking numbers out of the air. Strategy game it is not, despite what the pointless banter on the show (aimed at who exactly?) tries to lead viewers to believe.
After looking through the rosters with a critical eye, this is the position I believe Pierre Gauthier to be in. Basically, the players likely to be available to him at this time are like numbered red boxes – all available for his choosing, yet with chance of heroic outcome side by side with risk of the 1 penny return.
The potential rewards
In the player shaped boxes lie the following:
- A player who will score 20 goals for the Canadiens and complete their top 2 lines
- A defenceman who will restart the PP and do no damage to the defensive equilibrium
- A few players who will play 10 games before demotion to Hamilton
- A couple of players whose undisclosed injuries will limit ice time to a few games
- A player who can steady the defence and take some load off Hamrlik and co.
- A player who can springboard Eller to offensive contribution
- Several players who can make Gomez plumb new depths
- Multiple players who will be talked about as the worst trade ever
Anyway, you get the point. There's good options out there. But they are hidden amongst other options, all of whom look just as promising with the lid closed.
Looking at the mystery packages around the league, I came up with the following list whereby I narrowed risk and saw greatest hope for gain. You will notice, for the sake of not obstructing a Markov deal, one year left in contract is a pretty big condition.
One year remaining on contract, possibly available for little (see Bruins cap situation), 14 goals in worst season, 30 goals in best
One year remaining in contract, 20ish goalscorer, big
One year remaining in contract, definitely available (probably for very little), can shoot, history of PP proficieny
One year left in contract, has scored 20 goals in the past (3 times), possibly available for little
One year left on contract, one-time prospect getting on, potential outbreak one day?
One year left on contract, Leafs in desperate need of draft picks
One year left in contract, probably not in Sharks long-term plans
On year left in contract, Canucks cap situation and wealth of offensive D-men (maybe they want to acquire a player for another position but don't have the space?)
One year left on contract, Dallas in dire financial straits?
Other forwards: Alexander Frolov, Cory Stillman, Nikolai Zherdev, Radek Dvorak, Chris Clark, Todd White
Other defencemen: Sami Salo, Sean O'Donnell, Chris Phillips, Eric Brewer
You can only pick one box, so who will it be?
A veritable rogue's gallery, I know. There are some players there we've been glad to see the back of before. Yet of those on contracts that won't strangle the team this summer and beyond, they do stand out as having some potential reward for risk.
If Toronto or Boston would do the trades, then I think Kaberle and Ryder would probably present the nest options (A first for Kaberle? The way Gauthier behaved last June, I'm not sure it's a bad deal). Yet, the asking price may be higher, which is a risk in itself.
Beyond these, I'd probably like Gauthier to investigate with the Kings and Stars, even knowing that they may not be dealing wingers or fairly affordable competent Dmen. Again, asking price might be a stone around the neck in years to come.
Deal or No Deal is hard...
Yet, this is the game when trading from a position of relative weakness – the potential to acquire baggage is fairly high. It's a fool's game really. Just like picking numbers on red boxes. Yet it might be a game that our GM is compelled to now play.