Thursday, January 20, 2011

Know When To Fold 'Em

You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away...

When Andrei Markov went down with injury, this team was a franchise defenceman away from being a contender in most eyes. They've done a solid rendition of being a contender at times without him, though.

Then, December. Josh Gorges out.

Now, January and Cammalleri is gone for a good old length of time.

These are not just three injuries. They are three deep cutting injuries. Markov can't be replaced, not in this league, not without surrendering much more than a 2nd rounder. Gorges at his his best is hard to find in a package lying around the trade tables too. Cammalleri is one of those pure scorers at his best, that only comes to market once every few years, not more.

Since Cammalleri got hurt a couple of days ago, there has been an explosion of talk about who will replace him. There is cap space (if the GM files for it), there is a roster place. It's understandable.

My question at this point: What for?

Kenny Rogers may have known a thing or two about poker coming from Texas. Maybe he didn't. He sure wrote like he knew something. Poker is a game of hands. Winning one hand does not mean winning or losing the next. A sensible poker player has to understand that not every hand is winnable, that knowing when to fold is just as important as all the other tricks and skills learned.

Hockey GMs aren't strictly speaking gamblers. They don't need to be if they do their legwork. But to an extent, hockey for a GM is like the game of poker. A season is a hand, the organizational chart is the chips at his disposal. He has to recognize a team that can win, and importantly one that can't. If he can't do this, a GM risks betting his chips on a team that never had a chance (see Burke, Brian).

So, what for?

I ask what for, because with three injuries on the roster, two season-ending, one happening during a critical phase, one has to come clean and start asking whether this team, this one:

Pacioretty - Gomez - Gionta
Eller - Plekanec - Kostitsyn
Pouliot - Halpern - Darche
Pyatt - Desharnais - Moen

Wisniewski - Hamrlik
Spacek - Weber
Subban - Gill


has any real chance of making the playoffs, and much more importantly contending when they get there.

I presume those who call for a trade think not. Let's say then Pyatt is replaced by the winger who another team doesn't want enough to trade for Ben Maxwell, or a third round pick, or the rights to Alexei Emelin. Does that make the difference?

How is this team going to overcome Pittsburgh and Washington without the element of surprise?
How will they score on Philadelphia?
How will they match Boston over 7 games?
How do they defend Stamkos and St. Louis over a whole series?

That's just the East...

I don't want to be a downer. I'm a big believer in timing and good fortune. I'm a believer that we have players who can crank it up a notch, who know the playoffs better than those on other teams. But even with that, I don't see this team as a better version of last year's team. Do you?

It's for that reason that I hope Gauthier doesn't do anything too drastic to try and save a season at the expense of his next four goes around. If Kaberle can be had for a 5th rounder, or a decent option comes up on waivers, then by all means. It's the big trade I fear could hurt.

I hope he knows when to fold 'em.

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