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Trade deadline musings: If I was Pierre on Valentine’s Day

It’s St. Valentine’s Day, and the Montreal Canadiens sit tied for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Not bad for a team many wrote out of the playoffs before the season began.

Even more impressive when one considers that the Habs are only one point behind Boston for third. This Canadiens team is achieving far beyond the expectations of many.

How high can they go?

As it stands today, Montreal is missing three of their top four defencemen, two of whom are gone for the season. They need depth if they’re going to make a playoff run. Evidently, PK Subban has not endeared himself with his NHL opposition, demonstrated yet again during Saturday’s scrap with Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul. But, do I care? No. Because PK Subban is playing the best hockey he’s played since coming to Montreal. He takes on more responsibility, and gets better, game after game.

Another plus on the back end? Yannick Weber. Weber has very quietly become a reliable NHLer, with 10 points through his first 28 games. More importantly, Weber is playing a steady game and making few mistakes in high-pressure Montreal. And get this – he’s only 22. There seems to be a perception that Weber is an older Swiss player. He’s not. He’s a kid, a damn good one at that, and a potential gem on defence for the Habs.

Mix youngsters Subban and Weber in with James Wisniewski, he of 15 points in 18 games as a Hab, Hal Gill, Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek, and suddenly Montreal has a solid mix of young and old heading into the stretch. Perhaps most importantly, Gill and Subban have become a dependable shutdown pair, something every contending team needs.

My concern? Subban is a creative player with a lot of offensive potential. And the Habs need him clicking on offence if they want to win. My theory? Montreal needs another solid defensive defenceman who can slot in and take the defensive pressure off of young PK.

Up front, the Habs are meshing well. David Desharnais looks very good with Benoit Pouliot. Max Pacioretty is for real. Scott Gomez is still AWOL, but the rookies are making up for his lack of production. Captain Brian Gionta is getting better every game. And Tomas Plekanec is becoming one of the best two way centres in the league.

Who didn’t I mention? Andrei Kostitsyn.

Kostitsyn looks distracted, disinterested and confused at the best of times. He is a team leader when it comes to hits, but many nights he seems to float. How can the Habs compete when one of their supposed top snipers doesn’t show up half the time?

Add to the mix the fact that the Canadiens have sent a contingent to scout the Nashville Predators this week, and I have some ideas.

My two-cent theory on a Monday night is this:

1) Trade Kostitsyn to Nashville for a) a solid checking forward with some size, perhaps Cody Franson or Joel Ward, and a couple of draft picks. Kostitsyn is an RFA, will have much less pressure in Nashville and will get reunited with his younger brother, with whom he has played well in the past.

2) Trade one of those draft picks for an upcoming UFA forward to replace Kostitsyn. The name Alex Kovalev keeps coming up, and despite the chagrin of some readers, I have to suggest he’d be a good replacement. He’s just as interested as Kostitsyn, and will be much moreso trying to prove everyone wrong. This would be his last chance. He’s dominated in a few games this year for the Senators, and he’d be right at home on the Montreal power play. Bring home L’Artiste. If not L’Artiste, how about Cory Stillman? Jason Arnott? There are many UFA-to-be scoring forwards available. The move can be made if Gauthier wants to play.

3) Take the other draft pick, along with a prospect, and acquire that shut down defenceman. Who is it? I like Chris Phillips, but there are a variety available. Andy Sutton is another big man who might be available. He’d add more much needed size and brings significant shot-blocking talents.

Voila! The Habs have the pieces they need. Is it this simple? No. But this would give the Habs essentially the same top six, with a better power play weapon, a checking forward for the third line, and the shut down defenceman they need. Freeing up Subban brings more offence. Kovalev, or another sniper, would provide much more weaponry and a compliment to the dangerous Mike Cammalleri.

This is what I would do. What about you? Many are down on Kovalev, and understandably. Many may feel Phillips is too slow. Perhaps Jason Arnott, with some physical play, is a better target. Brian Burke was on CJAD in Montreal yesterday, and during his interview acknowledged discussions with Pierre Gauthier. Perhaps Tomas Kaberle is a possibility? Regardless, Gauthier is clearly trying to make his team better. That’s a really good sign for Habs fans, and there should be some excitement over the next two weeks.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Montreal Canadiens, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: chris+phillips, david+desharnais, pk+subban, pk+subban, trade+deadline, yannick+weber

Comments

Flashtastick56's avatar

Andy Sutton is another big man who might be available. He’d add more much needed size and brings significant shot-blocking talents.

AND he’s an expert.

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 02/14/11 at 09:23 PM ET

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As usual, great read.  It might be that I’m in a good mood because I’m listening to new Beady Eye, but I actually do like the make up of the Habs and this is coming from a Leafs fan. 

I have to say, Kosti will not yield the return you want.  Your sales pitch is he’s a disinterested forward and you expect Nashville to give up a top prospect and picks?  There’s no doubting his talent, but the Preds don’t need a guy choosing whether to care or not when they are a real threat to make noise in the playoffs (remember, they were one bad shift away from putting the Hawks’ backs against the wall last year…I think it was Erat with the horrible turnover that lead to a Chicago tying goal…I digress).  Regardless, it seems Kosti is expendable and could probably bring you a prospect and a 2nd or 3d.  Just not Franson.

How about the Habs’ apparent lack of ‘grit’ or size?  Subban is as good as it gets for getting under his opponents’ skin, but having an agitator on your third line is key.  Lucic, Armstrong - those are the kinds of guys the Habs would need.

L’Artiste, I’m sure, would be happy in a Habs jersey again (unless they play the Bruins - and it’s going to happen, you know it).  But Ottawa’s looking for picks and I imagine you would also need to trade top picks for Philips.  So who do you prefer of the two? 

Biggest surprise for a non-Habs fan?  Price.  His numbers rival that of Reimer (......) and he will be top three in Vezina voting, probably winning it if the Habs finish ahead of the Bruins.  The question to you is, do you fully and completely trust he will lead you through the playoffs? 

And here’s another one to answer: let’s say you do land Kovalev and Philips, who are the teams you’d still be weary of facing in the playoffs?

Posted by laplemeafs on 02/14/11 at 10:39 PM ET

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Great comments. I may not be an expert, but I’ll give you my response!

Because Kostitsyn is an RFA, and he’s a proven 25 goal scorer, I think he’s actually worth more than a mid-round pick or two. I think he can get a decent NHLer and a pick. A lot of it depends on the salaries involved, but given what others have gone for, I’d have to think Kostitsyn could fetch Joel Ward and a 2nd or 3rd. If the Habs took on some salary, say a JP Dumont type player, I think they could definitely get a 2nd.

But more and more I think Phillips is the guy they should be targeting. They need that D more than they need another forward. I know many people believe they need a goon, but you can’t fight your way to the Stanley Cup. Skill and defence get you there, not to mention a good goalie. Phillips would be a much more useful addition.

As for Price, you’re right, he’s having a hell of a year. But Thomas just superior numbers now, and I think he’s gotta be the favourite at this point. That said, I’d love to see Price get it. He’s clearly working really, really hard to get better.

As for your question (and I really like it), I’m most fearful of facing Philadelphia, because of their depth at forward, and Boston, for largely the same reason. Washington seems to be a mess, Pittsburgh is having a lot of injury problems, and I still don’t believe Tampa has the depth necessary to make a run.

The key for the Habs to have a real chance, just like last year, is a system and speed. I think they can outskate both Philly and Boston, but over a 7 game series a lot of it will come down to grit. That’s where I think guys like Phillips, or Joel Ward, could really help.

And Kovalev has always been money in the playoffs. So he can’t hurt, either.

Thanks for the questions/comments as always!

Posted by The Upper Canadien from Toronto on 02/15/11 at 12:01 AM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

But more and more I think Phillips is the guy they should be targeting.

The pairing of him and Volchenkov was as shut down as shut down can get…but he’s struggled without him this year.  Of course…Ottawa’s bad.

He’d probably be a really good fit in Montreal…maybe pair him up with another steady d-man to form that “shut down pair” every team needs when the playoffs come around.

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 02/15/11 at 12:28 AM ET

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I wouldn’t target Kovalev as my primary upgrade up front, but I’d keep that discussion going if you can’t land anyone else. I still see him as too much of a wild card to wholeheartedly go after him.

I think Phillips would fit in nicely in Montreal. Would provide more stability on the back end, as well as experience/leadership.

If you can find someone to take Kostitsyn off your hands, then by all means. It’s not working for him right now, and he needs a change of scenery. I’ll be interested to see what the return is IF he is moved.

Posted by Briney on 02/15/11 at 12:27 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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