Kukla's Korner Hockey
by The Upper Canadien on 02/14/11 at 10:05 PM ET
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.
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