Sunday, June 22, 2008

SPORTS: Long-Term Future Meets Tanguay

During Bob Gainey's tenure at the helm of the Montreal Canadiens, summer drafts have been largely a case of who-he? Gainey has shown a real penchant for drafting American high-schoolers, especially if they once suited up for the Sioux City Musketeers. It borders on the Toronto Maple Leafs' once-bad obsession with Belleville Bulls come draft day.

It was not always thus. Back in 2005, Gainey proved the whole world was wrong in their mock drafts grabbing that, that the Habs did not need. By now, most people have come around to his view on the matter regarding goalie Carey Price. It's Price's low-cost hire for the upcoming 100th anniversay Montreal season that has Gainey deciding the likes of David Fischer, Max Pacioretty, Ryan McDonagh and this year's additions to the Yankee Kiddie Corps, Danny Kristo and Steve Quailer, will probably all have to be back-burnered.

It's time to make a run at Lord Stanley's mug.

Even Pacioretty, the most highly touted of the lot, is not likely to suit up in Montreal this year. I CAN see a scenario where P.K. Subban, a 2007 draftee and Canadian National Junior Team veteran, is the only rookie in Montreal this coming season. Gainey has decided veteran names need adding to the litany of Montreal sweater-wearers. Alex Tanguy is newly in hand, carrying a big payroll stub, and a desire to bounce back from a humiliating season in Calgary under Der Kaiser, Mike Keenan. The odds of him doing a Kovalev seems pretty good.

And it gets better. IF the Canadiens make optimum use of their exclusive negotiating period with Mats Sundin, the forward puzzle in Montreal is complete. Admittedly, the power forward for staying IN FRONT of the net would be missing. But Saku Koivu down deep, with Alexei Kovalev and Sundin at the half-boards, Andrei Markov and Thomas Plekanec on the points, will continue the powerplay domination Montreal has enjoyed over the last few years. With Sundin's face-off artistry being not the least of his accomplishments, you could even make the case that Christopher Higgins might very well replace Koivu in the unit, if he's willing to do crease duty.

That said, most of the rest of Gainey's discretionairy budget expires if Sundin signs on the dotted line. That reduces the number of other hires Montreal might be able to line up. Sure, I'd like them to find a million to throw at Glen Metropolit to fill out the fourth checking line. But Koivu-Higgins-Tanguay and Plekanec-Sundin-Kovalev look like two pretty good scoring lines. Put the Kostitsyn brothers together with either Guillame Latendresse or Maxim LaPierre and that's not bad third-line cheddar. Steve Begin and Tom Kostopolous make for two thirds of great checking line. There's also Mikhail Grabovski in tow, but he might have worn out his welcome. Betcha the Russion Kontinental League beckons. And notice, I haven't even listed Pacioretty in the given 13 Montreal forwards.

To be honest, I'd be over the moon to see Sundin in the Blue, Blanc et Rouge. But a Pacioretty who lives up to his billing could skate with Plekanec and Kovalev. So Sundin is not a necessity. But what the heck, let's make this a season-long Stanley Cup party in the making. Sundin's ability to transform the Habs into an offensive threat 75 per cent of the time would be worth the reported 8-8.5 million he'll ask for to give up his dream of retiring a loser, errr, a Maple Leaf. You only get one hundredth anniversary.

Unfortunately, to bring in Sundin would probably mean moving on without my fave Hab defenceman, Mark Streit. If those contract negotiations look at all promising with Sundin, I think I'd be phoning Paul Holmgren and offering him Streit's exclusive rights til July 1 for about what the Maple Leafs were trying to extract from Gainey. Philly seems to like these kinds of deals. In fact, they've sent spring-time acquisition Vinny Prospal BACK to Tampa Bay in exactly the same kind of deal, since the Flyer millions will be spent on re-signing players and bringing in new defensive help.

That's where I see Subban possibly making the team. He won't hurt on the second powerplay replacing Streit. He would fit in with the rest of the common-man group Montreal uses to man the defence with leaders Mike Kommisarek and Andrei Markov. It will be the weakest feature of the Habs next year. If Sundin does NOT decide to join the team, then re-signing Streit becomes easy. And there would still be some money in the kitty to go after a power forward to do battle with Pacioretty. I still think Fredrik Modin could be had for Grabovski. Tanguay's arrival takes Wade Redden out of the extra defenceman acquisition list. But you know, Michal Rozsival has a lot of charm.

Of course, Price will have to continue to pay off for Gainey. Jaroslav Halak is apparently not suited mentally to back up Price, so somebody like Patrick Lalime is being bruited about to be brought in. Me, I'd think Curtis Joseph might be better at the role, but Lalime might do for the 20 regular season games he might have to play.

Ahhh, it's a good time to be a Habs fan.

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