Friday, January 29, 2010

Trade Deadline Looms as Canadiens Battle for Playoff Positioning

This article was first published in the January 29th edition of Main Street Week - page 7, and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

Trade Deadline Looms as Canadiens Battle for Playoff Positioning

Heading into the current NHL season, there was great debate as to how the changes made in Montreal during the off-season would improve the team. Most analysts expected Montreal to be in a tough battle this year for one of the final playoff spots in an ever-tightening Eastern Conference, which is exactly where the Canadiens find themselves in the standings; hovering between tenth and seventh on any given day. With almost two-thirds of the season behind them, there is not much room for error in Montreal.

It has been a season of discontent for the Canadiens, with their goaltenders and defencemen struggling for consistency and the forwards having difficulty finding the net in the offensive zone. While their power play is at the top of the league with the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, at even strength, the Habs are near the bottom of the league in scoring with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Carolina Hurricanes; two teams that will certainly miss the playoffs. Opponents have clued in to this statistic and the key to defeating Montreal this year is to stay out of the penalty box.

The NHL schedule is condensed this season with the two-week Olympic break in February, so any momentum built up before the stoppage will be lost as players not participating in the Vancouver Games head home for some rest and relaxation. Right on the heels of the Olympics is the annual NHL trade deadline (moved back a week this year due to the Olympics - the deadline is March 3rd), so roster decisions will be made in the next few weeks by General Manager Bob Gainey.

Perhaps the most important decision facing Gainey is what to do with his young goaltenders. Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak are both restricted free agents at season’s end and with neither goaltender stepping up to claim the job of starter, what does Gainey offer them in contract talks? While both have looked like legitimate number one goaltenders at times this season, Halak has shown more consistency between the pipes and he is looking for more playing time, whether it is Montreal or elsewhere.

Halak's trade value has never been higher but with his recent play, he has become equally valuable to the Canadiens. Does Gainey risk trading him and possibly dashing any hopes of reaching the playoffs or keep Halak and risk losing one or both goaltenders this summer? Montreal would be awarded compensatory draft picks if they lose either goalie to another team because they are in the restricted free agent category. Perhaps complicating the situation is the play of goaltending prospect Cedrick Desjardins. Currently a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League, Desjardins is one of the best goaltenders in the AHL this season and he appears ready to move up to the NHL level.

After taking on the large contract of Scott Gomez in a trade with the New York Rangers and signing free agents Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Jaroslav Spacek to big money deals during the summer, the Canadiens have very little salary cap space with which to manoeuvre. Finding room under the cap to satisfy both Price and Halak will be difficult, especially when one of Montreal’s best players, Tomas Plekanec, is also a free agent at the end of the season. Stay tuned folks; this year’s trade deadline could provide more drama then an episode of Days of Our Lives. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Big Swede Guy on Flickr

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