Bob Gainey may have the most comfortable position as general manager for an NHL franchise right now, even after much criticism from media and fans for not getting the big fish in last summer’s sea of big name free agents.
But he has proven that sometimes it pays off just go with a small catch and get the rest out of your own pond.
Some forget that this man knows how to win and build championships.
As of this article, the Montreal Canadiens sit just one point out of first overall in the Eastern Conference. Those of you who read the trade magazine or TV predictions know that many of them had them pegged to "maybe" make the playoffs with one major magazine tagging them to finish thirteenth.
If the season ended today, a lot of "experts" might be in the unemployment line.
So let’s look at the team:
After splitting most of the first half duties with rookie Carey Price, Cristobal Huet was established as the number one goaltender and went on to prove it earning the league’s Third Star for January.
Concerns over his longevity seem to be well under control, having started every game so far in 2008. But when he needs rest, the team’s goalie of the future is ready.
After a brief conditioning stint in Hamilton to get some playing time, Carey Price returned to the big club earlier this week and should see action against the Leafs (who he has dominated this season) on Thursday. Although Price will be the team’s future between the pipes, many believe that Gainey will try to re-sign Huet, a UFA at season’s end, for at least one more season.
The Canadiens have a modern day "Big Three" in Roman Hamrlik, Andrei Markov, and Mike Komisarek.
Emerging from the offensive shadow of the departed Sheldon Souray, Markov was voted to this year’s All-Star Game and is touted by many as a possible Norris Trophy candidate this year.
Hamrlik is a solid free agent addition as a stay at home blue liner who rarely makes mistakes.
Komisarek is maybe the most feared by forwards; a physical monster who ranks in the top of the league in hits and blocked shots, and often challenged by opposing fourth liners who quickly cower after a big shove back by number eight.
Rounding out the corps is Josh Gorges who has been a tremendous addition and logging more and more ice time, the tiny but tough Francis Bouillon, and veteran Patrice Brisebois.
Mathieu Dandineault and Mark Streit are used in both forward and rear guard positions as coach Guy Carbonneau deems necessary.
The “new” No. 1 line of Tomas Plekanec, Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn has been deadly since Christmas.
Speed, incredible passing and amazing scoring flare from all three individuals and Kostitisyn and Kovalev who throws the body when needed.
The young line of Maxim Lapierre, Guillaume Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn has been showing signs of things to come.
With Lapierre’s pest like aggressive style, Latendresse’s physical size, and Kostitsyn’s speed, scoring capabilities, and willingness to drop the gloves if needed, will hopefully help the Habs reach the top spot this year.
Veterans Tom Kostopoulus, Steve Begin and Bryan Smolinski perform excellent as fourth line energy players and will find the net when opportunity arises.
This leaves us to what is supposed to be the true first line of Saku Koivu, Christopher Higgins and Michael Ryder.
Captain Koivu is on a pace to be just below where he typically averages scoring wise, but many expected more out of him this season.
Higgins has been snake bitten on many scoring chances and two-time 30 goal scorer, Ryder, has improved his defense but is in single digits in scoring , finding himself a healthy scratch in several games.
I'd hate to imagine how deadly this team could be if this line kicked in as it could.
Guy Carbonneau’s line juggling through most of the first half has paid off and could get him the Adams Trophy.
With the trade deadline approaches, Gainey does have options:
1. Stand pat and ride the current team into the playoffs and see what happens, where anything can happen.
2. Make that blockbuster trade for a finisher like Vincent Lecavalier, Olli Jokinen, Marian Hossa, etc. and sign them long term to build around them.
3. Get a tough guy to protect his big names against opposing fourth liners. Good for now but a player like that is useless in the playoffs unless he is a 20 goal 200 penalty minute type.
4. Trade for a hired gun to for the remainder of the season.
My bet is he goes with option one or two, keeping in mind that he still has a slew of talent in the minors and prospect system as well as a load of upcoming talent in the next two years of drafts.
Gainey could put a sufficient package deal together and make it look like he got something for nothing.
But right now he put a team together that no one except us diehards saw great potential in. He has the contender already formed but does he make it into a champion this year of let it evolve just a little longer to make a serious stab for Lord Stanley?
Sit back and enjoy the show Habs fans as we have nothing but excitement coming our way!
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