Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Trade Winds: Light

Yesterday, my kid went a field trip to a museum. All the kids in the class brought some money to buy a trinket at the museum's gift shop and on the way home, they were comparing the amount of change they had left over. My kid suggested to her bus seatmate that she'd like to trade coins. When the negotiations were completed, the other kid had traded a loonie AND a piece of hand-painted driftwood for a quarter. I asked my daughter if she thought it was right to take the other kid's dollar while giving only a quarter in exchange. She said, "Well, the other kid wanted to do it."

The whole story made me wish there were GMs in the NHL who'd be similarly willing to trade their dollar players for the Canadiens' quarters. But while my kid may be the Sam Pollock of schoolyard trades, unfortunately for the Habs, the heyday of Trader Sam is long gone.

Right now, fans are desperately hoping for a major draft-day trade that will bring a real, true superstar to Montreal. Lecavalier, Heatley, Staal and Kovalchuk all have their factions of support within Habs fandom. The problem is, Bob Gainey doesn't have much of value to trade for them; or, more precisely, anything of value from which he's willing to part.

The Canadiens have more free cap space than any other NHL team this summer. That's because nearly every big salary the team paid out last year is now off the books, and with the salaries go the rights to the team's best players. You know, the ones who might actually be worth packaging in a trade for a superstar. So, what Gainey's looking at as trade bait is a somewhat skilled, if inconsistent and largely unproven, young core of forwards. It's hard to imagine Ottawa accepting a package consisting of Max Lapierre, Andrei Kostitsyn and Guillaume Latendresse for Dany Heatley. Those three all together barely come close to Heatley's goal totals. In any case, the loss of three or four roster players from the Canadiens would hurt the team more than the addition of one superstar would help it. Even if they don't score a ton of goals, they do fill important, if lesser, roles on the team.

So, assuming teams with superstars to trade wouldn't be satisfied with a package of second or third-tier forwards, you then have to consider the other players the Habs still have under contract. Of those, Andrei Markov and Carey Price have the most value on the market, and could possibly be the centrepiece of a trade on the Canadiens' side. But Markov is the team MVP and one of the top puck-moving defencemen in the league. Trading him might bring a good forward in return, but it would open up a massive hole on defence which would counteract any positives up front. And Price is the hoped-for superstar-to-be on which Gainey is staking his career as general manager. There's no way he's getting traded, partly because Gainey loves him and partly because of the huge fear of him developing into the next Brodeur in some other city.

So, when it comes down to it, when other teams put their crown jewel players on the market, the Canadiens just don't have the players of equal value to give in return. Fans will continue to be disappointed when Gainey doesn't make a massive trade on draft day, but last year's acquisition of Alex Tanguay for draft picks is about as good as it gets when a team is as limited in star players as Montreal is right now.

In other words, you might be able to trade a quarter for a loonie on the school bus, but it's not very likely to happen in the NHL. And that's somthing fans are just going to have to deal with.


Anonymous said...

According to Ken Dryden's The Game, Sam Pollock "believed strongly that championship teams couldn't be built on trades". Dryden describes the concept of being traded as demeaning. Gainey must feel the same way.

If the team is serious about winning, it will have to play as a team. When all of the players are committed to winning, we will see a change. I would be content with a lineup of NHL-calibre players that work together.

The worst thing a fan can do is seek a messiah who will join the team and change everything.

Mathieu said...

Well then, what's to keep Gainey from trading four quarters for a buck?

Just asking.

I'd also rant about yet another post that severely undervalues the Habs' players based on a bad half-season, but apparently for a city that likes to prop up its team's tradition Montreal hockey fans have a memory of about 30 games...