Well, Gainey gambled and lost. He kept Souray, but the Habs still didn't make the playoffs, losing in the last game to the Leafs (who scored the winner with 7 skaters on the ice). Who could blame him? There are a number of teams this year who are also on the bubble, not knowing if they are buyers or sellers.
This year there is no such drama in what the Habs will do. They are undoubtedly contenders. And they undoubtedly need help, up front on one of the scoring lines. Carbo has tried all year to throw out three scoring lines, and one energy line. Of course, it didn't help that he constantly benched his only right-handed scoring threat (Ryder) and juggled every line but Plekanec's.
Still, the Habs can only field 7 1/2 legitimate scoring line forwards: Koivu, Kovalev, Higgins, Plekanec, the Kostitsyn brothers, Ryder and sometimes Streit. (Latendresse could be a scoring line forward, but hasn't shown the consistency.) The rest of their forwards are really fourth liners, in terms of the "energy" that Carbo likes to see coming from his fourth line forwards. These would be Kostopolous, Begin, Lapierre and Dandenault. Of course that leaves out Smolinski, who hasn't been much use anywhere.
So the Habs have more fourth liners than they need, and not enough scoring line forwards. The obvious hole is the center position on the third line. So that would be an obvious place to pick up some help.
But another possibility would be to move one of the other forwards to center that line and replace him in the lineup. The most likely player under this scenario would be Higgins, who broke in with the Habs as a center. And the best possibility to replace him would actually be a right winger, not the left wing he would vacate, as Ryder, Kostopolous, and Kovalev are the only natural right wingers on the team.
And who would Gainey give up to land either such player? Given that the sellers typically are looking for long term help, Gainey would be pressed to give up some of his outstanding prospects. And since the Habs have depth at both defense and between the pipes, expect someone like Halak, Danis, O'Byrne, Valetenko and the like to be involved. So none of the existing scoring line forwards would be moved, including Ryder, Koivu or Higgins (among those that have been involved in recent rumors).
And who are the sellers? Those that have almost no shot at the playoffs this year, and need to restock for the future, with prospects and/or draft picks. These teams are Los Angeles, Edmonton, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Atlanta. The Thrashers are the most interesting, as they could be a contender, but Marian Hossa -- a UFA at the end of the year -- has made it clear he won't resign with Atlanta.
Hossa, a big time scoring right wing, would fit beautifully with the Habs. Gainey has said that he only wants to trade for a gamebreaker, and Hossa certainly fits the bill. Atlanta also needs blue line help, so they'd be taking a hard look at the Hamilton roster. Indeed Atlanta GM Don Waddell was spotted at a recent Bulldogs game.
Others who might draw interest:
- Atlanta's Bobby Holik, a potential UFA after this season. A big right handed center, he'd be perfect as the Habs third centerman. He brings the right kind of nasty to the playoff mix, and ranks first in the NHL among players with at least 800 faceoffs. He might actually be a better fit than Hossa.
- From the Kings, the main trade pieces are on D, esp Rob Blake, Oleg Tverdosky and Brad Stuart -- not where the Habs need help. But the Kings desperately need a goalie. Unless they're willing to part with Alexander Frolov or Anze Kopitar (highly unlikely) don't expect a trade with the Kings.
- The Leafs' main attraction would have been Mats Sundin, but he won't drop his no trade clause. They also have Kaberle and McCabe, but the Habs don't need blueline help.
- The Bolts have the big three, of whom probably only Brad Richards will be traded. LeCavalier and St. Louis have more affordable contracts, so some money will no doubt be involved in a Richards trade. He'd be a great third center for the Habs, but will Gainey blow his carefully constructed contract structure on a guy who makes almost double what either Koivu or Kovalev make?
- Chicago has Martin Havlat and Robert Lang, but both were just signed as UFA's this season. They most likely will try to move Nikolai Khabibulin, assuming someone wants to take his fat contract and underachieving ways. Needless to say, the Habs don't need a goalie.
- The Oilers are a bit like the Kings. Deep on young talent up front, with veterans in back. Only they have a goalie. So they may just stand pat (more or less) come the deadline.