The trade deadline came and went, and the Habs shocked many by appearing to be selling rather than buying. Trading your #1 goaltender might lend itself to such an interpretation.
But of course there's much more to it than that. Cristobal Huet is an unrestricted free agent his upcoming offseason, and unless Carey Price showed he was incapable of taking on the #1 duties next season, Huet would not be re-signed. So why let him get away for nothing?
However, it seems like Gainey got almost just that in return: a second round draft pick ... in 2009.
So it's not really about Huet's impending departure either. It's more about the future, and it's imminent arrival.
Gainey apparently was intent on landing Marian Hossa, at least to close out this season. But he was not willing to give up any of his highly touted prospects in return. Instead, he has chosen to go to battle with this team of mostly unproven youngsters.
And none more so than Carey Price. Gainey has laid the burden of being #1 squarely on his shoulders. Certainly a tall order for a 20 year old, who had yet to put in a full year in the AHL, and spent some time there this year as well. (BTW, Price isn't the first Habs rookie goaltender to be sent down to the minors to work on his form, esp to stand up more. Patrick Roy did the same).
But it's also up to the Kostitsyn brothers, Higgins, Plekanec, Komisarek, O'Byrne and the like -- the young core of this team that Gainey refused to trade. By not trading them, Gainey has signaled his confidence in them. Passing the torch, as it were.
This is a team whose rebuilding is almost over (more on that later). Why would Gainey rent a player like Hossa, when this is a team that can go all the way. Maybe not this year, but conceivably in the near future.
And Hossa almost certainly would have been a rental. The Habs are significantly under the cap this season, and presumably next season's cap would be even higher. But let's say that Gainey was able to get Hossa without trading any of his existing players. He might be able to sign Hossa and his upcoming free agents, given what Hossa supposedly wanted ($7M+ per year).
But why would he do that, and risk the carefully constructed salary balance to date? Kovalev and Koivu are his highest paid forwards, with Koivu earning only $.25M more than Kovy per year. And over the same span too. On D, Markov and Hamrlik are the highest paid, with the same differential as Kovy and Koivu. Gainey isn't going to bring in anyone to earn much more than any of them, the veteran leaders of this club. Not without risking egos and the careful chemistry that shows the resilience to come back to win from a 5-0 deficit.
So don't expect Hossa in the tricolore next year either. Gainey has himself a team. A cohesive unit that can win games now, and for the foreseeable future.