At the beginning of this season, the Habs were well positioned for a playoff push, perhaps even improving on their surprising showing from the previous season and maintaining the number one seed in the East. The trades for Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang, two top six forwards, did much to create Cup anticipation amongst longtime Habs fans.
Unfortunately, injuries to key players and spotty goaltending have cast doubt on some of those lofty goals. Both Tanguay and Lang have been on IR for extended periods of time, as well as Koivu, Latendresse and Komisarek. Carey Price also was injured, only to come back as a shell of his former self. The Kostitsyn brothers and Kovalev sideshows, and constant trade rumors didn't do much for team psychology either.
But Gainey hasn't given up. Kovalev was given a two game sabbatical, and then came back with 7 pts in 3 games. Sergei Kostitsyn was shipped off to Hamilton. Mathieu Schneider rejoined the Habs for a couple of draft picks. Glen Metropolit was picked up off waivers. The Habs seem to have responded with aggressive defense, a vastly improved PP and most of all, Jaroslaa Halak's otherworldly goaltending.
Gainey's most recent move was somewhat surprising (or at least telling), as Metropolit still has another year on his contract. His pickup also solidifies Lapierre's role as the #3 center. One then wonders what will happen to Lang, a UFA in the off season, and a vital cog in the Habs offense this year. Like Lang, Metropolit also gives the Habs another right handed centerman, and is decent in the faceoff circle: he was the top faceoff man for the Flyers this year.
His pickup had repercussions: Steve Begin became expendable, and allowed Kyle Chipchura to be sent back to Hamilton -- no doubt for more seasoning. Chipchura's defensive play still needs work (-6 in 13 games), as well as taking draws (a woeful 43.9%). Metropolit buys Chipchura another year, and makes $300k less than Begin. Not much especially this late in the season, but still more breathing room under the cap.
The next Hab rumored to leave is Mathieu Dandenault. Also a UFA at the end of the year, he would seem to have more trade value as a two way player. Perhaps only Bob Gainey could get away with decreasing the "French content" of the beloved Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
Still, if Dandenault were to leave, it would be either straight up for draft picks or packaged with picks and/or prospects for an impact player. Such an impact player would almost certainly be a top six forward, someone basically to replace the lost offense when Lang went down.
If Gainey were to do that, he would be essentially signaling a return to the three scoring line, one checking/energy line format. Since Lang's injury, Habs have been using old school lines: two scoring lines, one two-way/checking line, and an agitator/energy line, (more or less) something like this:
If Gainey were to pick up a top six forward, Carbo could dramatically reshape his forward lines for the playoffs. Assuming both Tanguay and Latendresse come back before the playoffs, the new lines might look something like this:
D'Agostini will almost certainly be sent down once Tanguay and Latendresse are back. While he goes to the net, has lightning speed and has that rare right handed shot ... he is completely lost defensively. This is where outside help is needed.
LW on the 4th line is a toss up: Kostitsyn has the most experience; Pacioretty has been solid and deserves a shot; Stewart provides toughness. Laraque will almost certainly not play -- he is far too plodding for the playoffs.
Kostopolous (favorite nickname: Nonstopolous) has been a fixture on Lapierre's right side for virtually the entire season, even on the PK (which is odd, given that both are right handed). But if Gainey wanted three scoring lines, Kostopolous has to go down one line.
So who might the new RW be? Given that Lapierre is the only right handed shot on the top three lines, one would think another right hander would be ideal. Bill Guerin fits the bill, has size and experience, and is being shopped by the Islanders. But the last time he was a playoff rental, it didn't go so well: -3 and a measly 2 assists in 9 games for the Sharks.
The more interesting rumor is Milan Hejduk. He's a proven scorer with a right handed shot. He's far removed from his 50 goal year, but his 50 pts would tie for the team lead right now, and his 23 goals would be tops. However, he's not exactly the type to drive to the net and get the typical playoff-type garbage goal. And he's still under contract for next year, at $4M/yr. With all the other UFA's Gainey has to sign, this trade would saddle the club even further.
Gainey might decide to stand pat, and not sacrifice future cap room or prospects for a single shot at the Cup. But how fun could that be?