The Blues are on the cusp of a playoff berth, but most likely staying home come playoff time. The Western Conference is far too competitive. They also draw decent crowds, a surprising 8th in the league in average attendance and better than 98% full arenas. Since the NHL is a gate-driven league, they ought to be able to afford to pay near the cap limit -- but are almost $9M below this season.
So they could definitely afford the $7M+ hit that Gomez would bring (again, we're operating under the assumption that Gomez has to go in order for the Habs to free space to sign Plekanec and others). Gomez's almost point-per-game pace after lining up between Gionta and Pouliot also helps his trade value -- and the Blues could use another playmaking center to take some of the pressure off Andy McDonald.
But Gomez's better play of late still doesn't justify his salary. The Habs need to dangle Halak (Price?) to make any deal worth making.
Chris Mason is the Blues starting goaltender, but is 33 years old and a UFA this off season. He's not a long (or even medium) -term solution. He is posting respectable numbers (2.54 GAA/.911 SPCT), but so is his backup, Ty Conklin (2.58/ .922). Conklin is a UFA the season after next, and has a more manageable $1.3M cap hit. Halak would shore up at least their medium-term goaltending situation, and allow more development time for 19 year old Jake Allen.
The Blues are also in the enviable position of having many good prospects in the pipeline, rated #1 by hockeysfuture.com. So they could afford to lose some veterans while picking up additional talent.
And who would those veterans be? Like the Dallas proposal in the last post, the Habs would almost certainly have to pick up the current starting goaltender. In this case, that means Mason and his $3M cap hit.
But the player the Habs should have their eyes set upon Brad Boyes. He's currently the Blues points leader, but apparently that's not tough to do: he only has 10 goals, and 24 assists. Still, he's a right handed shot with some size, and the Habs need more of those, esp of the scoring variety. He's also scored at least 65 points in his four full seasons, except for the one year he was traded. Boyes also carries a $4M cap hit, so with Mason the trade is almost a wash in terms of salary.
So how might the Habs lineup look like with this trade? The loss of Gomez means a hole on the second line, probably filled by Sergei Kostitsyn. Or maybe Ben Maxwell, depending on how his most recent audition fares. A sample lineup:
Sure, this lineup has a lot of issues, esp the lack of scoring punch on the third line (Boyes can't do it by himself). But moving Gomez is only about the future. Bringing in Boyes solidifies the right side. Mason's $3M deal comes off the books, and combined with Metropolit and Mara (and Bergeron?), that gives Gainey almost $6M to dole out next year, assuming the cap stays at the same level. That ought to be plenty to keep Plekanec and others, as well as bring in a playmaking center to slot behind Plekanec.
That would leave the Habs looking something like this for 2010-11:
That gives the Habs three scoring lines, with some decent energy, size and defense for the fourth. But who would that second line center be? Well, there is a certain one-time captain who will be a UFA once again this offseason...