It hasn’t been much of an off-season for Habs’ general manager Bob Gainey, Trevor Timmins, the club’s director of player development, and the rest of the team’s hockey staff. 

The ink has barely dried on a completely forgettable 2008-2009 campaign, and Gainey and Company are already busy preparing for next season.  Not that there has been much in the way of earth-shattering news to show for it. 

There WAS the signing of  free agent forward Mikael Johansson to a two-way contract for next season.  Johansson won the Swedish Elite League playoff championship with Farjestads this season and picked up four points in 11 playoff games. 

I’m told he’s a pretty good talent. 

Still, it’s hard to get excited about another small forward on this team.  The 23-year old stands 5-10 and weighs 181 pounds.  However, let’s reserve judgement until we see him on the ice at the NHL level.  Johansson was drafted in the ninth round by Detroit in 2003.

These days, Gainey, Timmins and the rest of the hockey staff have been busy watching some 100 prospects sweat it out in a series of conditioning tests being done during the NHL combine at hotel near the Toronto airport.  The Habs’ brass are all taking copious notes, no doubt, in advance of the NHL Entry Draft, which will be held June 26-27 at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

The NHL combine continues through Saturday.  The Canadiens will then hold their own mini-combine this Monday at the team’s practice facility at Brossard, where some 40 prospects, many of them from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, will attempt to impress Canadiens’ management. 

So, Habs’ fans can chew on that.  They can also chew on a Soviet report that’s making the rounds when it comes to the future of three members of the Canadiens, three potential unrestricted free agents: Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Mike Komisarek.  The report suggests that the Canadiens are preparing for life without Koivu, and one way they’re doing that, is by offering Kovalev the captain’s “C”, along with a one-year contract worth in the neighbourhood of $6-7 million.  The Soviet report also suggests that the Canadiens have offered defenceman Mike Komisarek a deal worth $4 million a season.

Let’s address Kovalev first.

I believe he’ll be back in a Canadiens’ uniform.   Despite a very uneven 2008-2009 season, the Canadiens need Alex Kovalev.  And it’s no secret that he wants to return.  He’s always scoffed at suggestions that he’s a better hockey player when he’s replaced Koivu as captain, as he has in the past, when Koivu has been hurt.  But you know that Kovalev would wear the “C” with pride, if it ends up on his chest.

Is Kovalev worth some $6-$7 million?  Not a chance.  Then again, is Roman Hamrlik worth the  $5.5 million a season it took to get him to Montreal?  Nooo.  Bob Gainey has been forced to overpay to attract and keep talent in the past.  It’s bound to happen again, with Kovalev.

As for Koivu, it was very clear to me, after talking to number 11 at the end of the season, that the Captain was going to go through some serious sole-searching during the off-season.  And it wouldn’t surprise me if that sole-searching leads him to another team.  There’s only one way I would be happy to see Saku Koivu in another city playing for another club: if it’s on HIS terms.  Otherwise, I want him back. As Captain.

As for Komisarek, I truly believe he’s played his last game for the Habs.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Someone will cough up $5-$6 million for his services.  But it won’t be the Canadiens.  I’d be sorry to see him go, but not as a result of anything he did last season.  Komisarek was an all-star in name only in 2008-2009.  He struggled on the ice, and he struggled with injuries.  However, he’s too good a hockey player for the Canadiens to simply wash their hands of.  Except if it’s going to take $5-$6 million to keep him here.  The Canadiens will not overpay for number 8’s services.

In the meantime, no one really knows how much money Bob Gainey is willing to throw in the direction of any of the three above-mentioned players.  But it’s certainly something to chew on.

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