Exit Michael Cammalleri in a stunning turn of events involving number 13 and the Montreal Canadiens over the last 24 hours: pulled mid-game in Boston and shipped back to Calgary for Rene Bourque in a deal that also involves prospects and draft picks.
When I think of Michael Cammalleri in a Habs jersey, I think of the expectations, and a promise of greatness: we saw flashes of that from Cammalleri during his brief stay in Montreal. A terrific first season in Montreal before the injury bug bit. Habs fans wondered if he might be on course for a 40-goal season that year. There was that terrific playoff two seasons ago, and a solid, if brief, playoff run last season.
When Steve Begin took to the ice this morning at the Habs’ practice facility in Suburban Brossard, he was still a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
When Steve Begin boarded the team charter for Philadelphia and tomorrow night’s game against the Flyers, he was still a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
But a funny thing happened to Steve Begin on his way to Philly. He became a member of the Dallas Stars.
Upon arrival in Philadelphia, Begin was whisked away from his (former) team mates, and was informed that he had been dealt to the Stars for defenceman Doug Janik (more on HIM a little later.) So, while Begin’s (former) team mates made their way to the team hotel, Begin caught a flight to Dallas, to join his new team mates, the Dallas Stars.
And that was it. Begin’s career with the Canadiens, which spanned the better part of six seasons, was over. Traded to Dallas for a journeyman defenceman who might never see the light of day with the Montreal organization. That’s because Janik, who has bounced around between the NHL and the AHL since the Buffalo Sabres made him a 2nd-round pick in the 1999 Entry Draft, is ticketed for the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs. However, he first has to clear waivers. And if he doesn’t, well, he’ll end up with another team.
And the Canadiens wil be left with absolutely nothing, in return.
But GM Bob Gainey was obviously willing to take that chance, in order to give Begin an opportunity to do something he hadn’t done over the last five games with the Canadiens:
It’s not as if Begin wanted “out” of Montreal, according to Gainey. He wanted a chance to play a regular shift. That’s something that he wasn’t getting for a good part this season. Through the opening four weeks of the season, and over the last four weeks, Begin saw more action from the press box than he did on the ice. As one of five men battling for three positions on the fourth line, Begin was in a dogfight for playing time.
Today at practice, for example, as Coach Guy Carbonneau formed his lines for tomorrow night’s game in Philly, it became clear that Begin, once again, would be the odd-man out. Along with Mathieu Dandenault.
Why? I can’t really tell you. Only Guy Carbonneau can tell you why Begin, a guy who gave his heart and soul for this club, played only 42 of the team’s 61 games, with no end in site to his role as a designated sitter.
Next to Saku Koivu, no one displayed more grit and more guts on this team over the last six seasons, than Steve Begin. Half the time he played hurt; his body held together by duct tape and chicken wire. Sure, maybe he was never more than a third-line player on this team, but, in all the time he wore the CH on his chest, he consistently sacrificed his body for the good of the team.
But you know what? If the trade with Dallas is going to mean a new lease on Steve Begin’s playing life, I’m happy for the guy. He deserves it. He was a brilliant pick-up on the part of Gainey, one of his first moves as GM of this club, when he plucked him from the Buffalo Sabres’ organization as a waiver draft selection, on Oct. 3, 2003. And if he asked Bob Gainey to give him an opportunity to play a regular shift, albeit with another team, that works for me.
For those of you who are rubbing your hands in glee in anticipation of this deal being the tip of the iceberg in terms of possible player movement on this club leading up to the Mar. 4 trade deadline, you can stop right now. Except for perhaps a move to acquire some depth at centre, it’s not going to happen. That was all but spelled out today by Gainey.
This is the team, by and large, that will carry Montreal’s playoffs hopes through the final six weeks of the regular season. Minus one of this team’s best performers in the playoffs last season.
The Montreal Canadiens could have used Vincent Lecavalier last night.
But, alas, while Lecavalier and his Tampa team mates were warming up for their west-coast game against the Sharks (which the Sharks won, 7-1) the Canadiens fell 3-1 to the Bruins in Boston.
The trade winds that have been swirling in Montreal in recent days swept through Boston last night, with Habs fans convinced, or at least hoping, that the Lightning will consider parting with Vinnie and his 11-year, 85-million-dollar contract. And that Habs’ GM Bob Gainey will move heaven and earth to bring him to Montreal.
While neither the Canadiens nor the Lightning have said anything tangible to fuel the speculation, this is a rumour that has developed a life of its own, and will not go away in the immediate future until:
A. Tampa trades Lecavalier
B. The March trading deadline passes, and Vinnie is still in a Bolts uniform
The rumours hit a fever pitch early last night with word that Lecavalier was being kept out of the lineup against the Sharks because he was on his way to Montreal. But, sure enough, when the puck dropped at the HP Pavilion, there was Vincent Lacavalier on the ice for the Tampa Bay Lightning. And there’s his name on the scoresheet: 17:07 of ice time on the strength of 21 shifts, and a -1 performance on the night.
It’s all there in black and white, not ‘bleu, blanc, rouge.”
In the meantime, the Canadiens could have used a little Lecavalier-like offensive magic against Tim Thomas, who surrendered but one goal to Andrei Kostitsyn en-route to a 34-save performance in the Boston goal. Historically, the Canadiens have had Thomas’ number. But not last night. The veteran was the difference, holding down the fort in a first-period flurry which saw the Habs pepper him with 17 shots enroute to a 17-9 shot advantage after 20 minutes.
A funny thing happened to the Canadiens on their way to the second period. They stopped skating. True, the goal by Andrei, his 14th of the season on a lovely, patient set-up from brother Sergei, came early in the second period — and opened the scoring. But the Habs slowly began skating in quicksand, and could not keep up to the Bruins, who, like the Canadiens, were also missing key injured players in Milan Lucic and Phil Kessel. Two goals in the second period by big Zdeno Chara on the power play, his second coming on a 5-on-3, put the Bruins over the top, with David Kreji adding an insurance marker in the final minutes.
Not that Jaroslav Halak can be faulted for any of this. From where I was sitting, he looked much better in this loss than he has in many of his wins. But after powering their way to four straight victories on the strength of 23 goals, Montreal’s offensive well ran dry last night.
Of immediate concern is that both Carey Price and Saku Koivu were kept off skates today as the Canadiens practiced at their facility at Brossard. Both are nursing lower-body injuries. The Captain had returned to practicing his teammates and looked to be a reasonable bet to return to action as soon as this week. Koivu’s absence from practice throws that timetable out the window.
Up next: the Nashville Predators Thursday night at the Bell Centre. Defenceman Yannick Weber won’t get a chance to dress for that one. Today he was returned to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Weber was called up from Hamilton on Jan. 1st and saw 15 minutes of ice time in the 6-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Jan. 7.
He’ll be back.
As Habs fans anxiously await confirmation that the Tampa Bay Lightning are indeed ready to dispose of Vincent Lecavalier in a fire sale, they are drooling over the prospects of seeing the Montreal-area native in a Canadiens’ uniform.
And Bob Gainey did nothing to dispel that rumour, acknowledging that if the right player came around, at the right price, he would consider it.
And why wouldn’t he? Bob Gainey is the general manager of this hockey team. It’s his job to keep his options open and look for ways to improve this club. It makes all the sense in the world.
But at what cost.
Gainey fielded a number of questions about the Lecavalier rumours yesterday during his mid-season state-of-the-franchise address at the team’s practice facility in Brossard, prior to the players boarding a flight to Boston for tonight’s game against the Bruins. Gainey says it’s not the team’s policy to discuss trade rumours.
“We prefer to work quietly and, if we do something, then we’ll make an announcement.”
Habs fans are waiting for announcement. One that involves the Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning. A trade. A trade for Vincent Lecavalier, a player Canadiens’ fans have been lusting over, ever since the 28-year-old was made the number 1 pick by Tampa in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft.
While we’re dealing with rumours, let’s look at some of the players rumoured to be on their way to Tampa as part of this so-called “trade”.
Tomas Plekanec. Chris Higgins. Josh Gorges. P.K. Subban. And a number of draft picks in return for Vincent Lecavalier and his 11-year, 85-million-dollar contract, that kicks in this July. Let’s forget about the dollar amounts associated with this deal, because, quite frankly, I’m not a chartered accountant and figures give me a headache. Let’s talk talent, shall we?
Personally, I have a problem with this proposed “trade.”
Chris Higgins? I’d be sorry to see him go, but perhaps a change of scenery would help this young man, who seems to have a black cloud hanging over his head in Montreal.
Tomas Plekanec? A terrific, gritty, hard-working talent who is having a less-than-terrific year, although he has been showing signs of late. Expendable, when you consider that you’d be getting Lecavalier to fill his spot at centre.
P.K. Subban? Now, here’s where it gets interesting. This personable young man from Toronto has been making huge strides since the Habs made him a second-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. We’ve seen what he can do in junior as a member of the Belleville Bulls, and now we know what he can do on the world stage, with a dominant performance at the recently-completed World Junior Championships in Ottawa. Don’t forget. Bob Gainey has helped build this team with draft picks, and Subban is looking like a keeper.
Josh Gorges? This is where it gets even MORE interesting. One year ago, you would have tossed him in, on a such a deal, in a heartbeat. Not any more. Gorges is my pick for Habs MVP through the first 41 games of this season. And on a team that is lacking depth along the blue line, which Gainey himself acknowledged yesterday, he would be sorely missed. To the point that the Canadiens would be in serious trouble on defence, without adequate compensation from Tampa in return.
Draft picks? They’re just numbers, right? A 1st-round pick in 2009, a 1st-round pick in 2010…yadda yadda yadda. Just numbers, right?
Max Pacioretty was just a number, too, until the Canadiens selected him in the 1st round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. And, less than one year removed from college hockey, he’s knocking at the door. Carey Price was just a number, too, when Bob Gainey made the young netminder his number 1 pick, fifth overall, in the 2005 Entry Draft; a move that sent some Canadiens’ fans running for the hills, screaming, “HE DRAFTED A GOALIE!!! BOB GAINEY DRAFTED A GOALIE!!! HOW COULD HE DO THAT?!?!?!” BOB GAINEY HAS THE FIFTH OVERALL PICK AND HE DRAFTS A GOALIE!?!?!?!”
Yes, he drafted a goalie, a young man who is becoming the face of this franchise.
Habs fans need to think about that before mortgaging the future.
Would Bob Gainey be interested in acquiring Vincent Lecavalier from the Tampa Bay Lightning?
Would he offer up a blank cheque in return?
Not on your life.
Would he send Plekanec, Higgins, Gorges, Subban and a whack of draft picks to Tampa in return for Vinnie?
Finally, the Mats Sundin soap opera is over.
Finally, Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey can close the book on a chapter that just went on, and on, and on. And on.
In the end, Gainey simply got tired of waiting for Mats. In the end, Gainey never really believed he would see Mats Sundin in a Canadiens uniform. In the end, Gainey went ahead with “Plan B”, in the form of Robert Lang. And, in the end, it was the right move by the Canadiens’ GM.
By helping the Chicago Blackhawks out of a sticky salary cap situation, the Canadiens helped themselves out where they needed help the most: up front, with a big centreman who still has some productivity left in those 37-year-old legs. Lang cost the Habs a second-round draft pick and four million in salary: a reasonable price to pay for someone who had clearly been lost in the shuffle of youth in Chicago. Despite his 21 goals last season, Lang wasn’t much of a factor for the Hawks down the stretch in 2007-2008. And, by his own admission, a change of scenery is just the spark Lang needs to continue a career that included his four most productive years in Pittsburgh: playing with Alex Kovalev.
Lang chuckled when he told me he had spoken to Alex just a couple of days ago. Two old friends just catching up on the phone. A couple of days later, the two are teammates again.
“I talked to him just to touch base and I obviously talked to him after I got the news told him it looks like we might be playing together again,” said Lang. “It’s funny how it works sometimes. It should be fun.
It’s been anything but fun for Bob Gainey in his dealings with Mats Sundin over the last 11 weeks. Going back to the days when Gainey had been granted exclusivity by the Leafs to negotiate with the big Swede during the time of the NHL draft, all we had been hearing from everyone (except Mats) is how Montreal made the most sense for Sundin. How he would never return to Toronto. And how he would never head west, despite Vancouver’s humungous 20-million-dollar, two-year offer.
Trouble is, Mats still hasn’t made up his mind. But Bob Gainey has. Gainey knew in his heart of hearts he would get an indication, real quick, if Sundin had any interest in playing in Montreal. That indication never came. The days after the NHL entry draft in Ottawa stretched into weeks, and then into months. Still, Sundin sits on the sidelines, considering his future; leaving Bob Gainey to consider his options, an option that included a “Plan B,” in the form of Robert Lang, someone who is excited and actually looking forward to wearing the CH on his chest.
It’s positively refreshing, I tell ya.