Habs need to get creative to take the next step

26May10

I held out as long as I could. I waited through 19 games of mixed emotions; excitement here, dismay there, utter amazement elsewhere and ultimately, a disappointing finish.

The Montreal Canadiens’cinderella run came to an end Monday night. For three rounds, I watched them continue to defy the odds.

But the ride has come to an end and I’m now ready to weigh in on the state of the team heading into next season.

No doubt many pundits will throw their two-cents worth in on the Habs’ needs over the next few days. Ryan Dixon, of the Hockey News, has already chimed in with a few suggestions — none of which are all that revolutionary: resign Tomas Plekanec, extend Andrei Markov’s contract, trade Carey Price, etc.

These are all fine ideas in some way, but I think the Habs need to get creative this summer if they’re going to take the next step and become a true contender, as opposed to a one-shot overachiever.

As Dixon rightly says, this team needs to make some moves to assure it becomes a perennial conference-finalist. But he doesn’t suggest anything that would move them in that direction. For example, Tomas Plekanec is a fine two-way centre capable of putting up 70-points per season. He’s easily worth $5 million a season to some team.

But should that team be the Canadiens? The Habs are woefully small down the middle and Plekanec showed once again this spring that he disappears when the going gets too rough for his small frame to handle. The drying up of the Habs’ offence, in particular from players like Plekanec and Scott Gomez, was a big part of their undoing against the Flyers, who got a wealth of contributions from their deep and talented forward core.

No, I don’t think keeping Plekanec is necessarily the right approach. But, here is where Habs GM Pierre Gauthier has to get creative. He can’t let Plekanec walk for nothing when the crop of available free agent centres is thin. But he also can’t afford to commit four or five more years to having Gomez and Plekanec at the top of the team’s centre depth chart. They’re simply too small and not productive enough to warrant paying them a combined $13 million per season.

Changes are needed if the Canadiens are to take the next step. I think the biggest change has to start with finding a way to either complete a sign-and-trade contract with Plekanec, or dealing Carey Price and the Kostitsyns for a big strapping centre, while letting Plekanec walk. But how many large forwards with good hands are readily available?

It should be a very interesting summer in Montreal. Pierre Gauthier will certainly need to prove his mettle. This playoff run has whetted the appetite of Montreal’s rabid hockey faithful for a return to contention. Does Gauthier have the wits to make it happen? We shall soon see.

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