Nearing the trading deadline...

Ahhh...the time of year where hopeless franchises like the Crapitals and the Sathers decide to cut their losses and head down to the pawn shop to see what they can get for the few guys who can come out of the first 60 games with any sense of pride at all. Two major trades have gone down so far, and I would assume that the festivities aren't done yet.


To Montreal: Alexei Kovalev
To NY Rangers: Josef Balej, 2nd-round pick in 2004.

Well, this is interesting, to say the least. Balej is a 22-year old smallish Slovakian winger, who's scoring at a pretty nice rate down in Hamilton for our farm team. However, we already have a ton of young guys like Jason Ward and Mike Ribiero and Michael Ryder up with the big club already. And, with other guys like Pierre Dagenais playing much better than expected, Balej wasn't going to get much of a shot anytime soon. Besides, the last thing we need is another Jan Bulis, anyway (Hi, Shad!). The draft pick is probably not going to be much of an issue either way -- we kept our first-rounder, and it IS Glen Sather who will be making the selection for the Rangers. Nothing doing there, then.

Kovalev is an interesting case. He was outstanding when he came up for the Rangers, but as they morphed into this fundamentally-challenged, uncoachable, lazy, bloated, expensive monster, his production summarily fell off in proportion with the rest of his overpaid mates. His last full season with NY (the first time), he was just 23-30-53, and a horrid - 22. However, a trade to Pittsburgh revitalized him, and his stats jumped up...just as recently as 00-01, he tallied 44-51-95. Unsurprisingly, when he started shuttling between the two teams (and then settling here finally), he tailed right back off again.

It seems to me that he's an extremely malleable talent -- he doesn't have the self-discipline to coach himself (a skill needed in the lawless situation in Manhattan), but in the right situation, he can be a dynamic, integral part of an offense. What gives me hope is that Montreal is a complete 180-degree turn from what Kovalev is used to. Claude Julien manages to strike a balance between being a hard-ass when needed without being a ridiculous dictator like Mike Keenan. A lot of these guys played for Julien down on the farm (where they accumulated an insanely-high winning percentage), but they also have the other half of the team, who are veterans with quite the mix of playoff success and regular season failure. This is a hungry team, this is a team with amazing chemistry (it seems), and this is a team that when they stick to Julien's system can take out ANYONE in the league...like New Jersey found out the other night.

Hopefully, Gainey isn't done. I still get the feeling that we need a little more size up front (get Darren Langdon out of the lineup, please), and maybe a big, bruising defenseman. That said, I see no reason why this team can't go far in the playoffs -- and not just as far as Theodore takes us.

Here is where I line-break, to be all dramatic. The Montreal Canadiens, if things break right (you know, 1993 style), can win the Stanley Cup. I said in the beginning of this season that the Canadiens were a playoff team. I wrote to John Buccigross (and I NEVER have the motivation to write to anyone) for picking the Canadiens to finish dead-last in the Conference. The Montreal Canadiens can win the whole fucker -- yeah, I said it. Feel free to laugh at me if they get swept out of the first round, but then I reserve the right to laugh in everyone's face if we even make a nice showing in the Eastern Conference Final.

Finally, some quotes related to this.

"I knew that eventually I was going to go somewhere, so I was ready for that. I tried to still play for this organization. You can't just stop playing, so I kept working hard. Now I am just going to another team to do my best." -- Alexei Kovalev

"He's a good player, but for whatever reason -- whether it was the chemistry or the mix -- it just didn't work," Rangers assistant GM Don Maloney

"The opportunity to support the pursuit of our goal of making the playoffs by acquiring a veteran NHL player was presented to us, and we have taken on that opportunity." -- Bob Gainey

Because Kovalev was available for prospect Josef Balej, who at 22, still isn't good enough to play for the Canadiens, and a second-round draft pick, it's clear that teams weren't exactly lining up and vying for Kovalev's services. For him, the move is not only an opportunity to get back to the playoffs, it's also a chance at a new beginning. In Montreal, he'll have the opportunity to erase memories of his poor performance in New York. -- Bill Clement

there always seems to be a team that flies under the radar and upsets someone. I'll say in the East it will be Montreal.. they can upset someone in the first round because of their goaltending and they can shut teams down defensively. But I dont' think they can do what Anaheim did. -- Darren Pang, before the trade was made

"The Canadiens hope it will be long enough to take them deep into the playoffs. Team president Pierre Boivin announced last week that Montreal must reach the third round of the postseason to break even this year." -- CP article

"Still, it was hardly much of a return for a player who, as recently as a year ago, was considered one of the NHL's best." John Dellapina, NY Daily News

"The curtain has come down on one of the most disappointing revivals ever staged on Broadway...The move, merciful for Kovalev, the Rangers and the home fans - all of whom had become increasingly frustrated with No. 27's incomprehensible incompetence wearing the Blueshirt - surely signals the beginning of a purge that is expected to claim (or set free) up to a half-dozen veterans who played in last night's match. " -- Larry Brooks, NY Post

The other big trade:

To Boston: Segei Gonchar
To Crapitals: Shaone Morrisonn (not a typo) and first- and second-round selections in the 2004 draft

This certainly makes Boston a better team, especially with moving the puck up-ice and quarterbacking the power play. However, I think their playoff run is going to depend a lot more on whether Andrew Raycroft can handle the pressure (and if the team as a whole doesn't pull their usual April disappearing act) rather than what Gonchar is or isn't going to do. In the interest of full disclosure, I know nothing about the young, oddly-monikered defenseman they gave up. The draft picks make it a bit steep, but not terribly so if the Bruins manage to re-sign him after the season (two problems with that: The Bruins are notoriously tight-fisted, and the whole black cloud of CBA Doom hanging over the league).

"When we did our research on what might be available, [Morrisonn] was one player that we really liked," McPhee said. "And to be quite honest, there were not many young defensemen available, and we felt we had to have a defenseman back in this trade, and we did very well to get him." -- Washington GM George McPhee

And...this is just the beginning. More coming, as it happens.


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