BROSSARD, Que. – If Bob Gainey finds the right dancing partner, the Canadiens could make some noise on home ice this weekend when the NHL Draft lands in Montreal.
The Montreal general manager is 95 per cent sure the club will hang on to its 18th overall draft pick, but he said that doesn’t mean the club isn’t prepared to make a major trade.
“We want our team to get a lot better, and if we’re going to get a lot better, we need to make some impact improvements,” Gainey told reporters Thursday at the team’s practice facility in Brossard, Que.
“We feel like we have some of the assets needed to put a deal together if we have a partner that really wants to move (in) that direction.”
The Habs, who are waiting until after the draft to offer contracts to potential unrestricted free agents such as Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay, could have as many as 10 unrestricted free agents on July 1.
Gainey said that flexibility – and the room it provides under the salary cap – puts the team in a good position to swing a deal for a big-name player, including a powerful, first-line centre the Habs have long coveted.
“It hasn’t been a secret that we’ve always been in the market for a big, strong centre if we can get our hands on one,” he said.
“Wherever that player might be that’s where we’ll be looking.”
Gainey wouldn’t give a direct answer to a question about persistent rumours that Tampa Bay Lightning centre, and Montreal native, Vincent Lecavalier could soon be in a Canadiens jersey.
“There are open files,” said Gainey, who tried unsuccessfully to acquire the star forward last season.
Looking at the draft board, Gainey sees a quality crop of first rounders and said the club expects to grab a solid player with its top choice.
For the moment, the Canadiens don’t have any second-round picks. They had two but traded them to the Atlanta Thrashers (for Mathieu Schneider) and Calgary Flames (for Tanguay)
The Habs do have a pair of third-round picks and selections in rounds four to seven.
But on Thursday, the Canadiens weren’t ready to share their draft day game plan.
“We’re not going to give any hints of what we’re thinking here today,” said Trevor Timmins, Montreal’s director of player recruitment and development.
“I’m not going to start to show my poker hand here.”
Gainey also said it’s important for the Canadiens to make a statement by adding at least one talented player to its roster before July 1 if the team hopes to lure potential free agents.
He expects his move to hire veteran head coach Jacques Martin earlier this month will also help attract big-name players.
“We have a package of things that could tempt a free agent,” he said.