MONTREAL – Marian Hossa is waiting to learn his fate and may end up playing for either team at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.
The Atlanta Thrashers sniper is expected to move before the NHL trade deadline at 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday and Montreal is one of the teams in the running to land the former Ottawa Senator. Hossa’s Thrashers are scheduled to meet the Canadiens only a few hours after the deadline.
“I’m prepared for both options – either I’ll go or I’ll stay,” Hossa told a crowd of media people Monday after skating with the Thrashers in their practice. “It’s interesting that we’re playing in Montreal, but we’ll see what happens.
“It’s a hockey city. I’ve played in Canada and I know how the people are crazy about hockey, so it’s an interesting place to play. But right now that’s all I can say.”
Atlanta coach and general manager Don Waddell left assistant Brad McCrimmon to run the practice while he prepared for the deadline. Unable to sign Hossa to a contract extension, he is expected to move the high-scoring right winger.
An uncertain future hasn’t interfered with Hossa’s play on the ice, where he has eight points in his last six games to give him 56 points, including 26 goals, for the season. Veteran Mark Recchi said Hossa has been Atlanta’s best player in recent weeks.
Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk doesn’t want to see him leave, but understands it’s business.
“We have a great team here, so I hope everyone stays plus we get somebody, but I’m not the GM,” he said.
The Canadiens brain trust led by GM Bob Gainey was fully mobilized and a sense that a deal was coming hung in the air.
“We just want to get this over with so we know what team we have going into the playoffs,” said Montreal winger Christopher Higgins, whose name has come up in trade rumours but who is unlikely to move. “I think everybody just wants it to pass.
“I don’t think it has bothered me that much. But it’s very difficult to play for guys who hear their name every day, whether it comes from the organization or one of you guys (reporters) making it up. You feel for those guys.”
Gainey has said he hopes to keep his core players intact, so the club’s impressive stock of prospects was most likely to be mined for a trade. Waddell attended a game Sunday between the Canadiens AHL farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, and the Toronto Marlies.
That would suit coach Guy Carbonneau, who said he was confident his club could win in the playoffs with the players on hand, but wouldn’t object to adding a star scorer like Hossa or Alex Tanguay, another player whose name has come up in trade talk.
“I’m positive about the team I have now,” he said. “If we can add someone and we don’t subtract, that’s a huge bonus for our team.”
If no trade is made, he said “the guys will show up for the game and will feel good.”
Carbonneau doesn’t like the media hype that has turned the annual trade deadline into a frenzy of talk and speculation, with all-sports television stations holding marathon deadline-day shows.
“It’s not just sports,” added Carbonneau. “Look at CNN – there’s a war and that’s all they show 24 hours a day.
“Everything has escalated. It’s too much for the players. It’s unfair to them.”
Most pundits picked the Canadiens to miss the playoffs for a second straight season, but they go into Tuesday night’s game in the thick of the race for top spot in the Eastern Conference, thanks mainly to the resurgence of start winger Alex Kovalev and the emergence of a handful of good young players.
Gainey said he will either add an “impact player” or not move at all before the deadline.
His team has lost two consecutive games, although neither the coach nor the players blame the deadline. Spotty goaltending and weak defensive play has been at the root of their problems of late.
But rookie Carey Price, who let in some weak ones in a 3-0 loss Saturday to the Columbus Blue Jackets, will be back in the net against Atlanta, Carbonneau said.
Carbonneau also opted not to have the usual game-day skate on Tuesday morning, which one would think useful if a new player is to be added to the club.
Instead, the players will stay home and, if they’re Higgins, watch the trade coverage on the sports stations.
“It’s always fun to sit at home to see how teams develop and how things work out,” Higgins said. “Everyone stays close to their Blackberrys these days.”