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Canadiens Watch: Choosing the right star to acquire

It is difficult to imagine why the Montreal Canadiens would want to change much about their team.

But for all the wins that marked the early part of the year, there has also been much trade talk surrounding the Habs and a certain injury-prone star in Minnesota who is eligible for unrestricted free agency in July.

GM Bob Gainey said he is not interested in acquiring right winger Marian Gaborik from the Wild and that is a good thing. Gaborik is an absolutely electric player – in my view, a top five goal-scorer in the league. He has averaged just more than 60 games per campaign in three post-lockout years. His health is simply too much of a risk when you consider what the Habs would have to give up to get him.

I do not expect the Canadiens to make a bold move soon, if at all this year. But if the blue, blanc et rouge are bent on adding a difference-maker, Gainey should target right winger Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers.

There are a number of reasons why this could be a fruitful endeavour. First of all, something has got to give in Atlanta. The team is going nowhere fast and Kovalchuk, eligible for free agency in 2010, must be frustrated with the lack of progress. The Thrashers have to tear down the team and try again. They already have great prospects like center Bryan Little and defenseman Zach Bogosian on the roster. Add a top pick from this year’s draft and the three young front-line players the Thrashers could fetch with Kovalchuk and all of a sudden the “re-build” is picking up steam.

From the Habs’ perspective, tremendous drafting has put them in a position to deal some prospects without stripping the cupboard bare. They do not have the cap room to pick up Kovalchuk’s roughly $6.4 million hit right now, but of course that figure will decrease as the season goes on.

Best of all, Kovalchuk is signed for one more year and with all the expiring contracts on the Canadiens, there would be no trouble fitting him into the 2009-10 payroll. Gainey could then set his sights on convincing the sniper to sign long-term in Montreal.

Bringing a superstar into the fold is a tantalizing notion; the Habs just have to make sure it is the right one. 

This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.

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