OTTAWA – Sticklers will argue it’s not even the Montreal Canadiens’ 100th anniversary next season. They’ll point out it’s actually the Canadiens’ 100th season as a franchise and the 99th if you take into account the lost lockout season that’s producing all those low salaries and ticket prices these days.
Whatever. The Canadiens will celebrate next season as their 100th anniversary anyway and judging by the way they conducted business during the first round of the NHL draft Friday night, they’re intent on capping off the party with a Stanley Cup parade.
On a night of bold moves, Canadiens GM Bob Gainey made the boldest ones, first moving the 25th pick overall and a second-rounder next year to the Calgary Flames for Alex Tanguay and the 138th pick overall. But the most interesting move Gainey made was to secure exclusive rights to negotiate with Mats Sundin before the Maple Leafs’ captain becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Now, isn’t that interesting? Should the Canadiens secure Sundin in the next week or so they would have to be considered a prohibitive favorite to repeat as regular season champions in the Eastern Conference and with the experience and talent Tanguay and Sundin bring, very real contenders for the Stanley Cup.
It wasn’t long ago the Canadiens were cash strapped and in disarray. But since the lockout, they’ve become major power brokers in the NHL. They’re now one of the most revenue-rich teams in the league and have unseated the Ottawa Senators as the best team north of the 49th parallel.
Gainey, who hinted Thursday he was interested in Sundin, said it was time for the Canadiens to become a major player in free agency.
“We’ve been a patient team that has worked itself out of a bad situation over six or seven years through the draft and we have some good quality players in place,” Gainey said. “And our assessment is that we need to support those players with other players we deem to be quality players. Luckily we have the support of our fans and our community that we have the resources to spend that kind of money.”
One thing that is clear is regardless of what happens, Sundin is finished as a Maple Leaf. It has become abundantly clear he will either retire or play somewhere else next season and Maple Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher essentially admitted as much. He made Sundin a cursory offer for one year without a no-movement clause, something he had to know Sundin would not accept.
Gainey said he got in touch with Sundin Wednesday night, basically to introduce himself and state his intentions. He’ll now spend the next 10 days trying to convince Sundin that the Canadiens would be a desirable destination.
And if Sundin is serious about wanting a good chance to win a Cup before he ends his career, he’ll listen closely. Sundin would automatically be installed as the team’s No. 1 center and there’s a good chance he’d draw Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexei Kovalev as his linemates. That would potentially give the Canadiens a second line of Saku Koivu between Tanguay and Chris Higgins, leaving a unit of Tomas Plekanec between Sergei Kostitsyn and Guillaume Latendresse for the third line. The fourth line would likely consist of Steve Begin, Mark Streit and Maxim Lapierre.
That would give the Canadiens a legitimate No. 1 center in Sundin. Both Koivu and Plekanec are good players, but neither one appears to be able to handle that kind of role. With Sundin’s line drawing even more of the top shutdown players in the league, look for Koivu and Plekanec to be even more productive.
The Canadiens weren’t the only team to make an impact on the proceedings with a major trade. The Flames replaced Tanguay with Mike Cammalleri from the Los Angeles Kings, a move that gave the Kings an opportunity to draft bruiser Colten Teubert. Cammalleri is a big-time player who will embrace the pressure of playing in a hot hockey market and the Kings obviously were aware that there was little chance he would sign with them when his contract expires after next season.
Last summer, the Kings and Cammalleri went to arbitration and it turned out disastrous for Cammalleri, who got a two-year deal worth $7 million in one of the worst routs for the players in arbitration history.
The Florida Panthers dealt star center Olli Jokinen to the Phoenix Coyotes for defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton and a draft pick. An interesting deal to say the least, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected.
Jokinen made it clear he wanted out of South Florida and Panthers GM Jacques Martin made it clear after the season he wanted to bolster the team’s defense. It could also provide the Panthers with some insurance should they not be able to sign Jay Bouwmeester long-term.
The Panthers have reportedly offered Bouwmeester $7 million, but he has been ambivalent about re-signing with them.
The Coyotes had a great day. They get a star player who will undoubtedly be able to help their young talent and those who know prospects say Phoenix’s selections of Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov were terrific picks.
The Columbus Blue Jackets traded one of their two first-round picks to get potential restricted free agent R. J. Umberger, which bolsters their lineup, but doesn’t do much to address a center ice corps that is, to be kind, dismal.
The Hockey News will cover the NHL Entry Draft from all angles with live coverage and up-to-the-minute pick-by-pick updates on both June 20 and 21 in our Draft Central.
Ken Campbell, a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com, is at the NHL Draft in Ottawa covering the event. His blog normally appears Tuesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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