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Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Goalie question will not go away

By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun

Editor's note: There's the March 3 trade deadline, and then there's the Olympic roster freeze that runs from Feb. 12-28. Between now and Feb. 12, ESPN.com's Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun will look at 10 potential trade baits and which teams have a chance to land some much-needed help.

Halak, Price and Plekanec

Scott Burnside: Hello, Pierre. Big news out of Montreal on Monday, with general manager Bob Gainey stepping down and Pierre Gauthier taking over immediately while Gainey stays on as an adviser. Gauthier has a few issues right away, including what to do with his goaltending situation. Jaroslav Halak, the current if nominal starter, could be a restricted free agent in July. And then there's Tomas Plekanec, one of the team's top forwards, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. So, what do you do? Swing a deal? Add talent in the hopes you can go on a long playoff run? Never easy answers in Montreal.

Pierre LeBrun: Well, I think Gauthier showed his hand when it came to his two goalies, Halak and Carey Price.

"We have two very strong, young goaltenders, and they've been a very big part of our team this year," Gauthier said at his news conference Monday. "They give us a chance to win every night. That's a very important thing in a very close league.

"We believe that we can go forward with these two young men, and that's our best chance to get into the playoffs this year. That's a strong position, and we'd like to keep it strong."

So the Habs' plan would seem fairly straightforward for now, unless of course someone knocks their socks off for either goalie. And let's remember the history here. From what a source close to the situation told me, it's not so much that Halak asked for a trade per se earlier this season; he wanted a chance to become a No. 1 goalie, whether it was in Montreal or elsewhere. Gainey, at the time, would have told Halak's agent, Allan Walsh, that Price was the team's No. 1 goalie. So, it left the Halak camp feeling as if the Czech netminder needed to be traded. That's all history for now, with Halak taking over the No. 1 job at this point. I can't imagine how Montreal could deal him now. He has saved the Habs' season.

Burnside: True. I guess the issue moving forward is how you resolve the issue if you really believe Price is the goalie of the future. I'm sure Gauthier will be loath to see Halak walk away July 1 (offer sheet?) and then win 40 games in Dallas or somewhere else, especially if Price continues to struggle with his development. Not suggesting he should move either one, but it's an issue that isn't going away.

Now, if you're Gauthier and you want to put your imprint on the team, do you add a big body up front for a playoff run or shore up the blue line? Or do you look at this team and accept it's likely a seventh or eighth seed, hang on to your young assets and see what happens in the offseason? You know how impatient Montreal fans are, especially after getting waxed by Boston in the first round last season.

LeBrun: What's also interesting in the goalie debate, which is all the rage in Montreal, is what impact a new sheriff will have. Gainey was a huge Price backer. Gauthier? It remains to be seen. I know Price was on the phone with his agent, Gerry Johannson, in the wake of Monday's news. But as Johannson relayed to me Monday night, the kid was cool as a cucumber, as usual. He doesn't get too rattled, and despite not playing much lately, he's not in a snit over it.

"Carey is really happy in Montreal," Johannson told me. "We respect that the Canadiens have smart guys running things, and we know that there's a time and a place for us to have a discussion, and that's in the offseason. Right now, they're doing what they think they need to do to win, and that's OK."

There have been no contract talks with the camps of either goalie. That will be a summer issue. And what a big one. They're both in for raises. That's when I think you'll see a trade.

Burnside: So, if you keep both goalies through the March 3 deadline -- and I agree, it seems like the prudent thing to do -- what do you do with Plekanec? He's a good player and leads the Habs with 58 points. But can you realistically sign him long-term with big contracts already in place for Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri? And if you can't keep him, do you move him knowing he'd be a top rental before March 3? Ultimately, in terms of an asset like Plekanec, I guess Gauthier has to decide what the probability is for the Habs to go on a deep playoff run (modest at best, I think). What would you do, my friend?

LeBrun: Well, I know there was a meeting, very quietly, in late January between Gauthier and Plekanec's agent, Rick Curran.

"We had a lengthy discussion, at which time they expressed a desire to keep Tomas, and our response was that Tomas would be interested in that as well," Curran told me Tuesday morning. "We have a mutual interest in Tomas' staying in Montreal. He was drafted by them, and that would be his preference, to stay in Montreal."

But it won't be easy. There's not a lot of cap room to play with. That $7.3 million cap hit for Gomez over the next four-and-a-half years ... mercy. The wrong center is making money in Montreal. And that's why in the end, Scotty, moving Halak or Price makes sense not only because both of them want to be No. 1 goalies but also because they can't afford raises for both goalies and keep Plekanec. Until tomorrow, my friend.

• You also can get up-to-the-minute trade discussion in Rumor Central.