Went out to dinner the other night. Check came at the end of the meal, as it always does. Never liked the check at the end of the meal system, because money’s a very different thing before and after you eat. Before you eat, money has no value. And you don’t care about money when you’re hungry. You sit down at a restaurant, you’re like the ruler of an empire. “More drinks, appetizers, quickly, quickly! It will be the greatest meal of our lives.” Then after the meal, you know, you’ve got the pants open, you’ve got the napkins destroyed, cigarette butt in the mashed potatoes. Then the check comes at that moment. People are always upset, you know. They’re mystified by the check. “What is this? How could this be?” They start passing it around the table, “Does this look right to you? We’re not hungry now. Why are we buying all this food?” -- Jerry Seinfeld
In what is seen as at least a minor coup, Canadiens General Manager and his band of merry men heisted the New York Islanders' hapless Garth Snow at the trade deadline, making off with prized scoring winger Tomas Vanek as the clock struck twelve (Pacific Standard Time). To console the forlorn Isles GM and his boss Charles Wang (are these guys the modern-day equivalent of Herb Tarleck and Arthur Carlson?), the Canadiens left them with lovely parting gifts in the form of prospect Sebastian Collberg and a conditional second-round draft pick.
At least, that seems to be the narrative that we Canadiens fans are spinning for ourselves. We can be a mercurial bunch, at least as much as any other team's fans, but while we're backslapping each other, congratulating ourselves that Mr. Vanek will resuscitate the Canadiens 'three balanced scoring lines' identity, we're already rewriting history.
I think the general consensus before the deadline was that the Canadiens were not 'true' contenders, not in a league with the Penguins or Bruins (although we match up well with those two teams) or the Western powerhouses like the Kings, Sharks, Blues, Ducks, Blackhawks or Blues. So we tended to agree that the gameplan was to possibly make some moves on the fringe, maybe adding some depth on the cheap, maybe swapping a veteran with an expiring contract for low picks, but in the main staying away from expensive rentals. We didn't want to jeopardize the future by splurging on an uncommitted mercenary with an eye on the exit door (and hello to you, Michael Ryder) at the cost of precious draft picks or prospects.
Yet that's exactly what the Canadiens did. The Canadiens picked up a player in Thomas Vanek whose contract expires in July, and who has been quite clear that he wants to explore the free agent market. He turned down a 7 year, $50M contract offer from the Islanders, to buttress this statement.
Now, if his name was Timothé Vaillancourt, and there was a natural affinity there and a likelihood of signing him to a new deal, that would be one thing, but all the signs point to him signing with Minnesota next summer, for various reasons. He went to school there, met his wife there, they own a home there, his buddy Jason Pominville plays there... The only way he doesn't end up there is if the Wild ownership gets queasy handing out another long-term deal with Dany Heatley's just expiring, and with Jason Pominville, Ryan Suter and Zach Parisé on the books for a long, long time. Right?
There's no denying that Thomas Vanek will provide immediate help. Not only is he a frontline player-borderline star, he fills a position of need, and checks off many requirements, in that he's a big winger who can score, and do so while lurking near the crease, creating havoc. If Marc Bergevin had managed to pry out a player of equivalent talent, but who happened to be a playmaking centre or a left-shooting defenceman, that would have been more ice for the Inuit, but Thomas Vanek really scratches our itch.
Also, what was thought to be a sellers' market at the outset turned out instead to a buyer's market, so Marc Bergevin may have started out the day with the best intentions in terms of planning for the future, but then sensed an opportunity when players like Mr. Vanek as well as Marian Gaborik, Matt Moulson and Mike Cammalleri were withering on the vine and re-entered the fray. Compared to last season, when players like Jarome Iginla and Jaromir Jagr were each flipped for a first-rounder and a couple of prospects, the returns for deadline rental player acquisition were meager this go-around. So maybe a GM who normally doesn't shop at Holt-Renfrew got drawn in by the big "Sale!" signs in the window.
Still, we shouldn't in our haste to put the best spin on this situation go overboard. We shouldn't pretend that Sebastian Collberg wasn't a prime prospect of the team, at least in our collective mind. We were overjoyed that he 'fell' to us in the second round of the 2012 draft. We started doing handsprings when the Columbus Blue Jackets, starting the round two slots ahead of us at #31, announced their choice of Oscar Dansk, and the Oilers followed that up with Mitchell Moroz. We right away put him on the wing next to fellow draftee Alex Galchenyuk. In our fevered imagination, Alex would be the playmaker and Sebastian, so skilled and slick, would be the finisher, lethal around the net.
This opinion was confirmed by reports from Brossard when he attended rookie camps. He was so far ahead of everyone in terms of skill it appeared he didn't belong there, it was claimed. In drills, he wowed everyone. In scrimmages, he made his linemates look terrific and opponents look foolish. We licked our chops, and downplayed the fact that he didn't look great during regular training camp.
Same when we saw him in World Junior action, he was borderline dominant in the year following his draft, and we pointed to that as evidence of the wisdom Trevor Timmins showed in drafting him. Never mind that he struggled at Frolunda, rarely seeing the ice, and even more rarely making an impact.
He's fast and quick, and yeah he's a little undersized, we allowed, but he'll pack on 'fifteen or twenty pounds of pure muscle' over a summer of training. Maybe two summers. That's easy.
But now that we have divested ourselves of his services, we're flipping the script, focusing on his stagnant development, his poor play in the SHL. We grouse that the knee injury he suffered during the WJC prep tournament in Lake Placid last summer robbed him of his speed. For good. Like Andrei Markov. Like Sergio Momesso.
So let's be of clear eyes and sound mind on this. We got a near-perfect deadline rental player acquisition, one who'll fill quite a few needs for a playoff push, but who'll most probably leave this summer. The cost was a relatively reasonable but still considerable second-round pick, of which we've had too few over the last decade, and a stalled prospect who still possesses a massive upside, in an area of need for the team.
Let's enjoy the ride, but we don't need to put blinders on.