As we approach the NHL All-Star break, questions surrounding the Montreal Canadiens are two-fold. Should the team hope for a quick turn-around and shoot for a low-end playoff berth, or should they become sellers at the Feb.27 trade deadline and aim for a lottery pick, and with a bit of luck, a chance at upcoming superstar Nail Yakupov of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting.
Yakupov is believed to be the game changer that the Habs’ could benefit from for the foreseeable future. The only problem is that the only realistic shot the Habs’ have at the Russian phenom is to tank the season; by selling at the deadline and hoping the team tails off in the last quarter of the calendar in an attempt to finish in the cellar of the NHL standings.
Just one problem; we are talking about one of, if not the most demanding and impatient fan base in the entire league, and perhaps in all of sports. Fans and media alike would essentially emotionally slaughter the players, coaches, and management alike should the team do poorly and miss the playoffs for two to three consecutive seasons while rebuilding the foundation of the entire franchise.
The argument to this discussion is also two-fold; with the parity and small margin of error in today’s NHL, it is not a stretch to think the Habs’ can climb back into the playoff race and have a legitimate shot at securing a spot in the post season. The typical die-hard optimist would argue that you play to win, that anything can happen in the playoffs (see Edmonton Oilers, 2006, and Philadelphia Flyers, 2010) and tanking is unfair and practically a slap in the face to a deeply devoted fan base-a valid point, no doubt, but the other side of the coin presents other hard-to-debate points, thus the reason why the team is currently in limbo heading towards the end of the season.
If the Habs’ do decide to make a run for a playoff spot, but ultimately fall short in their efforts, finishing in 9th or 10th place, what have they gained? Another wash of a season combined with an average draft pick that wouldn’t guarantee an impact player. This is the worst case scenario, and the city would be up in arms if this plays out. Adding to this would be the probable fact that the teams impending UFA’s, Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn and Travis Moen, would have most likely been kept around for the playoff push and would probably leave the team without garnering anything in return.
So, after analyzing both scenarios, what should the Habs do? Make a run for a playoff spot or consider the season finished and look towards the future?