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Canadiens play it close to the vest Add to ...

Trying to divine the intentions of an organization as opaque as the Montreal Canadiens is a fool's enterprise, so as the NHL team enters the first trade deadline of Pierre Gauthier's tenure as general manager, the only reasonable prediction is: Expect anything.

Or nothing.

Frenzied Internet rumours notwithstanding, several sources suggest Gauthier, who had strong input into assembling the team last summer as the assistant GM, isn't much interested in a panic overhaul at this stage.

"He's not uncomfortable with what he has. Injuries have been a problem and the view is that if the team is healthy, they can surprise people," a hockey source close to discussions involving the Habs said.

They have enough salary cap space to add the equivalent of a $2-million (U.S.) player this year, but the Canadiens are facing a bit of a salary crunch next season. They have roughly $44-million committed to 12 players in 2010-11, leaving about $12.5-million to spread among 10 or 11 roster spots, assuming the cap remains static.

The obvious move is to try and shed salaries like defenceman Roman Hamrlik's. The 35-year-old Czech is slated to earn $5.5-million next year, and six goals and 25 points in 56 games doesn't exactly suggest a bidding war is in the offing.

But if they could find takers, the Habs would be tempted. Gauthier has his top scorer, Tomas Plekanec, to re-sign - according to several Quebec media reports talks will resume later this week - in addition to having two unsigned goalies.

The money situation would also suggest that some veteran depth players, such as centre Maxim Lapierre or impending unrestricted free agents Glen Metropolit and Paul Mara, could be swapped to stock up on prospects or draft picks.

Gauthier has also been listening to offers relating to his goaltenders - Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak - but his socks remain firmly on. He said last month the plan is to hang on to both, and it appears his preference is to put off a decision until after the season.

Then, there's history to consider.

Gauthier, who travelled with the team and the front-office brain trust to Boston (the Habs played the Bruins last night), has made some bold mid-season moves before - like the trade that brought Wade Redden to the Ottawa Senators - but his track record suggests he prefers to do most of his operating in the summer.

That said, the Canadiens would love to add some offensive punch and solidify their back end with an offensive-minded defenceman to pick up the baton from the injured Marc-André Bergeron and take some pressure off Andrei Markov.

But just because the famously inscrutable Bob Gainey has stepped aside as GM doesn't mean Gauthier's next move, or non-move, is any easier to read.

 

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