Yet another loss Wednesday night for a dispirited Montreal Canadiens team that has pretty much no chance of getting back into the playoff race.
They're six points out, but it feels like 16 given their fragile state.
Turning the page on this season is something I believe Habs general manager Marc Bergevin did long before most other people. It's why for a while now, I think, his focus has been on a long-term approach to fix what ails his team.
If there's any silver lining to having the world's best goalie out for most of the season, it's this: Bergevin has looked under the hood and had a chance to observe the rest of his team for what it really is to some degree. Or at least see how much Carey Price covered up en route to winning the Hart Trophy as league MVP last season.
So the focus ahead of the Feb. 29 trade deadline for the Habs is selling off some rental players. The heavier lifting, the potential for real hockey trades, will likely wait until the offseason, when most real hockey trades have happened in the NHL for the past half-decade. Think of the deals involving Tyler Seguin, Doug Hamilton, Milan Lucic, Jason Spezza, etc. Those were all June trades. It's the way the cap system has altered the way you build or fix your team. Summer is easier than February, for the most part.
That doesn't mean there can't be a big deal in the next 11 days. I think Montreal would listen to many ideas. But, from talking to people around the league, the Habs' main focus is mostly to get whatever they can for pending unrestricted free agents Dale Weise, Tom Gilbert and Tomas Fleischmann (for example).
Center Paul Byron, who has generated interest from other teams, is also a pending UFA, but the Habs would seem to rather keep him and re-sign him at some point. He has been a positive in a tough season after being picked up on waivers from Calgary on Oct. 6.
Sources suggest a few teams have shown interest in defenseman Alexei Emelin, who has two more years on his contract at a $4.1 million cap hit. But unless the Russian's camp approaches Habs management and asks for a move, I can't see how he goes anywhere.
Other players may also move, depending on the offers; the Habs can't afford to not listen these days.
In the meantime, it's not the worst thing in the world for the Habs to make the most of the offseason, pick an impact player in the June draft and turn the page.
Bergevin is a patient, calculated dude. This season has been trying, but other teams around the league seem to think the Habs GM is calm within this crazy storm in his passionate market.
It has been mighty quiet on the Jonathan Drouin front. That doesn't mean nothing is happening, it just means Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman works in a very quiet manner. The question I think you have to ask now: Is this a trade that's going to happen before the Feb. 29 deadline or in the offseason? I'm not sure anyone has a true answer just yet. Perhaps not even the Lightning. Obviously it would be nice to get something now that could help Tampa Bay in its bid to make the playoffs and have another long postseason run. But the deal has to be right. The notion of just taking the best deal on the table before 3 p.m. ET on Feb. 29 and cutting your losses is not how Tampa Bay is proceeding here, in my opinion. I don't think Yzerman will settle for just the best offer now if he doesn't truly believe it's the right offer, period. He's only making this deal once it's something the Lightning are truly comfortable with. And that could happen in the next 11 days or in the summer. Do not underestimate Yzerman's patience in this matter.
I know some people are focused on the Chicago Blackhawks' cap issues in response to my suggestion earlier this week that they could potentially trade for a top-line winger before Feb. 29. But I wouldn't get caught up in that cap situation; no GM has been more successful in getting other teams to retain salary in trades than Stan Bowman. He has done it in recent years with David Runblad, Kris Versteeg, Antoine Vermette, Andrew Desjardins and Rob Scuderi. He's very creative when it comes to making something work. If Bowman does indeed want to make a splash before Feb. 29, believe me when I say he can get it done.
There was a time earlier this season when I think the Anaheim Ducks might have moved goalie Frederik Andersen for the right offer, but more and more, I'm starting to believe they will keep him as insurance to John Gibson -- it appears they're very much back as Cup contenders. Not to mention the fact Andersen hasn't lost in regulation since Dec. 21 and has won nine of his past 10 decisions. The teams that have shown interest in the pending restricted free-agent netminder should still be there in the offseason. Maybe the Ducks get an offer they can't refuse before Feb. 29, but I think more than likely they hold on to him and figure out their goaltending plan in the offseason.
Said a rival hockey executive earlier this week regarding the potential for the Edmonton Oilers to end up with another top-three lottery pick this June: "I wouldn't surprise me one bit if they traded that pick for a top defenseman. Or at least looked at it."
I had this conversation with Craig Button, Steve Dryden and James Duthie in the TSN green room this week. We pondered this: Let's say the Oilers get the No. 1 overall pick, would they trade Arizona native Auston Matthews to the Arizona Coyotes for Oliver Ekman-Larsson (plus maybe more)? Food for thought, for both teams.