BROSSARD, Que. - If the Montreal Canadiens have any interest in Vincent Lecavalier, general manager Bob Gainey says he'll be the last one to let the public know.
"We don't really talk about trade rumours," Gainey said Monday in a meeting with the media at the halfway point of the Canadiens' season. "If I don't talk about them, our players don't hear about them.
"What happens in any of these situations, whether it's Marian Gaborik in Minnesota or (Jay) Bouwmeester in Florida, those names come up for different reasons and if we're involved, we like to do it quietly."
And if the Canadiens go looking for a player, it will likely be a defenceman because, with Mathieu Dandenault out with a broken arm and second-year rearguard Ryan O'Byrne back in the minors, it is the position where his team has the least depth, he added.
Talk of a pitch for Lecavalier arose with a report that the Tampa Bay Lightning are in financial difficulty and may be looking to cut their payroll. Lightning general manager Brian Lawton has denied shopping his star centre, who is a Montreal native.
Gainey said he's always ready to look at an interesting proposition, however.
"At this time of year, we're working with the team we have now," he said. "We're looking to maybe reinforce our team according to the analysis and information we get from our club and other clubs.
"We're always available. There is a price for everything, and if we have a chance at an impact player, we would evaluate the cost and see what happened."
The Canadiens played the 41st game of the 82-game schedule Saturday night, a 5-4 victory over the Washington Capitals in which Sergei Kostitsyn scored the game-winning goal with 22 seconds left in regulation time.
The team is on a 9-1-1 roll in its last 11 games going into the second half, which begins Tuesday night against the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins in Boston.
With a 25-10-6 record, Montreal is eight points ahead of where it was at the midpoint last season, when it finished first in the conference with 104 points, even though the power play that was best in the NHL a year ago is now 24th in the 30-team league.
The Canadiens are scoring more goals at even strength and they are allowing fewer goals this season.
"There's been a lot of growth, a lot of maturing by individuals, and some adjustment of personnel," said Gainey. "We have a team that can score, that can defend and that's difficult to play against."
"Our special teams haven't been as strong this year. I find that those are areas that are easier to improve than some of the other more basic things. We have an advantage in our goals for and against and, however you get there, that's what needs to be on the board."
Another difference is that while the team had few injuries last season, particularly to key players, they have come one after the other this season. Currently, one of the top two lines is out - Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Higgins - along with Dandenault, starting goalie Carey Price and tough guy Georges Laraque.
However the team keeps winning thanks to the strong play of youngsters and veterans alike.
Defenceman Mike Komisarek missed 16 games with a shoulder injury, and the team is 8-1-1 since his return.
"Different guys have stepped up each night," said Komisarek. "We aren't relying on one line or one player.
"Guys are taking pride in the details of the game and being responsible defensively."
Komisarek is among 11 Canadiens who can become free agents at the end of the season. Gainey said he has had no talks with agents of any of those players, but suggested that if he were to list them in order of importance, Komisarek would be on top.
Gainey tries to avoid negotiating contracts during the season, although he has made exceptions in the past. He said there is plenty of time from the end of the season to the opening of the free agent market July 1 to get them done.
Considering the current economic climate, having so many free agents gives him flexibility if he needs to adjust his roster.
"As of today, I don't think there are any urgent situations," he said of the potential free agents. "Montreal has proven itself as a place where players like to play.
"It's a good environment. The team is strong and I think it is pretty well handled. So it will come down to which players fit our projection of the team moving ahead and how we can negotiate them onto our team with the dollars we have available."
When asked what his biggest disappointment this season, he mentioned O'Byrne, although he added that the six-foot-six defenceman is going through the normal ups and downs of a player who is only 18 months out of the U.S. university ranks.
A plus this season has been the rekindling of the old Montreal-Boston rivalry with the Bruins' rise as the top team in the East this season, particularly after their seven-game battle with the Canadiens in the first round of playoffs last spring.
When asked what he feels is his best move as GM in Montreal, Gainey said that hiring coach Guy Carbonneau midway through the 2005-06 season was at the top of the list.