Rumor mill churning: Kabanov in Lewiston?

Before I say anything else in this space, let me first qualify the following post.

Everything about which I will write in this space for this particular entry is based on rumor. There is no confirmed fact on which this rumor is based. At least not yet.

Kirill Kabanov could be exactly what the Lewiston Maineiacs need.

Rumors of a potential deal between the Maineiacs and Kabanov's current team, the Moncton Wildcats, have surfaced in the last week, and it's starting to generate a league-wide buzz. One source of this rumor said that the deal is one of two or three Moncton may be pursuing in regards to Kabanov, the Wildcats' talented and oft-maligned Russian sniper.

But the fit in Lewiston in undeniable. Lewiston is short a European player. QMJHL teams are allowed to carry two, and the team has one — Russian goalie Andrey Makarov.

For more than seven seasons, hockey fans in Lewiston have about seen it all.

The team arrived with fanfare. After a pair of mediocre seasons, there was an obvious and conscious effort to make a run at a league title.

And it was a grand success. Fifty wins, and 16 more in the playoffs against just one loss (thank you, Jakub Voracek). The President's Trophy traveled to the united States for the first time, as immortalized in Jeff Mannix's resounding and chilling radio call.

A pair of surprise defections the following season started a slide. Eric Castonguay played his 20-year-old season as a pro in the ECHL and AHL, and David Perron continued his storybook climb by making the St. Louis Blues' roster at 18.

Thirty-eight wins that season were the second-most in a season in team history, but the moves — and lack thereof — that season killed the team's rebuilding process.

Since then, well, we all know the rest of that story all too well.

But I say that area fans have "about" seen it all because there is one element almost every team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has had at one time or another that has never really been an element here in Lewiston: a bona fide, No. 1 scoring threat to challenge the top scorers in the league.

You can throw names out like Picard, Bourret, Aubin, Perron, Castonguay, Cliche, Balasescu and Gratchev all you want. But none of those players were ever the high-end, jaw-dropping, crowd-numbing sniper and showman that other teams have had.

I'm talking about a player everyone will spend their hard-earned money to see, a player who will make the team around him better, and will immediately put the team out there as one of the talking points in the league.

Drummondville has one player now in Sean Couturier. In other years, goal-scorers like Thomas Beauregard, Maxime Boisclair, or points guys like Alexander Radulov or, oh yeah, that guy, the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. What's his name? Crosby. Right. Him.

Mathieu Aubin DID register 103 points in 2005-06 for Lewiston, which cracked the league's top 10. But he was lost in the shuffle on a team that didn't amount to much in the league standings.

Beyond Aubin, the next-best total for a season is Stefano Giliati's 87 in 2007-08. In the team's run season, an effort all about teamwork, Perron had 83 points, and Pierre-Luc Faubert was next with 66.

But this team has never had a true sniper.

Like, say, Kirill Kabanov.

Much has been made of the player's antics since being drafted to the Wildcats in 2009. He made some poor decisions, no doubt. He whined about ice time, fled the country and then returned when he was drafted by the New York Islanders.

This year in Isles camp, he missed deadlines. He was reassigned to Moncton, and again fled, though this time for legitimate, personal reasons.

Fans in Moncton appear to be fed up, if you can take any stock at all in Internet message boards. Reportedly, management in Moncton is fed up, too, to the point they are apparently trying to move him.

Surprisingly, Lewiston, which until this past year wasn't known for making a big splash on the trade market, is again involved, at least according to the rumors.

No one on the Maineiacs staff will confirm anything. No shock there. Here are the statements from GM Roger Shannon and Managing Consultant Bill Schurman, as relayed via email this afternoon:

Shannon: "In life, 'what ifs' allow people to imagine, and I could imagine if we could ever land a player such as this kid, how much potential offense he could bring. But I don’t deal in 'what ifs.' My goal is to deal in facts, and right now, we have not made a trade for this player."

Schurman: "We do not discuss player movements publicly, fact or fiction, unless there is something to announce as an organization. Having said that, we as an organization are committed to the LA area and our fans to create a winning product and culture in everything we do. If rumors link us regarding, as some suggest, with one of the top talented players in the world for his age, then I would suspect it's a compliment that others are maybe thinking the same of us."

Another interesting point to consider here is that Schurman, who worked with Moncton last season, would certainly be familiar with Kabanov and his entire situation.

There are potential negatives, of course. There is no certainty that Kabanov, if traded to Lewiston, would remain with the team the rest of this year, never mind next season when the team wants to make a legitimate run at a title. He is an NHL drafted player, so the possibility remains that he could stick with the Islanders. And, of course, the possibility exists that he returns to Russia to sign a contract with the KHL.

The other thing to consider is this: He isn't going to come cheap. Sure, his value in terms of a trade has plummeted since last season. He's just barely crossed the 25-game mark for his QMJHL career, and had no points in two games this season, and his off-ice shenanigans have hurt him, as well.

But he's still the top-rated player for his age group in Russia, and one of the top in the world. He will likely cost the Maineiacs a high draft pick or two, if they choose to pursue him, as well as a younger player already in the system.

Is he worth it, with an already-great core of talent on the roster?

That's a decision team management is going to have to make.

And then, certainly not the least of anyone's worries, the Maineiacs would have to factor in chemistry. The locker room has fantastic chemistry right now. Behind the leadership of Cameron Critchlow as the captain, and the handful of assistants, the Maineiacs are bonding like never before. The team will have to weigh what the addition of a player like Kabanov would do to the overall mood surrounding the team. Can this group of players handle the added drama? Maybe, maybe not.

But there is one thing for certain.

After a couple of years of relative mediocrity and for the most part disappearing from the league's radar, the Maineiacs are finding their way back into the conversation. Twice this season, players have been named to the league's three stars. The team's news releases have been featured on the league's Web site with regularity and no longer is the team penciled into the bottom of the standings by prognosticators.

The return of the fans to the games has been slow, but, as the numbers bear out, steady on the local front. Advertising revenue is steady if not spectacular, and the team is playing a much better, more exciting brand of hockey that endears the team to the local fans.

If — and that's all this is right now, a big IF — the Maineiacs were to complete a trade with Moncton that would bring Kabanov to Lewiston, it could be another shot in the arm for the team's efforts. It would be a risk, but assuredly a calculated risk.

And it would be a risk worth taking.

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Sounds exciting but appears to come with heavy baggage. I say thanks but no thanks. The team is jelling and it does not need a head case to ruin the team chemistry. Lets go with what we have.


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