Friday, February 25, 2011

Habs Acquire Brent Sopel And Nigel Dawes; What's Next?

by Willey

Yesterday afternoon Montreal Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier pulled off his fifth trade of the 2010-2011 campaign, acquiring Nigel Dawes and Brent Sopel from the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange of Ben Maxwell and a fourth round draft choice.

Whether or not this is the first move or the final piece for the season, in what appears to be a busy trade deadline for the Habs GM, is yet.

Here is my take on what Gauthier's latest move does for the team.

Nigel Dawes

Dawes is a left wing/center from Winnipeg, Manitoba. At 5’9, what he lacks in size he more than makes up for in determination with a game based on speed, grit and a deadly wrist shot.

Originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2003 entry draft, Dawes found himself the recipient of many accolades including being named part of arguably the best World Junior Championship team in history. On that team, he was playing alongside Anthony Stewart of the Atlanta Thrashers and Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Oddly enough, although dealt for Ben Maxwell just yesterday, these two forwards were actually teammates in the 2004-05 season as part of the Kootenay Ice of the WHL.

What this does for the team?

The acquisition of Dawes provides Jacques Martin with the luxury of a player on a two way contract with more than 200 regular season games of NHL experience.

Only Dustin Boyd—currently playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs—has this level of NHL experience. Unfortunately, Boyd is on one-way contract and would have to clear waivers to play NHL level once again.

But I digress.

Dawes has the ability to play all three forward positions and will certainly be the first call-up from the AHL should the need arise.

Brent Sopel

Sopel is a big D-man out of Calgary, Alberta. At 6’2 and 205 lbs., Sopel already finds himself on his sixth NHL team in just 12 NHL seasons. Originally drafted in the 6th round of the 1995 NHL entry draft, Sopel is on his last legs in the NHL.

Despite his diminishing mobility, Sopel found himself as the leading plus/minus player on the Atlanta Thrashers with a plus-seven, and currently sits seventh overall in the NHL in blocked shots with 130.

What this does for the team?

Sopel fills an enormous whole in our line-up, which has been present since the loss of Josh Gorges. Our penalty kill was second in the NHL prior to the loss of Gorges and now finds itself out of the top 10.

Sopel will rectify a struggling PK, provide yet another tremendous shot blocking presence and provide leadership and experience by bringing yet another Stanley Cup ring to what appears to be an already solid room.

Furthermore, with the loss of Jaroslav Spacek to what appears to be a season ending injury and the addition of Paul Mara, our defense core has been transformed from one of the youngest and smallest in the NHL to one of the most experienced and biggest in the league.

Our third pairing defense of Mara and Sopel are big, strong and will make it harder for the opposition to get to the front of the net.

Overall Analysis

The additions of both Dawes and Sopel are primary examples of trade deadline rental pick ups.

The Canadiens traded away a young center who likely had no place on this team anymore, along with a fourth round pick for players who add some serious depth to a playoff bound team.

My only fear is that we are facing a situation similar to what we saw in 2009 with a large number of UFA players with contracts coming to an end.

Only P.K. Subban and Jaroslav Spacek remain under contract for next season with Andrei Markov, Hal Gill, James Wizniewski, Brent Sopel, Paul Mara, and Roman Hamrlik facing UFA uncertainty and with Josh Gorges, Yannick Weber and Alex Picard all facing RFA status.

The uncertainty on our back end is troubling going forward.

What's Next?

I highly doubt that Gauthier is finished tinkering with the line-up because he has failed to address the lack of size up front.

With Andrei Kostitsyn almost as good as gone and with a log jam on defense, I firmly believe that we will see Gauthier make at least two more deals before the deadline.

The first move will see the team land themselves a top-six forward with size, grit and youth on his side and the second move will see a bottom-six player with size and toughness.

In my opinion the team to target as a dance partner is the St. Louis Blues.

The Blues find themselves in the unique position of having three elite power-forwards in David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Chris Stewart with complementary components like Brad Boyes, David Perron, Andy McDonald, Alex Steen and Patrick Berglund.

What you don't see as part of this unit of forwards however is a left winger; a position where the Habs are bursting at the seams. Having already come off two separate deals in two seasons I foresee yet another trade between these clubs.

Although I originally proposed making a deal for David Backes, prying this kid out of St. Louis will be tough. Can we therefore see the exchange of two enigmatic wingers like Andrei Kostitsyn for Brad Boyes perhaps?

What about Montreal ultimately dealing a player like Mike Cammalleri?

Although he is highly regarded with the Habs can we see No.13 dealt for Backes, or perhaps back to the LA Kings in exchange for Dustin Brown or perhaps for Wayne Simmonds and a defensive prospect?

The next 72 hours will determine what happens to this squad but I will say this now: I have confidence in what Pierre Gauthier is going to do.

Man I feel almost dirty saying that!

Willey was the shining light among the wicked growing up as the lone Habs fan in Toronto. Pray to Holy Ghosts of the old forum and all shall be answered I was told, and just like that my family was transferred back to Montreal and away from the damned. Olé Olé Olé.

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images North America)


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