Friday, March 7, 2014

Western Roadtrip Debuts Some New Faces

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Greetings Habs Addicts!

The NHL trade deadline was on Wednesday and the Habs were relatively quiet. On Tuesday, they acquired defenseman Mike Weaver from the Florida Panthers in return for a 5th round pick in the 2015 draft. On deadline day they made a minor move to acquire goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the Nashville Predators for future considerations. Marc Bergevin made one last deal at the deadline, sending Swedish forward prospect Sebastian Collberg and a conditional second round pick to the New York Islanders for forward Thomas Vanek and a conditional fifth round pick. Ho hum; another day at the office for Bergevin.

Truth be told, Bergevin stole Vanek from Garth Snow and the Islanders. When the trade was announced, fans on Twitter were concerned that it cost the Canadiens at least forward Lars Eller, knowing the price for Vanek would be steep. In case you forgot, the Islanders acquired Vanek earlier this season in return for forward Matt Moulson - he of three straight 30+ goal seasons and a close personal friend of Islanders franchise centre John Tavares - along with a 1st round pick and 2nd round pick. When the trade was announced and fans realized that we did not lose a single roster player or 1st round pick, they were dancing in the streets. Theoretically, anyway. It was -10 degrees Celsius in Montreal after all. Top-line snipers of Vanek's pedigree should not be available for a good but not great prospect and a conditional draft pick (should Montreal fail to make the playoffs, the draft picks do not change hands, turning this trade into simply Vanek for Collberg straight up). When you look at the price Snow paid for Vanek at the start of the season compared to what he received back from Bergevin at the trade deadline, it is absolutely incredible that Snow still has a job.

The trade deadline came in the midst of a four-game Western Conference road trip for the Habs. After starting the week with a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, the Habs added the three new faces Wednesday prior to their match-up with the Anaheim Ducks (Dubnyk was sent down to the Hamilton Bulldogs immediately after being acquired and has yet to appear in a Canadiens uniform). With the injury to Carey Price, Bulldogs goaltender Dustin Tokarski had been backing up Peter Budaj since the return from the Sochi Olympic break. Tokarski received his first start in two years (his previous seven NHL appearances came as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning) against the NHL-leading Ducks. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. However, Tokarski stood on his head and outlasted a Ducks onslaught, stopping 39 shots in a 4-3 shootout win. Tokarski had some bad luck in the second period, as a fluke dump-in by Francois Beauchemin ricocheted of a stanchion on the glass and into the net. The Hockey Gods made good with Tokarski in the shootout when Kyle Palmieri beat him on the glove side, but couldn't beat the iron as the puck hit both posts and trickled along the goal-line before Tokarski batted it down the ice. Two attempts later, Andrei Markov buried the shootout winner. The undersized Bulldog's netminder earned his first win as a member of the Canadiens.

Both Mike Weaver and Thomas Vanek made their Canadiens debuts last night against the Pheonix Coyotes. Neither one did very much in the 5-2 loss. Weaver subbed into the line-up in place of Josh Gorges. Gorges - who suffered a fractured hand blocking a shot against the Pittsburgh Penguins last week and tried to play through the pain - re-aggravated the injury against Anaheim and has since returned to Montreal. Michel Therrien didn't do Weaver any favors in his first game as a Hab, pairing him up with Douglas Murray. The duo each finished the game a -1 at even strength, but were also on the ice for a power-play goal against and Weaver was in the box when Shane Doan scored a power-play goal to ice the game midway through the 3rd period. Pheonix was able to get skaters in front of Budaj that neither Weaver nor Murray could move.  Thomas Vanek slotted into the line-up on the wing with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, finishing a -1 and firing a shot on goal in 15:34 seconds of ice time. Vanek only arrived in Pheonix at 3:30 AM and did not have an opportunity to practice with the club. Expect a much better performance on Saturday, as the Habs wrap up their west-coast swing with a match-up against the San Jose Sharks.

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An intriguing under the radar move involves the acquisition of goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the Nashville Predators for future considerations. Dubnyk began the season as the starting goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers - a role he assumed after posting a solid season in 2013 - but struggled mightily in that role out of the gate. Edmonton subsequently signed Flyers' castoff Ilya Bryzgalov to platoon with Dubnyk. Eventually Bryzgalov took over the starting role and Dubnyk was traded to the Predators, who were looking to replace injured starter Pekka Rinne. Dubnyk fared no better in Nashville and was waived prior to the trade deadline. After going unclaimed, he was subsequently sent down to the Milwaukee Admirals; the Predators AHL affiliate.

By trading for Dubnyk instead of claiming him, Nashville retained half his salary ($1.7 million; each team pays $850,000) and it allowed Montreal to send him directly to Hamilton without first having to pass through waivers. With the injury status of Carey Price unknown, a proven NHL goaltender waiting in the wings is nice depth to have. It should be added that both Dubnyk and Tokarski are free agents at the end of the season. Dubnyk is only 27 years-old and is a former 1st round draft pick (14th overall) by the Oilers in 2004 and last season posted a 14-16-6 record with a 2.57 goals-against average and .920 save-percentage for a horrible defensive team. The 6'5" goaltender fills the net more than the 5'11" Tokarski and, if re-signed, he could spend the off-season working on his game with goaltending coach Stephane Waite. Dubnyk could provide the team with a capable veteran backup to either battle Peter Budaj for the backup role next season, or be an above-average starter for the Hamilton Bulldogs while providing injury insurance. It is not very often that goaltenders with first-round pick pedigrees end up on waivers entering there prime years (ages 27-30). Struggling as he may be this season, it is far too soon to give up on his talent, especially considering goaltenders tend to take a while to fully mature into their role. Hamilton backup Robert Mayer is a non-prospect, so if Bergevin is able to sign both Dubnyk and Tokarski this July, its a tremendous upgrade in the system. A system that also includes Zach Fucale. Incredible!

Heading in the deadline, fans were extremely frustrated with the lack of moves made by Marc Bergevin. Adding veteran depth on the blue-line and in goal, while adding an elite top-line sniper to fold - even if he does just turn out to be a rental - for the cost of a prospect and 2 draft picks made Montreal the big winner on deadline day.

Now here's hoping Michel Therrien figures out how to properly use his new toys.

Nick M. is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a contributor here at and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.


Thanks! My biggest concern is Therrien, as well. Placing Vanek to play against the top line of the other team? Gionta and Pleky are two-way players, but wasn't Vanek brought here to be a one-way, offensive player?

Why not play him on the top line with Pax and Desharnais, move Gallagher BACK with the EGG line, and move Brière / Moen or whomever to the top D line with Gionta and Pleky? There must be a better two-way player to move on that line, no?

As for D, I think Murray is in over his head. Hopefully, Gorges is back soon, so they can have a proper set of 3 D lines ready to go.

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