After dealing away veteran defenceman Craig Rivet two days earlier, the Montreal Canadiens opted to stand pat at the NHL trading deadline on Tuesday while some of their Eastern Conference rivals beefed up for the playoff drive.
Montreal’s only moves Tuesday were to send veteran tough guy Aaron Downey to AHL Hamilton after he cleared waivers and to claim little-known goalie Michael Leighton off waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers.
They also called up forward Andrei Kostitsyn a day after sending him to Hamilton. He fills in Chris Higgins, who is out with the flu.
Leighton will remain with the NHL team as the third goaltender behind Jaroslav Halak and David Aebischer. No. 1 goalie Cristobal Huet is out for the rest of the regular season with a torn hamstring.
General manager Bob Gainey declined to speak to the media after the deadline passed.
He is sure to take heat for not adding some scoring help or a veteran goalie to fill in for Huet, particularly with Aebischer struggling in recent starts.
In New York, where the Canadiens were to play the Rangers on Tuesday night, coach Guy Carbonneau said: “This is our team. Touch wood that we stay healthy.”
Carbonneau said last week he is confident the Canadiens can make the playoffs with their current roster.
Gainey’s big pre-deadline move was to send 32-year-old Rivet and a fifth-round draft pick to the San Jose Sharks for 22-year-old defenceman Josh Gorges and a first-round pick.
Gainey said after swinging the deal that it will help the playoff push in the short term because Rivet is off-form after missing nine games with pneumonia, while Gorges is ready to play.
But it was interpreted by many, including some players, as a move for the future rather than a boost for this season.
Then again, if Montreal was a “selling” team trying to build for next season, they likely would have dealt star defenceman Sheldon Souray, who like Rivet can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
But Souray stayed put, as did other future UFAs Andrei Markov, Radek Bonk, Mike Johnson and Janne Niinimaa.
After the Rivet deal, Gainey made no promises other than to stay “alert” for trade opportunities. Apparently, none arose.
And now it may be tougher to remain in the top eight. The teams Montreal is battling with for a playoff spot all made moves in recent days.
Injury-struck Toronto got centre Yanic Perreault, Ottawa got winger Oleg Saprykin and defensive depth in Lawrence Nycholat, Carolina added winger Anson Carter and even long-shot Boston grabbed veteran defenceman Aaron Ward.
But the blockbuster move of them all came from the New York Islanders, who landed power winger Ryan Smyth from the Edmonton Oilers after earlier acquiring winger Richard Zednik from the Washington Capitals.
With the 23-man roster limit no longer in effect, Montreal elected to take on Leighton as an “insurance policy.”
The 21-year-old Halak has been impressive since he was called up two weeks ago, but remains untested over time. Aebischer has been hot and cold all season. And Hamilton goalie Yann Danis is just returning from a neck injury.
It is Leighton’s fourth NHL organization this season. He signed as a free agent with Anaheim last July, was claimed on waivers by Nashville on Nov. 27 and was claimed again on waivers by Philadelphia on Jan. 11.
If Montreal were to send him to Hamilton, he would have to clear waivers again.
The 25-year-old Petrolia, Ont., native allowed two goals in one period in his only appearance for Nashville and went 2-2 with a 3.70 goals-against average and a .882 save percentage in four games for the Flyers.
He was drafted by Chicago in 1999 and also spent time in the Buffalo system. He has played in 47 career NHL games, going 10-23-10 with a 3.04 average.
Downey, 32, played in 21 NHL games this season and had one goal and 48 penalty minutes.
His demotion leaves the Canadiens without an enforcer, although checking winger Garth Murray has filled that role when needed.