MONTREAL – The slumping Montreal Canadiens reached into their past to help their struggling defence and power play on Monday when they acquired veteran Mathieu Schneider from the Atlanta Thrashers.
The Canadiens picked up Schneider and a conditional 2009 draft pick in exchange for a second-round pick in 2009 and a third-rounder in 2010.
“I’m thankful that it’s Montreal,” said the 39-year-old Schneider, who began his NHL career in Montreal in 1987 and was a member of the last Canadiens team to win a Stanley Cup in 1993.
“There were a couple of teams out there, but that it’s Montreal, I can’t say enough.”
The Canadiens sent down defenceman Ryan O’Byrne to Hamilton of the American Hockey League to make room for Schneider.
It was the first of what likely will be many deals around the NHL leading up to the trade deadline on March 4. Montreal general manager Bob Gainey opted to act quickly to snap up a veteran defenceman from a team that has fallen out of the playoff race.
The Canadiens, who were near the top of the league a month ago, have only three wins in their last 13 games and are in dire need of a jolt to energize the team. The power play that led the NHL the last two seasons is 25th in the 30-team circuit with a feeble 16.1 per cent success rate.
Gainey said the team was seeking someone “who has experience and has had success as a power play player and a defenceman.
“He is a good passer. He can define the play he wants to make and execute it. He’ll need assistance. Like any player, he’ll need a good partner to help him out of tight spots. He’ll bring experience. He’ll bring excitement about returning to Montreal.”
He also brings a US$5,75 million contract that expires at the end of this season, but long-term injuries to a handful of players left Montreal enough space under the salary cap to accommodate him, although it leaves little room for further moves.
Other teams in the running may have been waiting until more of Schneider’s salary ran down before trying to get him.
Schneider has battled injuries this season and has four goals and 11 assists in only 44 games.
The New York City native may not have the quickness he had as the team’s No. 1 defenceman in the 1990s, but he wants to keep playing as long as he can.
“I absolutely plan to play another couple of years,” he said. “My body’s still good – that’s what will determine how long I play.
“I had a shoulder separation and a couple of injuries earlier on, but in the last couple of months, I’ve started to feel strong and play well every night. It’s been tough in Atlanta. When you play on a struggling team like that, it’s much more difficult to play.”
Schneider was drafted by the Canadiens 44th overall in 1987. He began the 1987-88 season with Montreal, but then was sent back to the junior Cornwall Royals.
He started for good in 1989-90 and stayed until the 1994-95 season, when he was traded along with Kirk Muller and Craig Darby to the New York Islanders for Pierre Turgeon and Vladimir Malakhov.
He went on to play for Toronto, the New York Rangers, Los Angeles, Detroit and Anaheim before joining the Thrashers this season.
In Montreal, he will rejoin former teammate Patrice Brisebois on the defence corps and will have two former teammates – head coach Guy Carbonneau and his assistant Muller – behind the bench.
“I don’t think it will be strange,” said Schneider. “They’re very intelligent hockey people.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be great to see some guys I won a Stanley Cup with. Maybe that’s an omen.”
Schneider is to join the team in time for an afternoon practice on Tuesday. The Canadiens are coming off a four-game western swing that saw them win only once and they play twice more on the road this week – Wednesday in Washington and Thursday in Pittsburgh – before returning to the Bell Centre Saturday afternoon against Ottawa.
Gainey said he will still have his eyes open for deals before the deadline, but it will be tougher with reduced salary cap space.
An interesting side of the Schneider deal is that it was with Atlanta.
A year ago, Gainey thought he had a trade in place with the Thrashers on deadline day for star winger Marian Hossa, but Atlanta G.M. Don Waddell scotched that by accepting a last-minute offer from Pittsburgh.
There had been talk of Montreal going after high profile blue-liners like Florida’s Jay Bouwmeester or Toronto’s Tomas Kaberle. Gainey would not confirm he was interested in either, saying only that some teams have not yet decided if they are out of the playoff race and ready to make deals.
Schneider has 216 goals and 501 assists in 1,241 career NHL games. His best season was 2005-06 with Detroit, when he had 21 goals and 38 assists.