BROSSARD, Que. – Bob Gainey said he was never tempted to try to land a big name at the NHL trade deadline.
The Montreal Canadiens general manager made no moves as the deadline passed Wednesday afternoon, having already tinkered with his lineup the previous two weeks.
“We weren’t out kicking tires,” he said. “I think it’s a message to our players, a vote of confidence for the players that we have, that many of them that have been sidelined with injuries or were not having the seasons they hoped for, that now is the time to get there.
“We weren’t anxious to move players.”
The player considered most likely to move, defenceman/forward Mathieu Dandenault, found no takers among the 29 other clubs, Gainey said.
A month ago, Gainey outlined what the team’s hockey department felt it needed and he followed it to the letter.
Two weeks ago, he sent two draft picks to Atlanta for 39-year-old Mathieu Schneider to fill a need for an experienced shooter on the right point of the power play.
Last week, Gainey picked up Glen Metropolit on waivers from Philadelphia to add depth at centre. Gainey also granted little-used veteran Steve Begin’s trade request, sending him to Dallas for minor-league defenceman Doug Janik.
The moves look to have worked, as Montreal went into a game Wednesday night in Buffalo having won four straight after a stretch in which they had only three wins in 15 games.
“We feel we have good depth at each of the positions – in goal, on defence and with our forwards,” Gainey said. “I think the crisis we went through where we were losing a string of games may have been part of the motivation to make changes earlier rather than later.
“We’ve got some results from those moves that have taken us out of that and now we’re on the other side, we’re winning games.”
Gainey had routine communications with other clubs last weekend, but no serious trade talks.
“When I look at our team, I don’t really have any regrets that the none of the players moved today didn’t come to our team,” he said. “I prefer that we continue to get our guys up to their potential.
“I feel we have some guys who have been a little below their potential this season and it’s time for them to prove me right, and for our coaches to take the players we have and squeeze as much or more from them as we have up to now.”
The only time this season Gainey considered a major move was in December, when it appeared that Tampa Bay star Vincent Lecavalier was on the market. Montreal was very interested, not only for a French-Canadian star but a big, top-line centre the team has lacked for years.
But the Lightning opted to hold on to their most popular player and talk of a Lecavalier trade died.
Gainey said he wasn’t interested in Phoenix centre Olli Jokinen, who was traded Wednesday to the Calgary Flames.
Now, the Canadiens hope to get a boost from the return of some injured players, starting with winger Alex Tanguay, who has been out since early January with a shoulder injury. Tanguay is expected to return either Friday in Atlanta or Sunday in Dallas.
Left-winger Guillaume Latendresse is expected back from a left shoulder injury in two weeks but defenceman Francis Bouillon may be gone for the rest of the regular season with a thigh injury. Centre Robert Lang is gone for the season and probably the playoffs with a severed Achilles tendon.
“A guy like Alex will need time to get his game and timing back, but we know he’s the type of player who can snap a goal and win you a game,” Gainey said.
The February slide erased the cushion Montreal had built in terms of securing a playoff position. But the Canadiens are still on the good side of the final post-season spot in the Eastern Conference with a favourable schedule ahead of them.
After their current three-game road trip, the Canadiens play nine of the next 10 games at home, with six against teams currently not in playoff position.
“I believe this group can get us into the playoffs and once we get there, then we start to work,” said Gainey. “We have a more diverse group of players than we had a year ago and we need to be aware of how to use all those players.
“But the key is to get into the playoffs.”