BROSSARD, Que. – Chris Campoli didn’t want to leave Chicago but when the Blackhawks walked away, he was quite pleased to move to the Montreal Canadiens.
The free agent defenceman skated for the first time with his new team on Tuesday. He will likely see action in pre-season games Thursday night at home and Saturday night in Quebec City against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Canadiens hope Campoli, who signed a one-year, US$1.75 million contract, will add depth to a defence that may be missing anchorman Andrei Markov for the regular season opener Oct. 6 in Toronto.
”There were other teams calling, but I felt this was the best situation,” the Toronto native said. ”They want to win, that’s important, and I felt I fit in well with this group.”
The Blackhawks walked away when Campoli was awarded $2.5 million by an arbitrator. He said Montreal expressed early interest, but then weren’t heard from again until this week.
”I was disappointed, it was a good time in Chicago,” said Campoli, who stayed in shape working out with the junior team in Mississauga, Ont. ”But unfortunately, in the salary cap era, this is what you’re seeing.
”It strains the middle salary guys and that’s what you saw. The number didn’t work out for Chicago.”
Campoli joined his fourth team in his seventh NHL season. He was drafted by the New York Islanders 227th overall in 2004 and traded to Ottawa in 2009 and to Chicago in February.
Markov is coming off his second major surgery on the same knee in two seasons. He had a setback before the start of training camp and, while he is skating, has not been able to practice or play in any games.
Another top offensive rearguard, P.K. Subban, has played only one exhibition game. He is believed to have a back problem, but he is practising.
General manager Pierre Gauthier said signing Campoli had nothing to do with Markov’s health and did not indicate any dissatisfaction with the performance of defencemen Yannick Weber, Jeff Woywitka or with newcomers Alexei Yemelin or Rafael Diaz.
Gauthier said it was simply a chance to add depth to the blue-line without giving up a player or a draft pick in a trade. It leaves him with about $2.8 million in salary cap space.
Veteran defenceman Josh Gorges said the prospects shouldn’t take the move as a slight.
”I hope they don’t read too much into it,” Gorges said. ”I don’t think it’s to send a message to anybody.
”It’s an opportunity for our organization to bring in a defenceman with NHL experience without having to give up anything. It’s an acquisition that will make our team better and that’s what counts.”
Injuries forced the Canadiens to use 12 defencemen last season.
Coach Jacques Martin had Campoli paired with Gorges in practice, while Subban worked with Hal Gill, his partner for the second half of last season. A good sign for Diaz was that he was paired with veteran Jaroslav Spacek, while Yemelin worked with Woywitka.
Weber, who has struggled in the pre-season after signing his first one-way NHL contract, was placed on a forward line with injured centre Lars Eller and junior prospect Michael Bournival.
Weber was used at forward at times last season, including during the playoffs. If he is moved back there to start the season, it may be bad news for the handful of players still in camp who are battling for a job.
Their numbers were reduced by one when Gabriel Dumont, a candidate for centre on the fourth line, was assigned to the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs on Tuesday.
With Lars Eller and Ryan White still injured, there should be openings for other forwards, at least to start the season.
Leading candidates are winger Aaron Palushaj and centre Andreas Engqvist, but juniors Brendan Gallagher and Michael Bournival are still in the picture, as are big winger Mike Blunden and centre Brian Willsie.
Eller is coming off shoulder surgery. The projected third-line centre expects to be cleared to practice with full contact by the end of the week and hopes to be ready for the regular season opener.
”I don’t want to be out six months because I came back a week early, but I’m getting close,” said Eller.
Forward David Desharnais has resumed practising after he was out briefly with an undisclosed injury.
Joining Hamilton on try-outs are forwards Phil DeSimone and Ben Winnett and defencemen Olivier Dame-Malka, Tony DeHart and Josh McFadden.
The Canadiens are 1-5-0 after playing six pre-season games in seven nights, but have been using prospects liberally and should have more NHL players in their lineup for the final two games.
”Some nights, we’ve got eight veterans and other teams are dressing 14 or 15, so we don’t read much into it,” said Gorges. ”These games don’t mean anything.
”It’s about prepping us and making sure we’re ready to go Game 1 in Toronto. As long as we’re playing the game we want to play we’ll be OK.”
Waterproof sports gear maker Under Armour announced that it has signed an endorsement deal with Carey Price, the first NHL goalie in its roster.
”I remember when I was really young me and my dad talking about (former goalie) Trevor Kidd and we’re thinking ‘man, wouldn’t it be cool one day to have someone pay for your equipment.’ And all of a sudden, here I am,” Price said with a laugh.