Habs acquire Sopel, Dawes from Thrashers for Maxwell, fourth round pick

MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens reached out for more help for their injury-plagued defence on Thursday when they acquired Brent Sopel and forward Nigel Dawes from the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Canadiens sent forward prospect Ben Maxwell and a 2011 fourth round draft pick to Atlanta.

Sopel, 34, played on the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup winning team last spring and was acquired by Atlanta in June. The stay-at-home defenceman from Calgary had two goals and five assists in 59 games for the Thrashers. It is his sixth NHL club.

The six-foot-two 205-pound Sopel is earning US$2.333 million this season and can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

He was unable to get to Montreal on time to be in the lineup for a 5-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night and is expected to make his debut Saturday night against Carolina.

After the trade, he wrote on Twitter “Off to Montreal, let the games begin!!”

”Brent is a battler,” said Montreal coach Jacques Martin. ”He’s more of a defensive-minded individual. He got good experience last year winning a Cup and he was a plus player this year in Atlanta.”

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The five-foot-nine 200-pound Dawes, 26, who is on a two-way contract that pays $600,000 in the NHL, played nine games for Atlanta but spent most of this season with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. The Winnipeg native was assigned to Montreal’s AHL Hamilton affiliate.

Maxwell has spent the entire season with Hamilton, where he had 11 goals and 29 assists in 47 games. The 2006 second-round draft pick was scoreless in 20 games for Montreal during the previous two campaigns.

The Canadiens had earlier lost defencemen Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges for the season and recently Jaroslav Spacek was also sidelined with an injury, promoting a string of deals for veteran rearguards.

They picked up James Wisniewski from the New York Islanders for second and fifth round picks on Dec. 28 to replace Markov on the power play. On Feb. 17, Paul Mara was acquired from Anaheim for a fifth rounder. They also picked up minor league rearguard Brett Festerling on Dec. 31 in a deal that sent forward Maxim Lapierre to the Ducks.

Sopel plays the right side and may take over Gorges’ role blocking shots and killing penalties.