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Samsonov downplays trade talk, hopes to stay with Canadiens

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The speedy winger downplayed hints from his agent Neil Abbott that he would seek a trade, saying Friday he hoped to find his niche with the Canadiens.

"My first priority now is to stay with the Canadiens," said Samsonov, who signed a US$7.05-million, two-year contract as a free agent this summer. "I'm here for two years and I'm looking forward to it, but then again, if things are not working out, we'll see where it takes us.

"It's way too early to say anything. We just have to go through the process. It's a new team, new linemates, and I'm sure it's new for coach (Guy Carbonneau) too. We're just going to have to work through it."

Samsonov, a two-time 29-goal scorer with Boston, has two goals and two assists in his first nine games with Montreal. This week, he was taken off the team's second line with Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec.

That spurred Abbott to tell reporters in Boston this week that he has put his "thought and concerns" about Samsonov's playing time in writing to general manager Bob Gainey and, without saying so directly, hinted his client wanted a trade.

When asked if he wanted out, Samsonov said: "Not to this point, no."

Samsonov was angry when he was demoted to the fourth line for the third period of a game on Tuesday and for a practice the following day, saying it showed that "maybe I'm not needed here."

But the Russian left-winger, who turned 28 on Friday, was moved up to the third line with Radek Bonk and Mike Johnson for a 3-2 win Thursday night over the Bruins and played nearly 15 minutes.

Samsonov was also on the ice for the opening face-off in his first game back in Boston since he was traded March 9 to Edmonton. Montreal outbid the Oilers for him when he became a free agent after the season.

"It was a big game for me," he said. "I played there a long time, so it was nice of coach to put me in the starting lineup.

"I played a bit more and it went well."

He is expected to stay on that line when the Canadiens play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

Samsonov said he has talked to Carbonneau about what is expected from him and how he will be used.

The coach felt that Samsonov and Kovalev, who both like to hang onto the puck to make plays, weren't compatible.

He didn't want to break up the top line of Saku Koivu, Chris Higgins and Michael Ryder, or the third-line duo of Bonk and Johnson, but he found a compromise in having Samsonov replace Alexander Perezhogin on the Bonk line.

"I talked to Sergei a couple of days ago about his game but it didn't work out, so I had to do something," Carbonneau said of the move.

The former Canadiens captain was "very surprised" at Samsonov's angry reaction to his demotion in the media less than a month into his stay in Montreal.

Carbonneau said he was disappointed "about what he said, not about what he has done.

"He hasn't done that badly. He has four points. Can he do better? Yes. Ask him and I'm sure he'll say it too.

"I know he's not happy," he added. "I didn't think he would be. But he has to respect my decisions and he has to respect his teammates."

Samsonov has talked about the commitment he made to the Canadiens, which includes buying former Montreal goaltender Jose Theodore's house.

But Carbonneau said the Canadiens have done their part as well.

"We made a commitment for two years," he said. "We gave him the money.

"He has to understand it's not two weeks or a month, It's a two-year deal."

Koivu said it was normal for Samsonov to feel frustrated at losing his spot on a top line, but added that "he showed a great attitude.

"There's no sign of not being happy. The only thing for him is to keep working his way back up to the first two lines and get more ice time."

Carbonneau has pulled no punches with veteran players in his first month on the job.

He made clear that Kovalev and defenceman Craig Rivet were out of line in taking penalties for protesting referees decisions in Boston. Kovalev got a game misconduct for banging his stick on the glass when officials failed to call a Boston defenceman for a knee-on-knee hit.

Rivet, who got an extra minor for banging his stick on the ice, admitted he "put the team in a bad situation and thank God for them coming up big and killing those penalties."

Forward Aaron Downey, who suffered a concussion from an open-ice hit by Calgary's Robyn Regehr last week, says he is ready to return, but Carbonneau said he will wait at least a few more days before putting him back in the lineup.



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