For 39-year-old defenseman Mathieu Schneider, it must have been like St. Peter calling his name over the purgatory loudspeaker. Atlanta traded the veteran of 20 seasons and a conditional draft pick (either a third-, fourth- or fifth-rounder) to Montreal on Monday for a second round draft selection in 2009 (which was actually Atlanta’s to begin with, but was moved to Washington and then to Montreal) and a 2010 third round pick.
With the move, Schneider returns to the team he began his career with – he actually played a few games with Canadiens GM Bob Gainey and five seasons with coach Guy Carbonneau – and won a Stanley Cup with in 1993.
Schneider will slot-in nicely behind Andrei Markov as the second offensive option and power play quarterback on the Montreal blueline and as the fourth defenseman behind Markov, Mike Komisarek and Roman Hamrlik. The next two on the D-corps depth chart - Josh Gorges and Schneider’s 1993 teammate Patrice Brisebois - will be able to focus on defending opposing forwards.
Schneider is no longer the elite player he most recently was in Detroit, but is an upgrade nonetheless. He was third amongst Thrashers defenders in ice time (21:02) and second in scoring (4-11-15, four power play points), although he was also a minus-10. Not great numbers, but don’t forget where he was – the woeful Thrashers are, once again, in a heated battle for first underall, currently sitting in 29th, seven points ahead of the ever-awful Islanders.
Defensemen have been at a premium on the trade market this season. Since Schneider entered NHL purgatory in Atlanta from the relative paradise of Anaheim after a pre-season, Sept. 26 trade, 23 defensemen have been involved in the NHL’s 31 trades.
Names on the move have included Andrew Alberts, Phillipe Boucher, Matt Carle, Carlo Colaiacovo, Steve Eminger, Lukas Krajicek, Shane O’Brien, Sean O’Donnell and Darryl Sydor.
None are of all-star calibre, and only Carle, Colaiacovo and Eminger have any chance of becoming anything near impactful NHL defensemen, but you can’t say blueliners haven’t been widely coveted. And top-four, offensively-inclined defensemen are sure to be much-sought-after and much-available come the March 4 trade deadline.
Those expected to be on the block include Jay Bouwmeester, Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Filip Kuba, one of Scott Niedermayer or Chris Pronger and the young, locked-up Ryan Whitney; none of which can be had for second and third round picks. Schneider slots into the tier below those players, but well above any others rumoured to be available.
That’s why this couldn’t be a better deal for the Canadiens or have come at a better time.
The Habs have added blueline depth early, giving Schneider and his new teammates more time to adjust. But most importantly, Montreal didn’t have to sacrifice a roster player or any prized prospects; the team remains intact and, no doubt, better today than on the weekend.
Acquiring Schneider when they did for what they did also means the Canadiens are in a better position leading up to the trade deadline. If the proposed Vincent Lecavalier to Montreal trade isn’t dead, Montreal didn’t have to part with any of the deal’s rumoured pieces.
If it is truly dead, then Montreal can still offer some or all of those pieces in other deals – to Phoenix for Olli Jokinen wouldn’t be ridiculous and wouldn’t Schneider be an attractive part of a face-saving Bouwmeester package as Florida pushes for its first post-season birth since 1999-2000?
Gainey has done well with this deal. Whether it’s enough to stop Montreal’s slide is too soon to say. But the power play will be better with Schneider and the team is still whole, ready to have some spare parts moved for more help leading up to March 4.
John Grigg is a copy editor with The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog and the Top 10.
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