BROSSARD, Que. — The Montreal Canadiens practised with Charles Hudon, Michael Chaput, Matthew Peca and Nicolas Deslauriers rotating through their fourth line on Monday, but Tuesday’s look will be vastly different.
30-year-old right winger Dale Weise, acquired by the Canadiens in a Saturday trade with the Philadelphia Flyers, was recalled from the AHL Laval Rocket shortly after noon. And it was roughly 90 minutes later that the team sent a 2019 fourth-round pick to the Los Angeles Kings for 34-year-old centre Nate Thompson and a 2019 fifth-rounder.
Barring another trade—none are expected at the moment—it’s expected one of Hudon, Chaput, Peca or Deslauriers placed on waivers Tuesday, moments after Weise and Thompson take their first reps with the Canadiens at their south-shore practice facility.
These changes were imminent. Coach Claude Julien had been pining for a fourth line he could roll out more regularly. A trio of players he could trust against any of the opposition’s forwards; one that helps the team keep the puck out of its own net, one that finds a way to provide energy—perhaps a bit more scoring—and one that can wear down the opposition’s defence by cycling in the offensive zone. He hadn’t found it through 55 games, and after the combination of Peca, Chaput and Deslauriers got scored on twice in a three-minute span of Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was expected other moves might be on their way in short order.
Enter Thompson who is a 12-year veteran with 672 games of NHL experience under his belt. A player with 62 games of playoff experience. A 6-foot-1, 207-pound, left-shooting faceoff specialist who kills penalties and plays on the edge.
The Alaskan’s speed may not be optimal for the system Montreal runs, but his trustworthiness—and his reputation as a good team-guy—made him worth the cost of acquisition, which was basically nothing.
The fourth-round pick the Canadiens sent to Los Angeles is bound to be a late one, considering it originally belonged to the second-place Calgary Flames, and they offset that by obtaining an early fifth-rounder that originally belonged to the 25th-place Arizona Coyotes. And Thompson’s $1.6-million expiring contract is a pittance to absorb when you consider the Canadiens still have enough room to add roughly $41-million in prorated salary between now and the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
This move—in addition to the one that sent defenceman David Schlemko and forward Byron Froese from the Rocket to the Flyers for Weise and 6-foot-3 defenceman Christian Folin—bolsters Montreal’s depth. In 53 games with the Kings this year, Thompson scored four goals and added two assists. Weise, for his part, had five goals and six assists in 42 games with the Flyers.
Perhaps of even greater significance is the fact that both players have averaged more than 12 minutes of time on ice per game.
That is more than Julien has doled out to any of the players he was using on the Canadiens’ fourth line prior to these acquisitions—and certainly much more than he gave Peca (8:07), Chaput (7:53) and Deslauriers (5:53) in the loss to the Leafs on Saturday.
“We want to play a fast game, we want to be on teams,” said Julien just two days prior, after the Canadiens rolled four lines and skated the Winnipeg Jets into the ground in a 5-1 win at the Bell Centre. “If you shorten your bench, you can never keep that momentum and that pace going.”
That pace has led the Canadiens to a 31-18-7 record and a seven-point cushion over the playoff-bubble Carolina Hurricanes. They’re currently in the first wild-card position in the Eastern Conference and just two points back of the Leafs for second place in the Atlantic Division.
More moves from general manager Marc Bergevin could be coming down the pipeline to help the Canadiens maintain. He’s already said he won’t sacrifice a first-round pick or any of the team’s A-level prospects for a short-term addition, but sources have indicated to Sportsnet he’s in the market for a left defenceman who can slot into the team’s second pair—one who’s on the right side of 30 and in possession of a contract that extends beyond the remainder of this season.
A forward who can help on the power play—Montreal currently ranks 30th (13.5 per cent)—is on Bergevin’s wish list, too. But whether he adds anything else between now and the deadline, the moves he made over the last 72 hours have already addressed a significant need.