Trade speculation casts shadow over Canadiens in loss to Predators

After wasting an unbelievable chance in overtime, Craig Smith redeemed himself by scoring the only shootout goal and lifting the Predators to a 2-1 victory over the Canadiens on Monday.

MONTREAL—In a game between the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators that featured very little flow and even less excitement, some numbers stood out:

-17:45: The most ice time Canadiens forward Tomas Fleischmann has played since Dec. 28. He was a healthy scratch in Montreal’s last two games.

-18:45: The third-most ice-time Canadiens centreman Lars Eller has received this season.

They are two forwards the Canadiens are reportedly shopping on the trade market. A third—Dale Weise—caused a remarkable stir without even stepping on the ice Monday.

When Weise missed the team’s optional morning skate, nothing was made of it. When he didn’t appear in the pregame warm up, the scuttlebutt around the Bell Centre was impossible to ignore—until the Canadiens finally nipped it in the bud by announcing he had fallen ill.

At least Weise isn’t hurt.

Canadiens defenceman Tom Gilbert, who left in the second period of last Friday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers, is badly hurt.

Gilbert was supposed to be another piece Montreal hoped to obtain good value for in a trade leading into the Feb. 29 trade deadline. He’d have likely had an opportunity to ride out the rest of his year on a playoff-bound team; a chance to push up his stock so he could cash in on a new contract as a pending unrestricted free agent.

Instead, Gilbert will be on the surgeon’s table at some point over the coming days, a left-knee injury having cut his season to 45 games.

“A guy like Gilbert—he was playing some good hockey for us,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien in French after his team lost 2-1 to Nashville in the shootout. “It’s unfortunate. Things happen.”

The Hockey Gods have not been kind to the Canadiens this season.

From Carey Price’s touch-and-mostly-go health, to the team’s unprecedented slide from first to near worst; Montreal has been through the ringer.

And so, the focus has naturally shifted to the future.

“I’ve been [in a situation] like that every year when it comes to trades,” said Fleischmann. “All I can focus on is how I’m playing. The first time I got traded was kinda surprising, but now I don’t focus on it.”

But it’s there.

Fleischmann acknowledged the possibility of him moving out of town is present in his mind, even if he’s pushed it to the depths of his consciousness.

Therrien’s decision to put Fleischmann into the lineup after a win—this coach never changes his lineup after a win—was further confirmation of what the Canadiens are concentrating on. The ice-time he gave him made it all the more evident.

“We planned to play Tomas,” said Therrien. “I had no big reason to take him out of the lineup [in Colorado last Wednesday]. We wanted to give a chance to our young players like [Lucas] Lessio.”

And so Fleischmann, who clearly doesn’t factor into the team’s future plans, was cast aside until Monday came around.

“I thought he did fine,” said Therrien.

Eller played a strong game, too. He won 61 per cent of his faceoffs and had Montreal’s second-highest Corsi For rating (63.33 per cent).

The Dane, who came to Montreal in the trade that sent goaltender Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues in the summer of 2010, has proven his worth as a stalwart checking centre. He carries a $3.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons.

“We know we put ourselves in this situation and this is part of the business,” said Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty. “No matter what happens at the trade deadline, I’ve seen it before, I don’t like seeing it—it’s a terrible feeling.

Everyone wants to play in Montreal on this team. It’s not a situation where guys want to go elsewhere. It’s frustrating that we haven’t been able to keep this team together—if management does decide to do something.”

It seemed as though Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin had settled on this path some time before Monday’s discouraging loss to the Predators. His team entered the game eight points back of the second wildcard position in the Eastern Conference, sitting on a 5.8 per cent chance of making the post-season, according to

The story in Montreal tonight has much more to do with what’s happening off the ice than on it, and it won’t be the last time.

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