Stars, Canadiens try to alter their chemistry with low-risk trade
The deal that saw Montreal send winger Travis Moen to Dallas in exchange for defenseman Sergei Gonchar on Tuesday can be boiled down to two struggling teams looking for answers ... but not quite desperate enough yet to make a truly significant change.
A new fourth line winger won't solve the problems that have led to seven straight losses for the Stars. They have more pressing needs between the pipes, where Kari Lehtonen needs to be spelled by a reliable backup, and on the blueline where they employ four players who are still young and mistake prone or just not good enough to handle regular NHL minutes.
But Moen does fill a need for a consistent energy level and a willingness to finish his checks—something that only Antoine Roussel has delivered this season. A scout who watched the team earlier this season commented on how often the Dallas forwards chose to avoid contact on the forecheck. “These guys aren't 'pesky' anymore,” he said, referring to an old marketing slogan. “They're too easy to play against. Way too easy.”
Moen won't peel off the second a defender dishes the puck, and he'll drop the gloves if necessary to give his team a jolt. He'll give 'em a bit of grit. That said, there were good reasons he had trouble cracking Montreal's lineup this season. He's slow and he's not bringing anything in the offensive zone (just nine shots in 10 appearances this season). Given those limitations, he may not find a regular spot on this roster, either.
Gonchar never quite found his comfort zone in Dallas after signing a lavish two-year, $10 million deal with the Stars prior to the 2013-14 season. Age (he's 40) and a string of injuries certainly played a part in that, but as another scout hounding Dallas last week told me, there was a sense that he was just a lousy fit for the Western Conference style of play. “I don't think it's the speed or the [physical play]. It's the depth. There weren't any protected minutes when you've got Chicago and the Blues and the Kings and the Ducks rolling three and four hard lines. It was a challenge.”
Gonchar has had plenty of success in the East, though, including a solid 27 points in 45 games with the Senators during the abbreviated 2012-13 campaign. He also enjoyed two of his best seasons in Pittsburgh when current Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was behind the bench (2006-08). The Habs know they're not getting that guy, but if Gonchar can make the simple plays in his own end and move the puck effectively in transition, they'll be happy even if they have to absorb the higher cap hit.
But what they really need him to do is give their power play a kick in the pants.
The unit's numbers are bad—3-for-39 on the season, 0-for-25 on the road—but they don't tell the whole story. It's one thing not to score but the Canadiens aren't even generating the type of opportunities that lead to scoring chances.
The vision is still there, and there's still a little something left on Gonchar's shot. Reason enough to give him a chance ... but not enough to expect a revolution with the extra man.
Both teams are looking for a chemistry change. They'll get one, but neither should expect explosive results.