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The Canadiens’ Tomas Tatar tried to treat Monday like just another day, despite the fact the NHL trade deadline was at 3 p.m. and his name was being mentioned in trade rumours.
“I wasn’t nervous … I took it as a normal day,” Tatar said just after noon when the Canadiens had finished practising at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. “Got a haircut, just enjoy myself. I don’t really think about it, to be honest.”
Would he be looking at the clock until 3 p.m.?
“No,” Tatar said. “I have a scheduled massage at 3. I just want to take it as a normal day, I guess.”
In the end, Tatar had nothing to be nervous about and he was still a Canadien after the 3 p.m. trade deadline passed.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin only made three NHL deals leading up to the deadline, including dealing Ilya Kovalchuk to the Washington Capitals Sunday night in exchange for a third-round pick at this year’s NHL Draft. On Monday, Bergevin dealt Nate Thompson to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a fifth-round pick at the 2021 draft and then sent Nick Cousins to the Vegas Golden Knights for a fourth-round pick at the 2021 draft. Bergevin also made a minor-league trade on Monday, dealing Laval Rocket forward Matthew Peca to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a seventh-round pick at this year’s draft and minor-league forward Aaron Luchuk.
Now, Tatar and the Canadiens can focus on the final 18 games of the regular season. The Canadiens have a 29-27-8 record and are in sixth place in the Atlantic Division, six points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the third and final playoff spot. Toronto holds one game in hand. Through Sunday’s games, the Canadiens were eight points behind Carolina for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and the Hurricanes held three games in hand.
The Sportsclubstats.com website had the Canadiens’ chances of making the playoffs listed at 1.8 per cent through Sunday’s games.
“We still want to battle and win as many games as we possibly can to give us the best chance to be a playoff team,” Tatar said. “Obviously, Marc has to do his job. It’s tough to see these guys going, but it’s a part of the business. Today is pretty emotional, but next day is going to be a different day and we have to focus on a new day and a new game.”
Wait till next year?
By trading Kovalchuk, Thompson and Cousins, Bergevin made it clear that his focus is now on next season with the Canadiens almost certain to miss the playoffs for the third straight season and the fourth time in five years.
By not trading Tatar and defenceman Jeff Petry — who had also been mentioned in trade speculation — Bergevin showed that he still believes in the nucleus of his team and that he’s not ready to start blowing things up and starting a major rebuild.
Tatar and Petry have contracts that expire at the end of next season, when they can both become unrestricted free agents.
“We’re losing players today because for the first two-thirds or three-quarters of the season we haven’t been able to get the results we needed to show management that we were able to make a push,” Brendan Gallagher said. “That’s our job. We understand that they (management) sit there and they analyze the situations. There’s no give-up in this locker room but, obviously, the probability of us making the playoffs goes down so they make the adjustments to reload. We’re still going to continue to play, continue to win games. But the message is that we’re not where we wanted to be and that’s why you lose players today and you don’t add.”
When asked how the players keep pushing and remain positive for the remainder of the season, Gallagher said: “It’s easy. It’s more enjoyable winning than it is losing regardless of what you have to deal with. Everyone’s in the locker room, you play to win. There’s nothing that’s going to change that and there’s enough competitive guys in this locker room where I’m confident that won’t be an issue.
“It’s a little bit different,” Gallagher added about the chemistry in the locker room after the trade deadline. “It’s just a weird day. I think you try to have as much fun with it as possible, as weird as that sounds. You joke around with each other and you just try and keep it loose. I think, obviously, there’s a lot of things on some guys’ minds and the more time you spend around each other the quicker it goes by and then before you know it you’re just on to the business as usual.”
Here’s how the lines and defence pairings looked at Monday’s practice in Brossard:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Suzuki – Armia
Byron – Domi – Cousins
Lehkonen – Weal – Weise
Chiarot – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Alzner – Folin
Evans called up from Rocket
The Canadiens announced after Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline passed that forward Jake Evans has been called up from the AHL’s Laval Rocket.
You can expect Evans to fill Thompson’s spot as the fourth-line centre, which won’t surprise Thompson.
“I had a good first impression of him at training camp,” Thompson said about Evans when he met with the media Monday in Brossard after being traded to the Flyers. “I told the guys on the team I thought this guy is going to be a really good player. You could see it then. I think he should be up here, in my opinion. It was fun playing with him and I think he’s going to be a heckuva player. I wouldn’t even limit him to a fourth-line centre. He could be higher than that just from what I’ve seen. But I’m not a general manager … maybe one day. But that’s what I see. I think you guys should be excited for some of these young guys coming up because I think they’re going to be real good players.”
Thompson also had high praise for Jesperi Kotkaniemi Ryan Poehling, who are still playing with the Rocket.
“The sky’s the limit for both of them,” Thompson said. “I think you have to be patient for guys like that. I think they’re both natural centres and as you guys know it’s tough to play centre in this league. Sometimes it takes time. I know for myself when I came up I had to play wing. I think the best thing for me was playing in the minors for a few years. Sometimes it takes longer than others to make that jump. My biggest thing, I would say, is just be patient because I think both of them need that extra time down there. I think in time once they do come up here they’re going to take advantage of that opportunity and they’re going to be very good. You can see it already.”
Praise for Thompson
Gallagher had high praise for Thompson and what the veteran centre brought to the Canadiens after they acquired him from the Los Angeles Kings at last year’s NHL trade deadline.
“Tommy was a guy since he came here you knew exactly what you were getting with him every single game, regardless of the situation we were in, how his body was feeling,” Gallagher said “Whatever circumstance he was dealing with he showed up and he played his game. The impact on the ice, obviously, a reliable penalty-killer, reliable defensive zone, stabilized our fourth line, seemed to play with a lot of young guys and helped them out. He did so much on the ice, but his impact off the ice might have been just as great. I think it was really important for our young guys to see how both him and Kovy, how those older players take care of themselves away from the rink how they handle themselves and that’s why you’re able to extend your careers as long as they have.”
In 63 games this season with the Canadiens, Thompson had 4-10-14 totals and was minus-2 while averaging 12:48 of ice time and winning a team-best 55.1 per cent of his faceoffs.
Praise for Kovalchuk
Gallagher also had high praise for Kovalchuk, who had 6-7-13 totals in 22 games after signing with the Canadiens as a free agent on Jan. 3.
“He gave us a lot of good minutes,” Gallagher said. “He was awesome in this locker room, he’s a perfect guy to have around. His impact on all of us away from the rink was important. When you see those older players, how they’re still able to just go out and play, it’s how they take care of themselves. And then you can see how he does it day after day. It was really important for all of us to see.”
Kovalchuk didn’t rule out the possibility of rejoining with the Canadiens as a free agent this summer
“Like you said, there’s a possibility of seeing him again so you wish him luck, obviously,” Gallagher said. “Hopefully he goes to Washington and does well and then you never know July 1.
“I can say this: I know he loved this team and we loved having him,” Gallagher added. “So it’s his decision to make. Obviously, he’s earned that. I know that he said it time and time again he really loved this locker room, he believed it’s a group that he wanted to be a part of. There’s a lot of decisions, a lot of little things that go into making that decision. But for him, if he wants to come back we’d be happy to have him.”
The Canadiens have a 10:30 a.m. morning skate scheduled for Tuesday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard before facing the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). The Canadiens then have a practice scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday in Brossard before facing the New York Rangers Thursday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). There is another practice scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday in Brossard before the Canadiens face the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., SNE, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).
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