Perhaps no team filled as many holes in their lineup so well at the NHL Trade Deadline as the Montreal Canadiens, and that is a big reason they will win the 25th Stanley Cup in franchise history this June.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin acquired defenseman Mike Weaver from the Florida Panthers the day before the deadline, setting the stage for his real home run a day later with the acquisition of forward Thomas Vanek from the New York Islanders.
The arrival of Vanek gives the Canadiens something they have lacked for years, a top-end first line which can score consistently and provide relief to the team's other lines by attracting the opposition's top defensive stoppers on a nightly basis.
Vanek has combined with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais to become one of the NHL's most-potent offensive trios, and while losing Alex Galchenyuk for the duration of the first round with a lower-body injury hurts, the other lines have been rendered more effective because of how strong the top line has been.
Essentially, adding Vanek has made all the Canadiens forwards a bit better.
Though the Vanek trade is the move that has garnered the most attention, the addition of Weaver from the Panthers might have actually filled a bigger need.
The Canadiens only had one right-handed defenseman on the team prior to Weaver's arrival, P.K. Subban. As much as Subban would probably like it, coach Michel Therrien could not put him on all three defense pairings.
Enter Weaver, who has solidified the Canadiens' third pair and created a logjam around the spot to his left, thereby improving Montreal's depth. The top pair of Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin, along with Josh Gorges and Subban, will likely grab the bulk of the minutes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Therrien and assistant coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault will have no fear sending the third pair out now that Weaver is patrolling that right side and playing solid hockey.
With the group of forwards bolstered by Vanek and the defense corps benefitting from Weaver's arrival, the Canadiens may need to rely less on their biggest asset. Nonetheless, any team facing Montreal will know they will need to solve Carey Price in goal, and that is no easy task.
Price is the biggest reason the Canadiens will win the Stanley Cup, a goaltender whose mental strength was tested at the 2014 Sochi Olympics playing in tight games behind a Canadian team which barely allowed its opponents to enter the attacking zone. Price was called upon to make a number of big saves after long stretches of inaction where a goal allowed could have spelled disaster for Canada, and he didn't flinch. As a result, he and his Canadian teammates have shiny gold medals
That experience will serve him well in the playoffs, and it will ultimately lead the Canadiens to their first Stanley Cup in 21 years.
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