MONTREAL - And then there were two. With much of the talk surrounding the Canadiens' blue line this season focusing on how the Habs would handle having anchors Craig Rivet, Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents as of July 1, that crowded picture got a little clearer with Rivet becoming a San Jose Shark on Sunday night.
Right around supper time, the Canadiens announced that Rivet was headed to the Sharks along with a fifth round draft pick in exchange for fellow defenseman Josh Gorges and San Jose's first round pick at the 2007 NHL draft. According to Canadiens GM Bob Gainey, what made this deal attractive to both sides was how the teams find themselves in different situations with the playoffs looming.
"In Josh, we get healthy a defenseman who will be able to step in and help us immediately," said Gainey. "Craig, on the other hand, has been sick with pneumonia and hasn't played in over two weeks. He will need to round himself into game shape in the coming weeks and we didn't have the liberty of waiting that long. The Sharks are comfortably in playoff position and have the time to let Craig get into shape which we couldn't afford."
In Gorges, the Canadiens get a 22-year-old defenseman, who despite going undrafted, has certainly proven he can play at the NHL level.
"He's a solid defenseman playing roughly 17 minutes a night on a very good team," said Gainey, who doesn't expect Gorges to be in the lineup Monday night against the Maple Leafs. "He was captain of his junior team in Kelowna and he will add to our defensive depth which needed bolstering, with few of our prospects being defenseman right now."
While Gorges is expected to figure in the team's future plans, the current stretch drive to the playoffs remains Gainey's top priority.
"Our goal today, as it was back in September, is to make the playoffs," reaffirmed Gainey, when pushed to reveal whether the Canadiens were buyers or sellers with the Tuesday 3:00 pm trading deadline drawing near. "If our group can play at the high level it has at times this season from now until the first week of April, the playoffs remain a real possibility for us."
With another byproduct of this transaction being some welcome salary cap relief for the Canadiens, Gainey refused to tip his hand as to whether another move is to be expected from the Habs before Tuesday afternoon's deadline.
"This is a move which was made on its own merits and not in preparation of something else, but we will be alert to what is available," explained Gainey. "This trade makes short-term sense for us with this player being ready to step in and help immediately and long-term sense with the draft pick coming our way."
Gainey was also quick to point out that Rivet now being headed for the sun and surf of San Jose is also a testimony to the emergence of Mark Streit as a steady contributor on the blue line for head coach Guy Carbonneau.
"Mark has more than earned his spot on the blue line this year," said Gainey. "He's grabbed it in recent months and hasn't let that opportunity go."
Gainey had the chance to speak to Rivet before word of the deal hit the news wire.
"Craig is a passionate, hardworking, and committed player who gave this team a lot over his 12 seasons here," said Gainey. "I told him that he certainly left a mark on our organization which he can be proud of."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com