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Canadiens add five quality players at low cost

by Arpon Basu

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin likes to say that championship teams are built at the NHL Draft, not at the NHL Trade Deadline.

For a second year in a row, the success of the Canadiens forced Bergevin to act against that principle on deadline day.

Bergevin traded four draft picks and a prospect to acquire Edmonton Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry and Buffalo Sabres forwards Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn in three trades Monday, filling a major need on the blue line and shoring up the Canadiens' depth up front.

Last year, Bergevin traded a second-round pick and a prospect to acquire forward Thomas Vanek from the New York Islanders, nabbing the most coveted rental forward on the market minutes before the deadline.

This time, Bergevin traded a second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and a conditional fifth-round pick that reportedly could become a third- or fourth-round pick depending on the Canadiens' success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to acquire Petry, who was one of the most sought after rental defensemen available.

For someone who doesn't believe in the value of moving at the deadline, Bergevin is proving to be quite good at it.

"I'm really happy with our group, what we've done so far this year the first 60-some games, the way we compete, the way we played, where we are in the standings," Bergevin said. "I think it's great for our players first of all and our coaching staff, the way they've done. So I'm proud of them, and [Monday] we brought help."

The most significant help comes from Petry, a mobile, right-handed defenseman who could play in Montreal's top four, though he was slated to play on the third pairing alongside Sergei Gonchar in his Canadiens debut at the San Jose Sharks on Monday.

Petry, 27, has four goals and 15 points with a minus-25 rating in 59 games this season with the Oilers playing a top-pairing role. He won't have to do that in Montreal, where P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov make up one of the top defense pairings in the NHL and eat up the majority of the difficult minutes against top opposition.

"We think he'll be in the right spot [in the lineup] here in Montreal," Bergevin said. "P.K. and [Markov] fill a very important role on our team. Petry will still have an important role here, but it might be a better spot for him. He's a good defenseman who skates very well and makes a good first pass. You can't have enough players like that on a team."

The Canadiens were the best defensive team in the NHL entering games Monday, thanks largely to the outstanding play of goaltender Carey Price, but they were 18th in the League in scoring. This led many observers to believe that adding a scoring forward to bolster the offense should have been Bergevin's priority.

"I don't think there were top-line [forwards] that were traded [Monday], unless I'm mistaken," Bergevin said. "It's hard to get players that aren't available. There weren't any players like that available today."

But Petry might be such a player.

Over the past four seasons with the Oilers, there were seven forwards who played at least 700 minutes at even strength with Petry on the ice, according to Of those seven forwards, five saw their shot attempt percentage increase when they played with Petry compared to when they were on the ice without him.

"I pride myself on my foot speed and my quickness," Petry told the Canadiens website.

The addition of Flynn and Mitchell completes what's been a major overhaul to Montreal's forward group over the past month. It began with the Feb. 2 recall of rookie center Jacob De La Rose, 19, who has been so impressive with his two-way play that Therrien moved Lars Eller to the wing to accommodate him at center.

Bergevin then traded forward Jiri Sekac to the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 24 for Devante Smith-Pelly, who can be used in many roles and adds a dimension of physical play that the forward group was lacking.

Flynn, 26, is a right-handed center, something the Canadiens did not have, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 1. Mitchell, 30, is a center who has played 60 Stanley Cup Playoff games, and is a native of the Montreal suburb of Greenfield Park. The two players were acquired in separate trades that sent a fifth-round pick, a seventh-round pick and prospect Jack Nevins to the Sabres.

Flynn and Mitchell have speed and penalty-killing ability, and the Sabres' possession numbers improved when each of them were on the ice compared to when they weren't.

"I'm feeling a lot of excitement about going to my hometown and going from a last-place team to one of the best teams," Mitchell said. "I was overjoyed."

From Feb. 2 to March 2, the Canadiens subtracted only Sekac but added five players to their roster: De La Rose, Smith-Pelly, Petry, Mitchell and Flynn. For a team that has been at or near the top of the Eastern Conference all season, it was a month of serious change at relatively little cost, and it has improved the players' belief that Montreal can do some damage in the playoffs.

"We're getting rewarded I think for our good play right now by the GM taking some chances and making some moves," forward Max Pacioretty said. "I think it sends a message to our group that this is our time and we've got to go for it."

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