-- As soon as news leaked Monday that the Montreal Canadiens
had signed unrestricted free agent defenseman Chris Campoli
to a one-year, $1.75 million contract just 10 days before the start of the regular season, the instant assumption was that Andrei Markov
's rehab from knee surgery was not going as well as planned.
General manager Pierre Gauthier insists that's not the case.
"He's progressing very well, the knee's in very good health and he keeps moving along his rehabilitation," Gauthier said. "We'll see if he'll be ready or not, but he shouldn't miss too many games."
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Markov has yet to play a preseason game or even practice with his Canadiens teammates since training camp started as he nears the 10-month anniversary of his second ACL surgery on his right knee.
But Gauthier says that is irrelevant to the Campoli signing.
"All we're doing is adding a solid player to the group," he said. "As we know from the past years, particularly last year, to carry seven or eight defensemen on your NHL team at any time is the right thing to do."
In fact, the Canadiens dressed no less than 12 different defensemen last season as long-term injuries to Markov and Josh Gorges
forced Gauthier to scramble. At the end of the season he said he hoped he wouldn't have to go through the same exercise ever again.
But with the defensemen Gauthier's brought into the organization before the season's even begun, it would appear he's prepared for exactly that eventuality.
With Markov, Gorges, P.K. Subban
, Hal Gill
, Jaroslav Spacek
and Yannick Weber
as holdovers from last season, Gauthier has also added Campoli, Jeff Woywitka
, Alexei Yemelin
, Raphael Diaz
and Mark Mitera
to the organization's depth on the blue line -- a group that stands 11 strong.
"Anytime there's an experienced player that can help your club, you look at it," Gauthier said. "Sometimes you get to the end of it, sometimes you decide not to go in that direction. In this case, Mr. Campoli's an experienced player, he's got 400 games in the League, and he can play various roles on your defense. So we thought it was a good initiative."
Campoli was awarded a one-year, $2.5 million contract by an arbitrator in July, but the Chicago Blackhawks
decided to walk away from the ruling, making Campoli an unrestricted free agent.
"Mr. Campoli was in a difficult situation because by the time Chicago walked away it was almost August," Gauthier said. "The market is a lot different, there aren't too many buyers and if there are buyers you don't know how many resources they have. So these things evolve, and we're happy they evolved with us today."
Defense - MTL
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 21
SOG: 84 | +/-: 0
Campoli, 27, has been well-traveled during his six-season career. The Canadiens are already his fourth team, after spending time with the New York Islanders
, Ottawa Senators
and the second half of last season with the Blackhawks. In 397 career games, Campoli has 33 goals and 102 assists.
It's difficult to project where Campoli fits in the Canadiens' defense, and who would be bumped out by his arrival.
As a puck-moving, power play quarterback, the biggest threat would appear to be to Weber, who has a similar skill set but hasn't had a very strong training camp.
Then there's Yemelin, who is all but assured of a spot in Montreal because of a contract stipulation that allows him to go back to Russia if he is sent to the minors. He is adjusting to a new ice surface and a new culture after seven years as a professional in Russia, and perhaps the acquisition of Campoli signals the organization is not sure Yemelin is ready to make that jump as of opening night.
If Markov is not ready to start the season -- and it appears pretty likely that will be the case -- then Campoli's arrival most likely means either Weber or Yemelin will sit out as a result.
But Gauthier discourages anyone from interpreting too much from the signing.
"There's no sign of anything else other than we've added an experienced player to the group," he said.