The Dallas Stars traded defenseman Sergei Gonchar to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday for forward Travis Moen, a transaction involving two veteran players whose roles had diminished with their previous team.
Gonchar, who turns 41 in April, appeared in three games for the Stars this season and averaged slightly more than 13 minutes of ice time per game. He is in the final year of a contract with an average annual value of $5 million.
The trade frees up a significant amount of NHL salary-cap space in 2014-15 for the Stars, who could look to ease the burden being placed on their top-four defensemen by acquiring outside help.
"We're open to [another move]," Stars general manager Jim Nill said. "But my first thought process here, and [coach] Lindy [Ruff], sitting down with him and our management and coaching staff, is that we have to find out internally what we have first. That's what this trade allows us to do now. … We have some young defensemen coming up and they've earned the right for the opportunity. These are guys that have been playing the last two or three years, they won the Calder Cup. I needed to start opening up some doors and some opportunities for them."
Dallas will add John Klingberg to the roster to replace Gonchar. Jamie Oleksiak is already a regular, and Nill mentioned Jyrki Jokipakka, Julius Honka and Cameron Gaunce as other defense prospects who could help the Stars.
Moen has this season and 2015-16 left on his contract, which carries an average annual value of $1.85 million, so the Stars have cleared more than $3 million in cap space for this season.
"I manage a hockey team and I manage a salary cap," Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said. "It was a hockey decision and a financial decision."
The Stars signed Gonchar to a two-year, $10 million contract before last season. He had just completed a successful three-year contract with the Ottawa Senators during which he averaged more than 22 minutes of ice time per game each season while compiling 15 goals and 91 points in 186 games.
Gonchar played at least 21:46 per game in every season since 1998-99 and finished in the top 10 of the Norris Trophy voting nine times. Last season, Gonchar had two goals, his lowest total since the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, and 22 points, his fewest in a season when he played more than 25 games since 1997-98.
More telling, he averaged 17:37 of ice time, which was sixth among Stars defensemen. After spending nearly two decades as a top-pair defenseman, Gonchar was forced to adjust to being a role player.
"Sergei was first class. He gave me a lot of help with Val [Nichushkin]," Ruff said. "The reason he has been in this League for so long is because of the way he handles himself. It didn't work out for us, but I wish him nothing but the best. He's a terrific person and I hope he goes to Montreal and plays well."
Gonchar has been a healthy scratch at times this season and used minimally as younger players Oleksiak and Kevin Connauton passed him on the depth chart. The Stars are leaning heavily on their top four defensemen. Each has averaged at least 21:47 of ice time, and Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski are each among the top 15 in the NHL in time on ice per game.
Gonchar has 219 goals and 798 points in 1,256 NHL games. He won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, and reached the Cup Final with Pittsburgh in 2008 and the Washington Capitals in 1998.
He is second to Alex Kovalev in games by a Russian player in NHL history, and leads Russian defensemen in goals and points.
"I'm going to play in one of the great hockey cities, and that's fantastic," Gonchar told the Dallas Morning News. "I didn't fit in here, so this is an opportunity for me to go and see if I fit in there. It's a great team and a great city and I might have a chance to play for the prize."
Moen, 32, was in his sixth season with the Canadiens. A bottom-six forward, Moen's average time on ice this season, 10:30 per game, is the lowest of his career.
"I've been watching him the last few games for Montreal and he does a good job killing penalties," Nill said. "That's something we need to improve on in our game. But it's really the overall game of what he brings on and off the ice. He plays the game the right way, he'll bring a little bit of bite to our lineup, and I just think he'll be a good fit for us."
A Stanley Cup champion with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, Moen's finest moment with the Canadiens came at the expense of Gonchar. Montreal led Pittsburgh 3-0 in Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals when Moen chipped the puck off the boards to himself after skating past Gonchar and scored a goal that sealed an improbable rout in the final game at Mellon Arena and what proved to be the final game of Gonchar's time with the Penguins.
Moen has 56 goals and 125 points in 690 NHL games. He had seven goals and 12 points in 21 playoff games during Anaheim's postseason march in 2007.
The Canadiens had a crowded and talented defense corps before Gonchar arrived, but by making this trade Bergevin has cleared Moen's contract for next season, when a collection of young players that includes Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are restricted free agents.
"We're bringing in a veteran with a lot of experience in the National Hockey League," Bergevin said. "Sergei is not the player he once was, he's 40 years old, so we know exactly what we're bringing to Montreal. In return we're giving up a player that gave some great service, a player I consider to have a lot of character. Travis Moen is a good person; he was always all business, a real pro."