What exactly Canadiens will get out of Schneider is debatable

February, 16, 2009
Don Waddell's phone rang Sunday afternoon in Anaheim. It was Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey, asking his Atlanta counterpart if he could meet with Habs executive Pierre Gauthier later that evening at the Thrashers-Ducks game.

The Canadiens were stepping up their efforts to acquire a defenseman and wanted to further pursue Mathieu Schneider, a veteran slated for unrestricted free agency July 1.

Waddell didn't waste his opportunity. For starters, there was always the chance the Canadiens, under tremendous pressure to act with the team in free fall, could opt for a different player if they couldn't come to terms with Atlanta. The clock was ticking and Waddell feared the Canadiens had another deal in the works for another defenseman.

And while there were other clubs with varying degrees of interest in Schneider, they all wanted to wait until closer to the March 4 trade deadline when Schneider's $5.75 million salary would have less of an impact on their payrolls and salary caps.

So while Waddell could have held out until March 4 and perhaps got a better return, such as a prospect, he also ran the risk of the 39-year-old Schneider injuring himself in the interim and thus making himself untradeable (see: Doug Weight).

The Thrashers received a second-round pick in June's NHL draft (previously Anaheim's pick) and a third-rounder in 2010 in exchange for Schneider and a 2009 conditional pick.

Also important here, and maybe the most important of all, is the Thrashers saved money by moving Schneider now. Schneider earns $31,000 a day, so that's more than $500,000 saved for Atlanta by trading him Monday instead of waiting 17 days later at the deadline. The Thrashers are like about a dozen other clubs facing the economic downturn of the real world: They need to cut costs. Half a million is half a million.

The Habs take on about $1.7 million in remaining salary on Schneider -- too rich for the other suitors, but for Gainey, it's well worth it. He knew other teams were waiting for March 4 on Schneider, hence the pre-emptive strike before those teams could afford to acquire him under their salary caps.

"Yes," Gainey admitted. "Even in our own situation, we've had discussions with Atlanta for some time, but we had to wait until a certain window in the season so that his compensation would fit into our [cap] availability. …

"Stepping ahead today made more sense than waiting for things to change with his compensation."

Gainey also indicated he may not be done. In the meantime, the team is in complete disarray, and the Habs GM had to something now. He'd been looking for a top-four blueliner all season long, specifically a puck-moving, offensive type who could fill the gaping hole left by Mark Streit this past summer. The Habs' power play, first overall in 2006-07 and 2007-08, was ranked 25th in the NHL as of Monday -- one of the many reasons the team has greatly disappointed.

Just what, exactly, the Canadiens will get out of Schneider is debatable. After putting up a respectable 39 points (12-27) in 65 games with the Ducks last season, the American blueliner has faded to only 15 points (4-11) in 44 games, albeit with one of the league's cellar-dwellers.

Perhaps this deal will re-energize him, provide a twinkle in the twilight of his career.

"I was off to a slow start this year; I had a shoulder separation and a couple of injuries early on. But over the last two months, I feel like I really started to play well and I feel strong every night," Schneider told media on a conference call today. "It's been a challenge here in Atlanta. We haven't had a lot of success.

"When you play on a struggling team like that, it's a much more difficult game to play."

Schneider said he was far from done.

"I absolutely plan to play a couple of more years," said Schneider, who won a Cup with the Habs in 1993. "Right now, my body feels great."

One thing is for sure: Waddell will be saying "Go, Habs Go" come playoff time. That conditional pick Atlanta will send Montreal's way depends on how the Canadiens do in the postseason. If the Habs are knocked out in the first round, Montreal gets a third-rounder in June from Atlanta. If the Canadiens win a round, then it's a fourth-rounder. If they win two rounds, it costs the Thrashers a fifth-rounder, and so on. It's a sliding scale.

For Atlanta, this was about recouping some value for an aging asset with no future with the club.

For Montreal, this was a desperate attempt at plugging a hole in a sinking ship.

As a side note, it's interesting to see the Canadiens and Thrashers help each other out just less than a year after Gainey was the frustrated runner-up to Pittsburgh in the Marian Hossa sweepstakes. Perhaps another reason for Gainey to act pre-emptively this time instead of waiting until the deadline. Or maybe Waddell felt he owed Gainey one?

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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