Habs pick up Sopel, Dawes

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:35 AM ET

MONTREAL - With their battered defence corps more black and blue than red, white and blue, Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre “The Ghost” Gauthier materialized to make yet another deal to land a defenceman - Brent Sopel from the Atlanta Thrashers - Thursday.

Now the question is, will that be enough with rumours circulating the Canadiens have lost veteran Jaroslav Spacek for the rest of the season with a knee injury?

Before their 5-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night, Gauthier acquired Sopel, a stay-at-home type who can kill penalties, from the Thrashers along with forward Nigel Dawes, for minor-league prospect forward Ben Maxwell and a fourth-round draft pick this summer.

Gauthier has been forced to dip into the trade market three times this season to try and patch holes on the depleted Montreal blue line. The latest concern is over the status of Spacek, who has missed the last five games with a suspected season-threatening knee injury.

If that’s the case, the 37-year-old Spacek would join the Canadiens top two defenceman in the stands as they have lost both Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges to reconstructive knee surgeries for the season.

Gauthier went out and picked up James Wisniewski from the New York Islanders Dec. 28 after Gorges trashed his knee against the Islanders on Boxing Day.

When Wisniewski used his face to stop a puck last week and veteran Hal Gill was out with an injury, Gauthier dealt for former Hab Paul Mara from the Anaheim Ducks.

Now there’s an unsettled air around the Spacek situation.

That - and the presence of three scouts from the Ottawa Senators - is giving legs to rumous the Habs will make a play for Senators veteran defenceman Chris Phillips by Monday’s trade deadline. Phillips has a no-trade clause, but has a strong connection to the Habs with Gauthier having drafted him and Canadiens bench boss Jacques Martin having coached him for a decade in the nation’s capital.

There have been talks the last couple of days between the Phillips camp and the Senators about a possible contract extension, but, failing that, indications are Phillips is still undecided as to whether he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause.

Sopel, 34, played for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks last season, but was caught up in the salary cap purge which saw almost half the team dismantled in the off-season. Former ’Hawks executive Rick Dudley, who had moved to the Thrashers, scooped up Sopel along a bunch of other ’Hawks.

“Off to Montreal - let the games begin!!” tweeted Sopel after learning about the trade. He also tweeted he was heading back to Chicago “to say goodbye again to the fam,” before heading here.

In Dawes, the Canadiens pick up a 26-year-old left winger with 208 games of NHL experience, who had been playing with the Thrashers’ AHL farm team in Chicago. He’ll report to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL (who just happen to be playing at the Bell Centre Friday night).

Sopel looks like the type of defenceman the Canadiens could have used Thursday night after surrendering three power-play goals to the Leafs. The Habs have got offensive guys in Wisniewski, emerging P.K. Subban and rookie Yannick Weber, but the injuries have robbed them of some of their best defensive guys. Sopel led the Thrashers in short-handed time on ice with an average of three minutes and 21 seconds a game (20th in the league among the league’s regularly-playing defencemen). He was second on the Thrashers in blocked shots with 130 (10th in the league). That would tie him with veteran Roman Hamrlik for tops on the Habs.

Former Thrashers teammate Andrew Ladd called Sopel the best shot blocker in the league.

If Spacek is indeed done for the season, Gauthier could still have some work to do before Monday.


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