Former Canadiens Brent Sopel and Alexei Kovalev have signed contracts with Kontinental Hockey League teams. Sopel was acquired by the Canadiens from the Atlanta Thrashers at the trade deadline and took a regular turn on the Canadiens third defensive pairing throughout the rest of the season and the playoffs. Kovalev finished a largely unproductive season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
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With only two players under contract, and as many as nine possiblities, Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier is going to have an interesting off-season configuring his defence for next season. Jaroslav Spacek and P.K. Subban are set for the coming season. Josh Gorges is a restricted free agent. Markov, Wisniewski, Hamrlik, Gill, Mara and Sopel are all unrestricted. Gauthier is going to have to decide who to let go and with whom to negotiate.
Judging by the last two days of practice, Canadiens coach Jacques Martin is not in the mood to play Boston’s game. Paul Mara, one of the two truly tough guys on the team (along with Travis Moen), has been relegated to a fourth defensive pairing in favour of Brent Sopel and his shot-blocking ability. Martin seems to be gambling on a Bruins reluctance to rough it up against the Canadiens.
Pierre Gauthier was criticized for failing to make a trade deadline deal to bolster the Canadiens offense. Leading up to the deadline he had a more pressing problem. Because of injuries to his defense, the top penalty killing team in the NHL had slipped to tenth ranking in just nineteen games. Gauthier went to work and landed two veteran defensemen who were a very large presence in last night’s win in Atlanta.