Steve Montador on waivers; might the Canucks be interested?

The Chicago Blackhawks placed veteran defenceman Steve Montador on waivers Monday, a testament to how quickly things can change in the NHL. 21 months ago, just two days before Montador was set to hit unrestricted free agency, the Blackhawks were so desperate to have him that they gave the Buffalo Sabres a draft pick in exchange for his negotiating rights. But now they’re giving him away for free.

Expect to hear Montador’s name bandied about the Lower Mainland until Tuesday’s waiver deadline, because there are a few reasons that Montador would be an appealing claim. He’s a right-handed defenceman, for one, and the lefty-heavy Canucks could use one of those. Plus, he’s from Vancouver.

These are the same reasons Montador appeared to be a fit two years ago when he was headed for free agency. But a lot has changed since then to make acquiring Montador much more problematic, largely because the Blackhawks got involved in the first place.

Back in 2011, a source told us that Montador was hoping the Canucks would be among the teams calling him on July 1. But you can understand why the Blackhawks didn’t share that hope. They had a need for a right-handed defenceman as well, and considering the road to the Western Conference title would likely include a clash with the Canucks, as it had the past three years, the club certainly didn’t want their nemesis improving at their expense.

Thus, in a shrewd bit of GMing, Stan Bowman got in there and offered Montador $11 million over four years with just over half of the deal at $5.6 million paid out in year one.

It worked out.

Unfortunately for Chicago, Montador’s tenure there hasn’t. The blueliner suffered a concussion on February 7, 2012 versus the Colorado Avalanche and hasn’t been able to shake it since. (He shouldn’t shake it anyway. Nothing good comes from shaking when you have a concussion.)

Montador returned for one game a month later, only to suffer a setback. During the lockout, he appeared ready to return, but another setback kept him on the shelf. It was rough times for the defenceman, according to this CSN Chicago article:

Montador had a lot of dark days over the last year, which he called a “roller coaster.” Being ill and away from the game he loves, Montador said he suffered from depression.

“I can see why people have a hard time with a number of different things and being taken away from something they love to do and not sure if you’d ever get back the chance. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety and depression that comes with that,” said Montador. “I’ve had a lot of help to work through that and I feel like I’ve taken the right steps.

“The first time I ever heard the word depression… there’s some stigma around it,” Montador said. “What I’ve learned from my condition (is that) actual neural transmitters are being prevented from connecting and being used in the brain, so it’s an actual physical issue.”

But while Montador struggled to get over his issues, the Blackhawks got over Montador. You can understand why he’s been deemed expendable, since they only rattled off the best start in NHL history while he was out.

Waiving him is actually another shrewd, if insensitive, move from Bowman. The club is already close to the cap, which is coming down next year, and his $2.75 million cap hit is just going to be a headache. And, speaking of headaches, he’s been out with a concussion for year, so there’s there’s no guarantee that he can step into the lineup and play right away. If Montador’s game has suffered, no one will take that deal off of Chicago’s hands.

That in mind, the Blackhawks have decided that they’re comfortable if that risk lies with someone else, opting to expose him to waivers rather than protecting him on the way to Rockford by way of a conditioning stint, as the Canucks did with Steven Pinizzotto. There’s a good chance someone else is willing to take Montador based on the player he was before the concussion, and then, if his game has fallen off, he and his cap hit are someone else’s problem.

Is that a risk the Canucks are willing to take?

Again, the reasons Montador would be a good fit with the club are clear. He’s right-handed, so it would certainly make the Canucks more versatile. He’s local. He’s tough and he’s a top-six defenceman. And less clear: he’s a better two-way defender than most people think, according to the nerd numbers.

But things have changed since the Free Agent Frenzy of 2011. The Blackhawks overpaid to keep Montador from coming to Vancouver, and the contract may still keep Montador and Vancouver apart. The Canucks already have a lot of money committed to their blueline. They really can’t afford to add just under three million more to their payroll over the next two years without shedding some. Plus those head issues are concerning, although a concussion history doesn’t necessarily mean a player can no longer contribute to a contending team. (See: Mitchell, Willie.)

Montador might be an upgrade on Keith Ballard, if not in terms of talent, then in terms of deployment. It’s pretty clear that Ballard is miscast in Vancouver; he’s effectively playing the role Montador was born to play. And, as expensive as Montador is, he’s cheaper than Ballard.

If the Canucks could find a way to move Ballard’s deal, taking on Montador’s could be a gamble worth making. But that’s a lot of maneuvering to make space for a guy with so many question marks.

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15 comments

  1. v
    March 11, 2013

    What would prevent them from taking him and buying him out at the end of the year if need be? There’s a monetary risk, I guess, but it seems riskless from a cap perspective to me.

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    • James W.
      March 11, 2013

      Isn’t Vancouver at the 50 contract limit? If so, they’d need to get rid of someone first.

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      • v
        March 11, 2013

        lots of contracts will push when the players stay in jr. shouldnt be a problem

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    • chinook
      March 11, 2013

      Whats wrong with the idea is (1) teams are only allowed 2 compliance buyouts and one appears reserved for Ballard (at $8.4 mil) and (2) Aquilini may be feeling a tad impoverished and not want to throw too many millions around without putting players on the ice.

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  2. Blake
    March 11, 2013

    Haha “according to the nerd numbers”

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  3. Wat
    March 11, 2013

    So much hate on Ballard its like this was written by AV

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    Rating: +8 (from 10 votes)
  4. RebelCanuck
    March 11, 2013

    Our blueline has been suffering a lot, we really need another right handed d-man. Is this the guy? Maybe. I’d be willing to give him a shot, anyways, as long as he can get healthy and stay healthy. Let’s be honest here, picking him up would be a fairly low risk move, as we already know we’ll need a few big cap dumps in the summer as it is. This won’t change that much.

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  5. Josh
    March 11, 2013

    Montador seems like a better fit than Ballard. Why wouldn’t the Canucks just waive Ballard? It’s become painfully clear that Ballard will never get an opportunity to play top 4 minutes in Vancouver, as it looks like the top 4 is set in stone for the next 3-4 years. Yes, he plays well with Tanev, but how can you justify paying him $4.2M a season when he’s never gotten top 4 minutes, has never shown anything remotely impressive outside of a hip check every four months, and has shown the ability to play well with exactly one player.

    That trade looks more and more horrendous every day. A serviceable fourth liner (Bernier), a draft pick that was used to select Quinton Howden, and a Michael Grabner who currently has more goals than anybody on the Canucks… for an overpaid Dman who has never really done anything for us beyond being a salary cap headache. How exactly did Gillis come to the decision that we ought to deal for Ballard? Maybe he just watched a Youtube video of Ballard throwing hip checks and thought, “Wow, this guy is bad ass! Let’s get him!”

    Whatever happens, can we please not ever trade with Florida again? I’m sick of Dale Tallon fleecing us.

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    • Dane
      March 11, 2013

      I do think Ballard should be moved on in favour of a new D man (Montador or other) but at the time, the trade did look like a good one, to me at least. Ballard had 5 seasons in a row above 20 points, 4 seasons above 25, and was playing over 20 minutes per game. I don’t think anyone would have predicted he would under perform the way he has.

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    • John
      March 11, 2013

      Grabner was going to be lost for nothing if the Canucks didn’t trade him. The trade doesn’t look good now, after the fact, but it’s not like Grabner had tons of value at the time. Tallon gave him away for nothing only a couple of months later.

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  6. chinook
    March 11, 2013

    Canucks need to get younger, so picking up Montador is a bad idea. Better to try to make it work this year and hope that Corrado can make the team as right side D next year. Unless Chicago would trade Montador for Ballard even-up?

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  7. Amor de Cosmos
    March 11, 2013

    For now we just need somebody — anybody — who can win a defensive zone face-off. That alone would make a massive difference.

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    • J21 (@Jyrki21)
      March 12, 2013

      Is Manny Malhotra avai– oh.

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  8. F
    March 11, 2013

    I like the idea, but the concussion risk is scary. What about a doghouse for doghouse trade – Ballard for Komisarek. Cap hit is $300k more, but cash is $700k less, plus Komisarek only has one year left after this year compared to Ballard’s two years. Not to mention that Komisarek is right handed and could be to Edler like Malik/Lachance were to Jovo… And if it fails we’ve traded buyout for buyout, so no risk… Thoughts?

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    • chinook
      March 11, 2013

      I like your thinking, though I don’t know enough about Komisarek’s play to be certain.

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