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.Tags: rampant speculation, Steve Montador