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Vanek to the Canadiens? What could possibly go wrong?

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  March 6, 2014 09:27 AM

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It wasn’t what the Bruins did at the NHL trading deadline that’s causing headaches within their fan base, but what they didn’t do.

Andrej Meszaros for a third-round pick is fine and fills a need vacated when the team’s No. 2 defenseman, Dennis Seidenberg, felt his knee rupture like the apple on the Bullet Boys’ album cover back in January. The 28-year-old is a left-shot who can play both sides, and despite seeing more healthy scratches than an overexerted masseuse with the Philadelphia Flyers, the theory is that he’ll fit well in Claude Julien’s system, a la the way Seidenberg emerged when general manager Peter Chiarelli stole him – along with Matt Bartkowski - from the Florida Panthers for the immortal Byron Bitz.

So, it’s … OK.

Then again, what the hell do we know? In 2011, Chiarelli was universally praised for landing human statue Tomas Kaberle, while eyebrows were raised over trades that brought Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley to town. As much criticism as Kelly justly receives, he and Peverley were certainly more vital during the Bruins’ Stanley Cup run than Kaberle, whose addition was supposed to improve a brutal power play, and instead increased smoking habits in New England by 42 percent.

By the time the playoffs roll around, Thomas Vanek might do the same.

When Montreal landed the notorious Bruins-killer for a mere second-round pick and a prospect, the second-guessing surrounding Chiarelli was a natural reaction. After all, the Bruins sent Dallas a conditional second-round pick for Jaromir Jagr at last year’s trade deadline that ended up being a first once Boston made the Eastern Conference finals. Would a second-rounder be that big a deal to keep Vanek away from one of your main obstacles in a return to the final?

With 77 points and a shootout win over the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night under their belts, the Canadiens currently sit in third place in the Eastern Conference, only six points behind Boston, and nine in back of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The addition of Vanek (21 goals, 32 assists) will only help an offensive attack that has scored 2.48 goals per game, 20th-best in the league. Vanek’s 53 points this season are 10 more than current Canadiens’ scoring leader Max Pacioretty.

But Montreal would also be daft not to realize what Vanek means in getting past the Bruins both during the regular season and the playoffs. The former Sabre and Islander has 30 goals and 31 assists against the Bruins over 53 career games. He’s a plus 21 against Boston. Plus twenty-one. His next-best such career mark is a plus-nine against the Washington Capitals.

Looking forward to a seven-game series?

The rivals meet two more times before the end of the month, and a postseason showdown is a distinct possibility. Montreal has won the first two showdowns of the season, and is further buoyed with its new acquisition. The last time Vanek’s Sabres played the Bruins in the postseason, he had two goals and an assist during Boston’s six-game victory, but the last time he saw playoff ice, he was a beast: five goals in a seven-game series loss to the Flyers.

Have fun with that, Meszaros.

Clearly, the Bruins’ need at the deadline was a defenseman to replace Seidenberg, a hole they plugged somewhat admirably. But after seeing the price for Vanek, Bruins fans had to feel like they missed the last-minute giveaways at bakery closing time. Maybe if Garth Snow didn’t prove himself to be the bumbling GM equivalent of Chief Wiggum, the final moment sale to Montreal would have garnered more of a return. Trading Vanek to the Canadiens at that price seems like little more than a panic move at the witching hour.

It’s fair to note that there would have been salary cap ramifications had the Bruins made the move on Vanek, and there’s a great chance that Snow’s asking number was heftier in the hours approaching the 3 p.m. failsafe. It could just be that the Canadiens were in the right place at the right time.

So, why wasn’t Chiarelli?

Yes, Vanek’s presence would be a luxury here, not necessarily filling a need, but keeping him away from Montreal could prove just as an important endeavor. In their two wins over Boston, the Habs have outscored the Bruins, 6-2. They meet again in a week at Le Centre Bell, with Vanek in tow this time.

Not that history dictates how the schedule plays out, but…yikes.

The Bruins-Canadiens rivalry just re-heated itself in the wake of the NHL trading deadline, with Montreal holding the winning cards, while the Bruins were content to stay the course and stay away from any cannonballs at the deep end of the pool.

There was nothing wrong with what Chiarelli did at the trading deadline, and it’s not like you can make moves presuming your playoff schedule. But seeing Vanek headed to the Canadiens is a little like watching Alex Rodriguez join the Yankees. Or Jarome Iginla on the Penguins. Or….

Oh. Right.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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