When the Montreal Canadiens face off against the New York Islanders on Sunday, it will mark the second time in three nights Greg Pateryn and Mikhail Grabovski will face each other.
It will also be just the second time in seven years.
The Pateryn, Grabovski Trade
On July 3, 2008, then-Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey made a relatively insignificant trade at the time. He dealt an arguably underutilized depth forward to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a recent fifth-round draftee and a pick in the 2010 second round. So fans can be forgiven for not thinking much of the deal at the time.
The only real reason they might have had to think twice was that depth forward, Grabovski, had gone AWOL a few months earlier after being a healthy scratch to consult with his agent over his frustration and options moving forward. So, good riddance, right?
As you might have probably guessed by now, or remembered firsthand (or learnt by consulting his hockeydb.com page), Grabovski, as a 24-year-old, broke out that next season with the Leafs, scoring 20 goals and 28 assists in his first full NHL campaign.
He’d eventually follow that up with two consecutive 50-point seasons, the latter of which coming in 2011-12 while the two Kostitsyn brothers—his former Canadiens teammates, with whom he had a relatively bitter feud in Montreal—were busy playing themselves out of the NHL.
That was Andrei’s last year in the NHL, after he was suspended internally during the playoffs for breaking curfew. Younger brother Sergei had been traded to Nashville two offseasons earlier, after being suspended several times by Montreal—actually going on to lead Nashville in scoring in 2010-11.
It was all downhill from there, though, as effort-level issues began to arise.
The Right Decision?
So, based on Gainey’s track record for trading away problem children (like Mike Ribeiro), one can argue he didn’t as much trade Grabovski as the latter got himself traded. Even if you subscribe to the theory that the feud with the Kostitsyns contributed to him being dealt, it’s again not like Gainey made the wrong decision.
While, as mentioned earlier, even though Grabovski was still productive in 2011-12, he has yet to attain that same 50-point plateau in the years since, only getting as high as 35 during a 58-game campaign with the Washington Capitals in 2013-14.
So, it’s not as if he’s been a world-beater by any stretch of the imagination. He has still contributed to each of the teams on which he’s played, quietly developing into a decent all-around player, despite controversy—including an incident in which he admitted to biting Max Pacioretty—continuing to follow him around.
Really, considering Michael Cammalleri got traded away for much less—for speaking the truth to the media in regard to the team’s level of play in 2011-12—actually during a game in which he was playing, it’s easy to assume Grabovski would not have lasted long under the Pierre Gauthier regime either.
Even on his way out of Toronto, he publically aired his grievances with then-head coach Randy Carlyle, calling him an idiot, and, in the process, arguably justifying Montreal’s initial trade of him there. He would have been traded eventually, in other words. It’s just a question of whether the Habs got enough for him in 2008.
The Long Game
Consider the second-round pick in the Pateryn deal gravy and nothing more.
It was used to acquire Robert Lang, who put up 39 points in 50 games during a forgettable 2008-09 season. It was ultimately used on Jared Knight by the Boston Bruins as part of the Phil Kessel deal (the Leafs had reacquired the pick only to trade it). Knight has since been traded away again, yet to live up to high expectations.
At this point, Knight’s 23 and one can be forgiven for thinking he will never make the NHL. However, Pateryn made his NHL debut a few months short of that same age, so never say never. Knight, like Pateryn, could just end up a late bloomer. And, if that’s the case, a case can be made the Habs were foolish to part with that pick.
By the same token, if Pateryn earns even an average-length NHL career playing the same way he’s proven capable of in his short time with Montreal, the Habs will have won this trade hands-down, albeit thanks to a pretty long con.
Pateryn may only be a depth defenseman at this point. He may even stay that way, but he’s shown flashes of dominant physicality as well as offensive skills—culminating in a 15-goal American Hockey League season—few knew he had.
He technically may have only been afforded the opportunity to play the four games he has so far this season due to Alexei Emelin’s lower-body injury. However, he also earned that opportunity with his play last season, which included three assists in seven playoff games.
It actually would have been easier to give Emelin’s playing time to current press-box-mainstay Jarred Tinordi, both being left-handed shots. Pateryn plays the other side. However, in true Michel Therrien fashion, the head coach went with the guy he trusted.
That trust is not an easy thing to earn. It goes to show that maybe, just maybe Pateryn has a real future on this team. Grabovski is meanwhile the past. It would be easy to look at the stats and conclude the Habs lost out on a legitimate second-line center. However, there are mitigating factors at work here.
The Habs gave up a potential distraction and got potential, period. As a result, the Canadiens didn’t lose that deal. And, if Pateryn lives up to that potential he’s shown, they’ll have won it outright, even if only seven years after the fact.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.