Every now and then, NHL transactions can produce awkward reunions. Ugly things can happen in the heat of competition, but players change uniforms often enough in the days of free agency and the salary cap that adversaries become teammates with regularity.
One can only imagine that there might have been some discomfort in the air when Brad May became a member of the Colorado Avalanche after he put a “bounty” on Steve Moore’s head or when Donald Brashear joined the New York Rangers an off-season after he completed some ugly acts against the team when he was with the Washington Capitals. Then again, even “Curb Your Enthusiasm” might struggle to top the discomfort comedy of a hypothetical situation in which Sean Avery joins Dion Phaneuf on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The latest awkward reunion might happen between Sidney Crosby and defenseman Boris Valabik, a rugged player who just signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. For those of you who don’t remember, Crosby hit Valabik below the belt and took a few other shots at him during a skirmish in December 2008 when the blueliner was playing with the Atlanta Thrashers.
That memory probably ranks pretty low on the “weirdly tense vibe in the locker room” scale, but it’s a bit funny that Valabik might occasionally be assigned to protect the Penguins’ crowned jewels (Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, that is) whenever he’s at the NHL level. Valabik will reportedly make $550K whenever he’s at the pro level, but Seth Rorabaugh gives a good explanation of the defenseman’s potential.
This is a signing for the sake of organizational depth. Valabik will come to training camp and will get a chance to compete for the bottom two defensive spots but we have a hard time seeing him ending up on the NHL roster barring injuring.
Valabik is pretty much as advertised. He’s a big body who plays physical. But he’s not much of a skater and he offers next to nothing offensively. He’s an AHL version of Hal Gill.
Boston wasn’t done today after acquiring Tomas Kaberle from Toronto, they were busy elsewhere helping to change things up to chase the Flyers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Boston swung a deal with the Atlanta Thrashers involving forward Blake Wheeler and defenseman Mark Stuart going to Atlanta in exchange for forward Rich Peverley and defenseman Boris Valabik.
Boston is able to get a playmaking center they miss with Marc Savard out for the season with a concussion. Peverley’s ability to set plays up and help others get the puck is something the Bruins were severely lacking without Savard. Peverley’s been a bit disappointing this year for Atlanta though. With 14 goals and 20 assists his offense will be welcome in Boston, but his -16 rating is a bit jarring to see. If there’s anyone that can help coach a guy into being a bit better defensively it’s Bruins coach Claude Julien. Don’t expect to see Peverley’s minus ways continue.
As forValabik, he’s likely to wind up in Providence in the AHL as he was in the minors with Atlanta. If the B’s are in need of another large, physical presence on defense though, they’ll have to put Valabik through waivers to call him up. At 6’7″ the thought of him teaming up with his idol Zdeno Chara is immensely terrifying.
For the Thrashers, it’s a decidedly big change for them in adding Wheeler and Stuart. The fun part here for Atlanta is that they’re two guys that coach Craig Ramsay is very familiar with after working as a Bruins assistant coach before coming to Atlanta. Wheeler is a big guy teeming over with talent that hasn’t quite put it all together. At 6’5″ 205 he’s a load to handle but offensively he’s struggled this year with 11 goals and 16 assists. If Ramsay can get through to him and help him break out, the deal is a huge winner for the Thrashers.
Adding Stuart to their blue line gives them a solid defensive presence and a guy who thrives on playing hard in the defensive end. He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but being in Atlanta will give him a chance to show off what he can do there to win a new deal. Coach Ramsay is a big fan and he’ll be happy to have to a more defensive-minded guy there.
A lot of Atlanta’s success in this deal depends on what comes of Wheeler. If he can break out and thrive with the Thrashers and help lead them to the playoffs, the deal is a huge success for them. For Boston, getting Peverley in town is a solid pickup and should help their offense out a bit with Peverley’s ability to control the puck and make passes for his wingers. The Bruins should be all done with dealing now and getting done before the deadline crush on the 28th is smart for them. The last thing a contending team needs to do is make a panic deal. Getting everything set ahead of the blitz just makes good sense.
Of course, if things break well for both teams there’s a possibility they meet up with each other in the playoffs. Mark that down for a future storyline just in case.