Islanders and Canadiens Make a Swap

By Scott Petersen

Aside from the formalities of selecting young players with an eye to the future, Montreal Canadiens GM Andre Savard added to his busy day at the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by adding some flash and dash to his lineup for the here and now.

The Canadiens pulled the trigger on a deal to add more goals to a lineup that’s beginning to take shape for next season.

Savard sent forward Aaron Asham and a fifth round pick to the New York Islanders in exchange for 30-year-old, flashy Slovak forward Mariusz Czerkawski.

The move adds another potent, albeit one-dimensional, weapon to the Habs’ lineup for the upcoming year. Czerkawski should tag onto one of the top two lines and see significant power play time for the Canadiens, who already feature a much-improved forward corps in comparison to the past couple of years.

Full seasons from the likes of Donald Audette, Yannick Perreault, Richard Zednik, Saku Koivu and Oleg Petrov, combined with the addition of Czerkawski, should see the Canadiens return to a consistent offensive producer in the NHL.

“We felt we had to be productive and he brings offensive production, that’s for sure,” says Savard. “We’d like to score more goals and he can do that. He’s a proven player and there’s a lot of powerplays in the game.”

Savard says the move wasn’t a direct attempt to retain Doug Gilmour’s services for the upcoming season by adding proven players to the team’s nucleus. And he still hasn’t heard from Gilmour on whether he’ll be back for next season.

Accordingly, he refused to divulge if the Habs would be in the running to acquire Teemu Selanne, a player Koivu had been talking with in recent weeks. But what does appear apparent is that the Habs have a glut in the sniper position that might mean more movement is imminent this summer. Sergei Berezin, who struggled after being acquired by the Canadiens for Brian Savage, could be a player on the way out of Montreal.

The six-foot, 195-pound Czerkawski struggled with the Islanders last year to a total of 51 points in 82 games and added four points in seven playoff games. His best season came in 1999-00, when he parlayed a 70-point season into a berth in the NHL All-Star Game.

“Mariusz never became the player we wanted him to be in terms of an all-around player,” says Islanders GM Mike Milbury. “He was a one-dimensional player, (though) it’s an excellent dimension to have.”

Czerkawski spent time on a line with Alexei Yashin this past season but the two never truly clicked, leaving Milbury to search elsewhere for a winger on his top line.

“We felt we could afford to do this (and) we have a number of candidates we think can step up and play in an offensive position,” says Milbury, listing Trent Hunter and Mattias Weinhandl as possible alternatives for next season.

In return, the Islanders received Asham, who started to show promise this past season after being little more than a spare part with the Habs in previous seasons. Asham should provide plenty of grit and some occasional production to the Isles, who Milbury thought suffered from a lack of grit in their seven game playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“At the end of that we have a tough, hard-nosed third-line prospect we think can step in and play, kill some penalties and play every night,” he says of Asham. “We just came out of a series about two months ago where heart had a lot to do with the outcome.”

Milbury also adds that the move frees up some finances for the possibility of pursuing another player this summer.