When Steve Begin took to the ice this morning at the Habs’  practice facility in Suburban Brossard, he was still a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

When Steve Begin boarded the team charter for Philadelphia and tomorrow night’s game against the Flyers, he was still a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

But a funny thing happened to Steve Begin on his way to Philly.  He became a member of the Dallas Stars.

Upon arrival in Philadelphia, Begin was whisked away from his (former) team mates, and was informed that he had been dealt to the Stars for defenceman Doug Janik (more on HIM a little later.)  So, while Begin’s (former) team mates made their way to the team hotel, Begin caught a flight to Dallas, to join his new team mates, the Dallas Stars.

And that was it.  Begin’s career with the Canadiens, which spanned the better part of six seasons, was over.  Traded to Dallas for a journeyman defenceman who might never see the light of day with the Montreal organization.  That’s because Janik, who has bounced around between the NHL and the AHL since the Buffalo Sabres made him a 2nd-round pick in the 1999 Entry Draft, is ticketed for the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs.  However, he first has to clear waivers.  And if he doesn’t, well, he’ll end up with another team.

And the Canadiens wil be left with absolutely nothing, in return.

But GM Bob Gainey was obviously willing to take that chance, in order to give Begin an opportunity to do something he hadn’t done over the last five games with the Canadiens:

Play hockey.

It’s not as if Begin wanted “out” of Montreal, according to Gainey.  He wanted a chance to play a regular shift.  That’s something that he wasn’t getting for a good part this season.  Through the opening four weeks of the season, and over the last four weeks, Begin saw more action from the press box than he did on the ice.  As one of five men battling for three positions on the fourth line, Begin was in a dogfight for playing time.

Today at practice, for example, as Coach Guy Carbonneau formed his lines for tomorrow night’s game in Philly, it became clear that Begin, once again, would be the odd-man out.  Along with Mathieu Dandenault.

Why?  I can’t really tell you.  Only Guy Carbonneau can tell you why Begin, a guy who gave his heart and soul for this club,  played only 42 of the team’s 61 games, with no end in site to his role as a designated sitter.

Next to Saku Koivu, no one displayed more grit and more guts on this team over the last six seasons, than Steve Begin.  Half the time he played hurt; his body held together by duct tape and chicken wire.  Sure, maybe he was never more than a third-line player on this team, but, in all the time he wore the CH on his chest, he consistently sacrificed his body for the good of the team.

But you know what?  If the trade with Dallas is going to mean a new lease on Steve Begin’s playing life, I’m happy for the guy.  He deserves it.  He was a brilliant pick-up on the part of Gainey, one of his first moves as GM of this club, when he plucked him from the Buffalo Sabres’ organization as a waiver draft selection, on Oct. 3, 2003.  And if he asked Bob Gainey to give him an opportunity to play a regular shift, albeit with another team, that works for me. 

For those of you who are rubbing your hands in glee in anticipation of this deal being the tip of the iceberg in terms of possible player movement on this club leading up to the Mar. 4 trade deadline, you can stop right now.  Except for perhaps a move to acquire some depth at centre, it’s not going to happen.  That was all but spelled out today by Gainey.

This is the team, by and large, that will carry Montreal’s playoffs hopes through the final six weeks of the regular season.  Minus one of this team’s best performers in the playoffs last season.

Steve Begin.

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