Coincidentally enough, former Montreal Canadiens forward Steve Begin was in attendance at the Bell Centre last Tuesday night to witness the Habs debut of Dale Weise. Weise, who was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks for defenseman Raphael Diaz, wears Begin’s old No. 22 jersey. More than that, though, Weise is expected to fill much the same role Begin did for parts of five seasons with Montreal.
Begin, who came to Montreal via the Buffalo Sabres as a 25-year-old (like Weise), developed a reputation in Montreal as a grinder that could contribute the odd point and left it all out on the ice. Two games into his Habs career, Weise has shown similar flair in the offensive zone, complete with the same sick stick-handling that enabled Begin to score just 56 total NHL goals. Just ask Weise’s new linemate, Michael Bournival.
Accidental high sticks to the faces of teammates aside, Weise does have one assist in the two games he’s played since being acquired, that point coming, coincidentally again, against the Canucks Thursday on a goal by fellow Manitoban Ryan White
Weise, White and Bournival have, no joke, formed one of the Habs’ most dangerous lines over the past two games. I say “no joke” because Bournival last scored back in November, with just two assists in between that marker and his helper on White’s tally Thursday. Both he and Weise now have 13 points on the season apiece.
Meanwhile, White’s last goal came over one calendar year ago. For the record, it used to be that modeling one’s game after that of Scott Gomez was a good thing. Now, Gomez, who had better start drawing inspiration from White, actually sees the ice less than him.
In any case, what the three, especially White and Weise, seem to lack in finesse, they more than make up for in desire to prove themselves shift in, shift out. That, again, is what made Begin stand out. He never took a night off. Granted, that’s in part because he couldn’t afford to.
While Begin’s two 10-goal NHL seasons and 2001 Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as American Hockey League playoff MVP may insist differently, he actually got by on a unique combination of desperation, physicality and heart. There was little actual skill in the equation.
What Weise has that Begin did not, however, is size. Begin was 5’11”, 195 pounds. Weise is a more imposing 6’2”, 210 pounds, and, in all honesty, he's much more of a threat when in the lineup than the 6’5”, 224-pound George Parros. That’s probably in part why Habs general manager Marc Bergevin made the deal he did, to add more size to the lineup.
The early reviews of the deal were less than flattering of Bergevin’s already oft-criticized managerial abilities. He essentially moved a puck-moving defenseman with significant offensive upside for a fourth-liner with none at all.
Now, admittedly, Diaz hadn’t exactly been doing his job this season. Thus, whatever Bergevin was able to get for an offensive defenseman with fewer goals and the same amount of points as fourth-liner Weise should in theory be considered a veritable steal.
The flip side of the coin? Diaz, with two points in his first two games as a Canuck, including his first goal of the season, has untapped potential. To give him up for Weise, whom the Canucks only had to claim off waivers from the New York Rangers, was a move some could interpret as being born out of desperation.
With two straight losses and six in the last eight games played, the Habs weren’t exactly playing their best at the time of the deal. Bergevin arguably decided to shake things up, in the process sacrificing the mid-round draft pick—at the very least—he probably could have gotten for Diaz closer to the trade deadline from a team desperate for depth on defense.
However, there is arguably no team more desperate for defensemen than the Canucks currently, with four, including former Hab Yannick Weber, on injured reserve. And when you’re a team looking for someone to replace an injured Yannick Weber, you’re in trouble, to say the least.
So, it stands to reason that if the Habs could only get Weise off the Canucks for Diaz, who will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, Bergevin couldn’t have gotten much more if anything at all from another team. The only other alternative would have been to keep Diaz for the rest of the season and let him go for nothing come July 1st.
Still, one has to question the logic behind acquiring Weise when the Habs already have decent size in the bottom-six, with Rene Bourque (6’2”, 217 pounds), Travis Moen (6’2”, 210 pounds; currently injured), Parros, Brandon Prust (6’0”, 194 pounds) and White (6'0", 201 pounds).
While the Habs do need more size, it’s really mostly in their top two lines, and if you’re planning on giving a guy like Weise top-six minutes, you’ve got bigger problems than just two wins in your last eight games. We’re talking deep, psychological trauma here. Of course, when the head coach has already made the equivalent move on defense by pairing Douglas Murray with P.K. Subban, one should really learn to expect the unexpected.
Already, that advice has paid off in spades. Two straight third stars for White and a suddenly kind-of-respectable 4-5-1 record over the team’s last 10 games have made Bergevin look like a genius again.
Weise may not be a superstar—not like White, anyway—but he does seem like a good fit, a guy with the grit that Diaz always lacked. Weise may never end up in quite the leadership role Begin did with the Habs either, but he can end up being just as valuable. Really, while the early reviews of the trade may have been horrible, all the early parallels and omens have been just the opposite.