The Habs shook things up in Laval on Thursday, acquiring centre Joseph Blandisi and winger Jake Lucchini in exchange for centre Phil Varone and winger Riley Barber.
Blandisi, 25, has split the season between the Penguins and their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. With Pittsburgh, he had two goals and three assists in 21 games while collecting six goals and eight helpers in 26 AHL contests. Those minor league numbers are down from what he is used to producing but part of that may be attributable to the fact he was recalled on seven different occasions this season. That’s a lot of time going back and forth which makes it hard to get much of a rhythm going. He’s on a two-way contract worth $200,000 in the minors and $700,000 in the NHL.
The 24-year-old Lucchini is in his first full season at the professional level after signing with Pittsburgh out of college where he spent four years at Michigan Tech. While he was a decent offensive performer at the NCAA level, it hasn’t translated to the pros as he has just seven goals and eight assists in 53 AHL contests this season. He will likely have a minimal role with Laval down the stretch. Lucchini carries a cap hit of $925,000 (including performance bonuses of $132,500) while making $70,000 in the minors.
Barber departs Laval as their third leading scorer with 13 goals and 18 assists in 39 games while also getting into nine games with the Habs where he was held off the scoresheet. He’s on a two-way deal worth $700,000 in the NHL and $300,000 in the minors. As for Varone, injuries have limited him to just 27 games this season and while he was brought in to be a go-to player offensively, it just hasn’t happened as he has just four goals and ten assists in those games. He also makes $700,000 in the NHL this season but has a high AHL salary of $450,000.
The pair were surprisingly benched in their loss to Providence last weekend and while they returned to the lineup on Wednesday in their loss to Manitoba, they were buried on the fourth line which, for the roles they play in the minors, was largely redundant. This trade gives everyone a fresh start but the Rocket clearly take a loss in talent coming back; while Blandisi is a capable top-six player like Varone and Barber have been in the past, Lucchini clearly isn’t at that level.
Montreal does, however, gain some extra control when it comes to their newcomers. While Varone (Group 3) and Barber (Group 6) will be unrestricted free agents this summer, both Blandisi and Lucchini will be restricted free agents. (Blandisi has 101 career games of NHL experience which means he’s not eligible for Group 6 free agency.) While at this point it seems unlikely that Lucchini will be tendered a qualifying offer, a good showing from Blandisi could help keep him around beyond this season.