Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Went Wrong With Travis Moen?

Riddle me this one, Habs fans: what the heck has happened with Travis Moen?!

With 9 goals in 48 games, Moen was well expected to shatter his previous season-high of 11. Though the 6'2", 215 lbs winger is no longer as willing a combatant as in his younger days, he still provides some size and toughness on a third or fourth line. In short, he was having a great season on a team where few players could say as much.

As the Canadiens were stuck near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, it was widely expected that Moen, a pending unrestricted free agent, would find a new address by the late February NHL trade deadline. A proven playoff performer as a key cog during Anaheim's Stanley Cup conquest, there was likely to be quite a market of contending teams interested in acquiring his service. In fact, the price for renting him might be (or have been) as high as a 2nd round pick.

But then, in a January 21st game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Moen was sidelined with an upper body injury. He would eventually be placed on injured reserve in early February.

On February 5th, Aaron Palushaj, in Montreal on a call-up from Hamilton, played perhaps his best NHL game to date, recording his first NHL point against the Winnipeg Jets. Here's where it gets strange: on the 6th, he was sent back to the Bulldogs, even though it didn't appear any injured players were quite ready to return to fill-in for him. At the morning skate that day, Moen rejoined his teammates for practice, but wore an off-coloured non-contact jersey. Strangely, Randy Cunneyworth would only pronounce him a game-time decision. Surely he wouldn't be rushed back into the line-up against the Pittsburgh Penguins for little reason after not even testing his injury in practice, right?

Wrong. Moen played that night, registering 19 shifts (well below his season average) and 14:08 of ice time. He survived the night, and would even play 25 shifts and 19:29 2 nights later against the New York Islanders. Yet, along the way, he suffered some form of a setback, which is all the team will tell us. He's back on the disabled list, not practicing, and with no timetable for a return to action. If he doesn't return soon, his value will be minimized when the deadline hits in 12 days time, even can even be moved at all.

Was this another incident of mismanagement by the Canadiens front office and/or coaching staff? Certainly there have been plenty of indictable offenses this season, looking at the way a number of issues were handled; the Andrei Markov saga, the firing of Perry Pearn, the dismissal of Jacques Martin, the Randy Cunneyworth press conference, the pulling of Mike Cammalleri from a game, and so on and so forth. We'll never know if Moen came back too soon and/or if that was the cause of this "new" injury, but certainly him returning to the lineup before taking a full speed practice isn't standard protocol. He still had 3 weeks to be "shown off" before the deadline, so there was no need to rush him back. If he came back too soon, there may be a tangible cost to this gaff, being whatever return he would have fetched in a trade. Of course, if he isn't moved by the deadline, there is still a chance that he is re-signed prior to July 1st, thus retaining the asset, but the best thing for the team at this point would likely have been to pick up an extra selection for this June.

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