Canucks: Tanner Pearson traded to Montreal, veteran goalie Casey DeSmith the return

Tanner Pearson is in the last year of a three-year contract that pays him $3.25 million per season.

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Tanner Pearson never got to make his comeback with the Vancouver Canucks.

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Instead of getting a chance to prove he could play again, a season after he suffered a devastating hand infection, the veteran winger has been traded to the Montreal Canadiens.

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The Canucks announced Tuesday afternoon they’d traded Pearson and their 2025 third round pick to Montreal and will receive veteran goalie Casey DeSmith in return.

Oddly enough, Montreal was the last opponent Pearson faced as a member of the Canucks: he broke his hand in a road game versus Montreal last Nov. 9.

He then had surgery and was expected to recover within a few weeks but instead developed a post-operative infection that required at least a half-dozen further surgeries and for a time needing a continual 24/7 feed of antibiotics to be delivered to the infected area.

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Tanner Pearson
Vancouver Canucks left-winger Tanner Pearson, who broke his hand during a game last November, stands to leave after the NHL hockey team’s end of season news conference, in Vancouver, on Saturday, April 15, 2023. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Canucks announced in January his situation was too serious to contemplate him returning for the 2022-23 season. He appeared at the team’s post-season media availability with his left hand still heavily bandaged.

He had been skating with his teammates in recent weeks and obviously had plans to return to action this season. But with Canucks management having assembled a glut of wingers, it wasn’t clear what role he would fill even if he proved to still be a viable option. It was even possible he might have been demoted to AHL Abbotsford, just to reduce his cap hit.

Instead, his $3.25 million cap hit has been shipped to Montreal. (He’s making, less escrow as determined by the NHL and NHLPA, US$4.25 million this season, though $1.5 million of that was paid in a signing bonus last week.)

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Pearson signed the three-year deal at the tail end of the disastrous 2020-21 season, a move that was widely understood as an effort to appease Pearson’s teammates who had felt very frustrated by how the season had been directed by management and ownership.

Pearson was widely considered a solid dressing room leader and after ownership and management let strong leaders in Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Tyler Toffoli and Troy Stecher walk in free agency before the 2020-21 season, Canucks GM Jim Benning apparently made the judgment that his group couldn’t afford to lose Pearson, a similar kind of dressing-room presence.

Pearson had originally come to Vancouver in a 2019 trade with Rutherford’s Penguins, the smart-playing winger coming to Vancouver after struggling to score for Pittsburgh in exchange for veteran defenceman Erik Gudbranson, who Rutherford believed could shore up his blue-line. (Gudbranson lost his job to rookie John Marino the next season and was then traded to Anaheim.)

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Coming the other way in Wednesday’s trade is Casey DeSmith and a $1.8 million cap hit, meaning this swap will save the Canucks $1.45 million against the cap. This will now allow the Canucks to have a 23-man roster to start the season, assuming Ilya Mikheyev is healthy. It also means that the Canucks will almost certainly include both Nils Hoglander and Vasily Podkolzin on their NHL roster to start the season.

DeSmith, who Montreal had only added in a trade from Pittsburgh last month, will presumably now serve as Thatcher Demko’s backup goalie. He’s a netminder Canucks management knows well: he was signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017-18, when current Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford was general manager of the Penguins and current Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin was Rutherford’s director of amateur scouting.

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Casey DeSmith
Canucks have traded Tanner Pearson to Montreal for goalie Casey DeSmith. Sept. 19, 2023 jpg

In December 2014, DeSmith pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after hitting a woman in September 2014. He was supposed to attend the University of New Hampshire that season and play for the men’s hockey team but was expelled by UNH as a result of the incident.

As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to undertake community service and if he completed the service, several other charges he was facing would be dismissed.

The next season, DeSmith signed a contract with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers and performed well enough — and apparently stayed out of further trouble — to earn a contract with the Penguins’ minor league affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

A year later, he signed an NHL deal and in the fall of 2017 played his first NHL games for the Penguins.

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By having DeSmith as the team’s NHL backup, as things stand this means Spencer Martin and Arturs Silovs will be the goalies in Abbotsford, while project Nikita Tolopilo will likely see action in the ECHL and veteran Zack Sawchenko will also need to find a home in the ECHL to get game action.

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