Understanding his days were numbered in Montreal, defenceman Nathan Beaulieu welcomed the trade that sent him to the Buffalo Sabres.
Aside from getting a fresh start with a Phil Housley-coached team placing a value on puck-moving defencemen, Beaulieu expressed relief he didn’t have to deal with the uncertainty of being exposed in the NHL’s expansion draft.
“It definitely took the stress level off me,” Beaulieu said during a conference call Sunday, a day after being traded. “Having that happen just before the [trade] freeze was a huge sigh of relief. And going to Buffalo was a bonus.“
The Sabres gave up a third-round pick in exchange for the 2011 first-round selection who completed his third full season in Montreal.
The deal was struck just before NHL teams were required to submit their protected lists for the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft.
Though it’s unclear whether he would be selected by Vegas on Wednesday, the 24-year-old was certain the Canadiens would not have protected him. Buffalo, on the other hand, protected their new addition at the expense of exposing two more high-profile and higher-priced defencemen in Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges.
The trade didn’t surprise Beaulieu, who sensed his future in Montreal was uncertain once his playing time began to diminish under coach Claude Julien. He was scratched twice in the final month of the regular season and also benched for Game 6 of a first-round playoff series in which the Canadiens were eliminated by the New York Rangers in April.
Despite his inconsistencies, Beaulieu had career-bests with four goals and 28 points in 74 games, while averaging 19-1/2 minutes of ice time.
In Buffalo, he will be given the opportunity to play a top-four role on a team retooling its defence under Housley , who was hired on Thursday. Housley spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach in Nashville, where the Hall-of-Famer was credited for overseeing the Predators’ speedy and play-making defensive unit which included P.K. Subban and Roman Josi.
Though he’s not familiar with Housley, Beaulieu believes he’s better suited to play in Buffalo as opposed to Montreal, which favoured its defencemen playing a more rugged style.
“I’ve got a huge opportunity to re-grow my game with a guy who played the game similarly to the way I would like to play it,” Beaulieu said, noting he also had a brief chat with Housley following the trade.
He declined to say whether he bore any grudges toward the Canadiens.
“I’m not going to get into too much about Montreal,” said Beaulieu, who grew up in southern Ontario, about a 2-1/2-hour drive from Buffalo. “I’m focused on Buffalo.”