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Dandenault looks likeliest to go if Canadiens make another trade

BROSSARD, Que. - If the Montreal Canadiens have another deal to make before the NHL trading deadline, the one who would be least surprised to move is veteran Mathieu Dandenault.

The versatile Dandenault, who can play forward or defence, has been a healthy scratch the last two games and admits he's getting edgy as the Wednesday deadline approaches.

"My gut feeling is a total blank right now," Dandenault said Monday. "Am I gone, am I not gone? I can't tell you.

"I'm feeling in limbo, that's what it is. Not knowing is a tough situation and the fact that I haven't played in the last two tells you some other stuff. It's weird. It's not fun, but it is what it is."

General manager Bob Gainey has already made three moves but, while he has given no indication of hunting for another player, he said he will keep his eyes open until the deadline passes. Dealing Dandenault would likely bring a draft pick or a minor leaguer.

Gainey was first to move when deadline season opened. He shipped two draft picks to Atlanta for defenceman Mathieu Schnieder, which has already paid off as Montreal's power play has scored on 11 of 25 chances in six games since then.

He then shipped unused centre Steve Begin to Dallas for defenceman Doug Janik, who was assigned to AHL Hamilton.

Lastly, on Friday, just before a game in Philadelphia, he claimed Flyers centre Glen Metropolit off waivers and saw him play in the game against his former team that night.

Dandenault is in much the same situation as Begin, who asked for a trade because he is to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and wanted to go somewhere that he could play and showcase his skills.

Gainey was happy to oblige a gritty team player who had competed hard for Montreal for five seasons, but who had lost his job recently to the bigger, younger Gregory Stewart.

Whether he'll do the same for Dandenault, who is in the final year of a four-year contract that pays US$1.75 million this season, remains to be seen.

"Bob and I talked about different situations," said Dandenault, 32. "Steve wasn't playing and wasn't going to play, so for him, I totally understood.

"I don't have a contract next year and if they want to bring up some young guys, there's not much I can do about it."

On Monday, the Canadiens recalled second-year defenceman Ryan O'Byrne from Hamilton, further reducing Dandenault's chances of getting into the lineup.

Dandenault didn't score points with management last season when he complained publicly after being made a healthy scratch for the first time in his career, although he later recanted.

He said that situation was tougher than his current uncertainty.

"When I started being a healthy scratch I got so mad and down," he said. "I didn't really understand the situation. Quite frankly, I think it was pretty unfair and that's how I took it.

"Now, they can do whatever they want if they feel it's right for the team, but I'm not going to get down on myself. I've learned a lot from last year. I know I'm a good hockey player and I know I can help. If they want it or not, that's their decision."

Dandenault played some his best hockey since joining Montreal earlier this season, when he was put back on defence after spending most of the last few years at forward. But then he missed 27 games with a broken arm and was a forward again when he returned on Feb. 11.

The other player on the lookout is star winger Alex Kovalev.

Two weeks ago, Gainey sent him home for two games to rest and think about how poorly he was playing. In four games since his return, the 36-year-old has two goals and five assists.

The question is whether another team wants to take a chance on Kovalev, who can be dazzling when he's on his game and invisible when he's not.

The Canadiens got him from the New York Rangers near the deadline in 2004 and he did little during their run to the playoffs, then was perhaps their best player in the post-season.

Gainey said he was glad to have him back, but made it clear he did not rule out trading Kovalev, who earns US$4.5 million per season and will be a free agent this summer. Kovalev said he would prefer to stay, but is ready if a deal happens.

"The way you have to deal with it is just be ready for the next game," he said. "I'm not going to go home and pack my bags and wait and see what happens and if nothing happens unpack it again.

"I've been in this league 17 years and I've been through this (deadline) day many times. When you're young, it's tough on you because you get used to one place and then you get traded and you have to get used to another place. But over the years, you see that it's something you can't control. If you get traded, you just have to go. You're lucky you still have your health and can still play hockey."

The Canadiens have won four games in a row since Kovalev's return after winning just three of their previous 15, but there looked to be nerves showing during practice on Monday.

While the team was lined up for windsprints, Max Lapierre and Mike Komisarek were yapping at one another, and then the big defenceman cross-checked Lapierre and whacked at his stick as the two exchanged nose-to-nose expletives.

Enforcer Georges Laraque wore a wide grin as he stepped between the two and there were no further incidents.

Afterwards, both laughed about it.

"It was nothing," said Lapierre. "At my house last night, he asked for his steak medium rare and I gave it to him well done, that's all."

"Nothing to get all excited about," added Komisarek.

Jaroslav Halak, who has been in goal for Montreal's four straight wins, missed practice with a flu. Concordia University goalie Maxime Joyal filled in for him.

The Canadiens play three road games this week - Wednesday in Buffalo, Friday in Atlanta and Sunday in Dallas - before playing nine of their next 10 at home.

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