Steve Montador was set to test the market as an unrestricted free agent on Friday, and it's likely the veteran defenseman would have drawn a lot of interest around the NHL after he recorded a career-high 26 points for the Buffalo Sabres last season while providing the type of rugged play on the blue line he's been known for throughout his career.
But once the Chicago Blackhawks acquired Montador's negotiating rights on Wednesday in exchange for a future seventh-round draft pick, he didn't feel the need to see what else might be out there. Without hesitation, Montador agreed to a four-year contract that reportedly is worth $11 million.
"At end of day I want to win, and win a Stanley Cup," Montador said during a conference call Thursday evening. "Chicago has all those elements. I think a lot of focus and attention the media gives and all the channels following hockey is about dollars and cents. As much as that's an important part of the game, to me -- and I think a lot of the guys -- it's about winning. … This was a no-brainer. I have no regrets about not checking out July 1, because I feel I got everything I ever wanted with the Blackhawks right now."
Montador fills a hole in the Hawks' defense created by the Brian Campbell trade to Florida last week. Campbell was sent to the Panthers in exchange for forward Rostislav Olesz. Chicago was able to save roughly $4 million by exchanging Campbell for Olesz, and now some of that will go toward paying Montador, whose cap hit will be $2.75 million per season.
Montador also had career highs in assists (21) and plus/minus (plus-16) and a team-best 136 blocked shots in 73 games last season with Buffalo.
"I'm much more comfortable with our group now than I was yesterday because we've added to the mix, but still got a guy who can play style we want to play," Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman said. "We don't want to take a step backward. We've been a high-scoring team that likes to control the game, likes to control the puck, we don't like to throw it away, so physicality and grit and hard-to-play-against were very important to us as long as we got that other stuff, and I think Steve brings all those elements to the table."
Bowman targeted Montador for a number of reasons, including the fact he's a right-handed defenseman, which the Blackhawks were low on after dealing Campbell. Montador also he adds a different element from guys like Duncan Keith, Chris Campoli and Nick Leddy.
"I think an important thing was we needed to bring a little bit different style player to our team on defense than we had last couple seasons," Bowman said. "When we ended up trading Brian, we knew we needed a defenseman, and since we have some guys who play a similar style -- smaller guys who use quickness and puck movers with a little more offensive side to their game -- we wanted to get somebody with size and strength who plays with an edge, and a right-handed defenseman. Brian used to play on the right side, so with his departure we needed to find somebody to play on that side, so stylistically we were targeting a player who plays like Steve."
An undrafted free agent, Montador broke into the League with Calgary during the 2001-02 season and also had stints with Florida, Anaheim and Boston before playing the past two seasons in Buffalo.
Montador has scored as many as 8 goals in a season, for the Panthers back in 2007-08, and has career totals of 28 goals, 117 points, 762 penalty minutes and a plus-27 rating 519 regular-season games.
"The one thing I've always depended on for myself and felt was a necessity to make it in this League was to continue to improve," he said. "In the earlier part of my career I was trying to make sure I could get established and be an asset in this League by maybe playing a more rugged style, but also knowing I can play and keep up with the rest of the guys and contribute in a big way. Part of that is just doing the simple things as a defenseman. It's not an easy game, but it's a simple one. Moving the puck, being able to skate, playing defense in the new NHL -- all things with my size, speed and strength I feel capable of doing, along with my offensive capabilities."
Montador also has 3 goals, 8 points, 36 penalty minutes and a plus-11 rating in 43 playoff games, including a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2004 with the Flames. That series ended in a seven-game defeat to the Lightning, so Montador will be hungry to help the Blackhawks get back to the Final and try to win his first title.
"It's been very exciting for me these past few weeks, talking with my agent and getting prepared for July 1 as I've done before," he said. "Looking at the things I wanted, the No. 1 thing was a chance to win the Stanley Cup. It came sooner than I expected. It was a pleasant surprise getting contacted by Stan, and we were able to get a deal done. It means a lot. … It's a huge honor to be a Blackhawk."