Ben Maxwell, 23 at the end of March and drafted by the Canadiens 46th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, had scored 11 goals and 29 assists for the Hamilton Bulldogs this season to go along with a -2 rating, 32 PIM and 7 PP points in 47 games. In his career in the AHL he's managed 49 goals, 93 assists, 110 PIM, and a +15 rating in 187 games. Maxwell managed 0 points in 20 regular season games and one playoff game with the Canadiens, to go along with a -4 rating.
Maxwell had recently been passed on the depth chart for centers by David Desharnais, Lars Eller and Louis Leblanc. Michael Bournival's acquisition also bolstered Montreal's future depth at center, making Maxwell expendable.
The acquisition of Nigel Dawes is likely to provide the Hamilton Bulldogs with a short term replacement for Maxwell, who was the Bulldog's points leader among those that haven't been called up to the Canadiens for the season. With 27 goals and 17 assists with a +2 rating in 47 games, Dawes is likely a very able replacement for Maxwell in Hamilton.
The key cog in the deal however is Brent Sopel. At $2,333,333 in total salary, Sopel takes up roughly more than half of the Canadiens remaining cap space. Sopel is a defensive defenseman who specializes in shot blocking and penalty killing. He was a key piece in last year's cup run for the Chicago Blackhawks. Sopel is 6'1", 200 lbs, shoots right and is 34 years old. He has registered 2 goals, 5 assists and a +7 rating in 59 games for the struggling Thrashers. His +7 rating was second on the Thrashers team to Bryan Little, not counting recent Boston additions Blake Wheeler and Marc Stuart.
Sopel also lead the Thrashers in shorthanded TOI with 3:21 per game, and was second in blocked shots with 130, which would tie him with Roman Hamrlik for the lead on the Habs. Sopel also had 54 blocked shots in last year's playoffs. Sopel is a pending UFA at the end of the season.
An obvious depth move, it's looking more and more likely that Jaroslav Spacek is done for the year, and the continued silence from the Canadiens organization on this subject only increases speculation.