Decisions To Come On Defense

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By Bob Trask – Since the beginning of the season the Montreal Canadiens’ defense has been a patchwork affair and if the Canadiens are going to have any kind of success going forward that will need to be addressed.

Changes coming

A trade involving pending UFA Ben Chiarot at or before the deadline is almost a foregone conclusion. It also seems likely that Alexander Romanov and Joel Edmundson will be two of the three LD next season while David Savard and Jeff Petry, barring an unexpected trade, will be two of the three RD next season. That leaves spots for a #5, #6 and #7 defenseman and there is no shortage of candidates.

Brett Kulak is unlikely to return. He barely earns minutes now and will probably depart as a free agent this summer or at the trade deadline if the Habs can get anything in return.

Kaiden Guhle may have jumped to the head of the pack in the competition for LD and because he would likely start with 3rd pairing minutes, it’s not entirely out of the question that he makes the jump.

That would leave the Habs with Edmundson, Romanov and Guhle as the three starters on LD. Considering the top 3 LD on the team this year have been Chiarot, Romanov and Kulak, this new group would be a small step forward.

On the right side

Petry’s sub-par play this year combined with his long-term $6.25 million salary probably means his trade value is limited and ensures his return to Montreal. The fact that he is a RD might make him attractive to a playoff contender looking for help but the Habs also need RD. Ideally he plays no higher than 2nd pairing with little PP or PK time. A combination of Petry and Romanov might work.

Jeff Petry

If Savard is to have a role on this team going forward, it should probably be as a 3rd pairing d-man who plays 15 minutes a game with some penalty killing time. A great skating rookie like Guhle combined with the veteran, but slower Savard might also work.

That leaves a gaping hole on RD where a 1st pairing is needed and there are few legitimate candidates. Chris Wideman certainly isn’t a top pairing defenseman and remains a long shot to be re-signed for next year. Josh Brook suffered a knee injury and hasn’t played a game in about a year. Neither of these two represent an imminent solution .

Every other candidate is a left-hand shot who would have to play his off-side.

Potential solutions

Jordan Harris hasn’t signed yet and even if he does it is a long shot to go from NCAA hockey to a 1st pairing in the NHL. Kale Clague, Sami Niku and Mattias Norlinder may also be in the running to earn a spot on the team but the Habs would be better served by allowing them to develop on the 3rd pairing or as a 7th or 8th d-man. Unfortunately that seems to be the role best suited to most of those vying for a spot on the team.

Those RD who are pending UFAs include names like Kris Letang, PK Subban,  John Klingberg and Rasmus Ristolainen. Letang and Klingberg are unlikely to choose Montreal and will either re-sign or go with a Cup contender while Subban and Ristolainen both come with their own histories. A UFA solution seems like a longshot at best.

The position of 7th and 8th on the depth chart could be filled from the list of Clague, Niku, Norlinder, Schueneman or Tobie Paquette-Bisson.

Perhaps the best that Habs fans can expect is to see Petry and Savard bumped up a notch higher than most would prefer. The result might look something like:

Edmundson – Petry
Romanov – Savard
Guhle/Harris – Brook/Harris
Clague – Schueneman

Of course all of that can change should Jeff Gorton and his new management team decide to pull the trigger on a big trade that lands the team a legitimate RD.

Stay tuned!

More reading…

GM Announcement Coming Soon, But Narrative Won’t Die

Habs Looking More Like Road Kills Than Road Warriors

Tough Decisions Ahead For The Habs

Lighter Side: List of Bogus Habs Job Titles