With rumours swirling around the future of Ben Chiarot and to a lesser extent around Brett Kulak, we can assume that the Canadiens defense will look substantially different when the puck drops on the 2022-23 season. Add to that the rumours around Jeff Petry and trying to predict what the future holds is impossible but it can be fun to try.
This is a short list. Alexander Romanov and Joel Edmundson seem like the only two that have a lock on their positions next year and even Edmundson remains a question mark. He hasn’t played because of injury and upon his return, if he plays well, could be in high demand by a playoff bound team.
Chiarot and Kulak are front and center among those likely to leave. Both have been mentioned frequently in trade rumours. Chris Wideman has also apparently generated some interest on the trade front and is capable of being a depth defenseman who could fill in when necessary on a playoff team.
Sami Niku seems unlikely to receive a contract offer from the Habs next year. His play is far too one dimensional and the limited offense he has provided to date does not make up for his sub-standard play on defense. Kale Clague is in the same boat but he could possibly find a role as a depth defenseman, depending upon what kind of player the Canadiens want in that role. There are others in the system that would compete with him.
When you add it up, there is a good chance that there are five defenseman on the current roster who are unlikely to dress for the Habs next year and we haven’t even discussed the question marks.
The big question mark is Jeff Petry. His play this year has been far below the standards we have become used to for him. There could be a lot of reasons justifying why his contribution has been less than expected. He has talent but in Montreal, his faults have been on display this year. In another environment he could flourish. Put him on a second pairing on a good team with a reliable partner and it is possible he could quickly find his game.
The other question mark is David Savard. Like Petry, he plays the right side where the Habs have a dearth of right-handed prospects. If the organization was as stacked on the right side as it is on the left, there would be strong case for moving Savard – even if the return was minimal. But they aren’t.
Ideally, if the Habs are going to keep Savard they would be best served by playing him on the third pairing but who plays in on ths first or second pairing if Petry departs.
Edmundson could step into Chiarot’s role for next season with Romanov filling the other spot in the top two pairings on the left. With the potential departures that still leaves a vacancy on the third pairing at left defense.
Kaiden Guhle immediately comes to mind but the organization may want to ease him into pro hockey by playing in Laval to start the next season. Corey Schueneman and Tobie Paquette-Bisson, currently on an AHL contract, would be candidates to play in Laval. Jordan Harris, if he is signed, would also be in the mix. More than one of these players could make the team… as the 7th defenseman.
It isn’t difficult to imagine that the position of left side of the defense could be stronger than last year but it’s a different story on the right side. At the moment all of the right-handed defensemen seem to be playing at a position higher in the depth chart than they should be. That is caused by Shea Weber’s injury. Ideally Petry is on the second pairing and Savard on the third pairing, at best. Unlike the left side where the job for third pairing defensive is open, on the right side it is a first and/or second pairing defenseman that is needed.
A lot of it hinges on the future of Petry with the club. If he stays, along with Savard, one quality RD is still needed. In this case quality means a first or second pairing d-man. However, if Petry departs, the Habs suddenly need both first and second pairing defensemen on the right side. I don’t see Savard in the top four if the team is to be competitive.
Josh Brook is not ready for a top four role and if the Canadiens try to break Jordan Harris into the lineup it should probably be on the third pairing. And it should be remembered that playing on the right is the off-side for Harris, even though he has played there in college.
That means an acquisition through free agency or trade. There are a lot of possibilities there but expectations need to be realistic. A review of the UFA lists and depth charts on Cap Friendly can give us an idea about who might be available and who might fit. A lot depends if Petry and/or Savard remain with the team.
A wildcard could be Logan Mailloux and while his skills on offense is apparent, he probably needs a lot more seasoning on defense. In the past two seasons he has played only 25 games in Sweden and the OHL- not enough to be handed an NHL spot. I’m the farthest thing from a scout but even my unprofessional eye can see the flaws in his defensive game.