There are things in hockey sometimes that fans and media members tend to overlook, or minimize the impact of. Whether it’d be players playing injured, lines or team chemistry, a coaching style or systems, or how players are being utilized, all have an impact on a players’ game. For example, fans, media, will look at how a defenseman was deked out but won’t notice that he’s playing on his wrong side. They think that at the NHL level, any player should be as efficient no matter where or when he plays.
Importance on defense
Years ago, when I took my coaching certifications to coach Rep hockey, I was teamed up with former NHL defenseman Cory Cross, in West Kelowna, BC. In discussion over the weekend, the veteran of 659 regular season’s games told me that when he got to Edmonton, they were short of right-handed defensemen and as he was a veteran, he was asked to play on the right side. Cory is left-handed. He told me that it’s one of the most difficult things he had to do. The pivots aren’t the same, the stick positioning isn’t the same, the angles are similar but everything is in reverse.
As a coach, I’ve always tried to keep defensemen on their strong side. It’s easier to get the puck out of the defensive zone with passes, flipping it on the glass or even ice it, as you’re more often on your forehand. In the offensive zone, it’s easier to stop the puck along the boards and if in a rush, you have more options: quick pass across to your defense partner along the blue line, quick shot on net or dump the puck back in deep along the boards.
Long time NHL coaches often share this mindset and Mike Babcock even demanded his GMs to provide him with defensemen on their strong side. Of course, in today’s NHL, 60% of all defensemen are left-handed so some will have to play the right side. But it’s less than ideal. Martin St-Louis, just a couple of days ago, explained that he too prefers seeing defensemen playing on their natural side.
“It’s not easy to play on your wrong side in the NHL”, explained St-Louis. “Zone exits, regroups, it’s easier to use the other side of the ice when you’re on your forehand. It’s an art to inherit to play on the wrong side. It’s easier as a forward.”
The Canadiens are deep in prospects on defense, arguably their deepest position. Unfortunately for them though, most are left-handed. Corey Schueneman, Sami Niku, Kaiden Guhle, William Trudeau, Arber Zhekaj, Otto Leskinen, Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble, Gianni Fairbrother and Mattias Norlinder are all shooting left.
Here’s the Canadiens entire organizational depth chart on right-handed defensemen (at the time of writing this):
|Shea Weber||36||NHL||LTIR – Career likely over|
|Jeff Petry||34||NHL||Requested a trade, team trying to accommodate him|
|David Savard||31||NHL||IR – 2 years left at $3.5M|
|Chris Wideman||32||NHL||Pending UFA|
|Louie Belpedio||25||AHL||Decent season with the Rocket, maybe a #6 or #7|
|Josh Brook||22||AHL||Played 36 games combined last two years due to injuries|
|Logan Mailloux||18||OHL||One of the Habs’ top prospects, a few years away|
|Dmitri Kostenko||19||MHL||Plays in the minors in Russia|
|Daniil Sobolev||19||OHL||5th rd pick in 2019, a project|
|Arvid Henrikson||24||NCAA||Former 7th rd pick in 2016, unlikely to be signed|
So if there’s one position that Kent Hughes must address starting now, it’s the desperate need for right-handed defensemen. He should look for them in trades and free agency. That’s why John Klingberg would be filling a need. But whether it’s Klingberg or others, there’s a gaping hole needing to be addressed and it should be a top priority.