By JD Lagrange – The Canadiens have one glaring need for a right-handed defenseman, a need that has been amplified by the trade of Jeff Petry. You can now add a second need in goal, since Carey Price’s season – perhaps career – appears in jeopardy due to a hailing knee, prompting the team to have contract extension talks with Jake Allen.
But what I want to focus on is the gaping hole on right defense. After trading Petry, Canadiens’ General Manager Kent Hughes was clear when stating that he would like to add a veteran right-shot defenseman. For whatever reason, he has yet to be able to do so. As training camps are about to get underway, the Canadiens’ options are more limited, but there are still a few valuable potential solutions out there.
There are two names that come to mind when it comes to right-handed defensemen who have yet to sign with a NHL club.
P.K Subban: He doesn’t need introduction, does he? He’s dynamic, he has a good shot and he knows the team, the place, the fans, the media. That familiarity goes both ways though. He’s often distracted with his off-ice business, he has slowed down a lot, he’s well known by referees (not in a good way). Personally, I would stay away from him.
Anton Stralman: Known as an ultimate professional, he’s been flying under the radar his entire career. He too has slowed down but he was still playing over 21 minutes a game last season. He’s good at everything he does, although not outstanding in any category. He could buy a year of development for young Justin Barron.
Another option is addressing the need through trade. While there are likely more opportunities out there, two names are at the top of my personal list.
1- The New York Rangers are shopping Nils Lundkvist and speculations are rampant around the Canadiens. Now, news came out confirming that he will not attend the Rangers’ training camp. But don’t expect GM Chris Drury to fold like a cheap tent. He has a price in mind and he won’t flinch, as proven when Vitali Kravstov held out a year ago.
2- Some less reliable rumouroids are tying the Habs to Oilers’ veteran Tyson Barrie. I could definitely see either one of them as a good option. Barrie has two years remaining to his contract with a respectable cap hit of $4.5 million per season. Last year was the first time he played under 21 minutes a game since the 2013-14 season, and it was due to the Oilers now having Cody Ceci and young Evan Bouchard taking more minutes. He would greatly help the Canadiens’ anemic power play.
Another option, particularly getting this late in the off-season, is to way to see which team(s) are going to try sneaking players through waivers. As the Canadiens finished dead last in the standings last season, they will have first dib at any player sent through waivers.
Carolina added Brent Burns on RD. They signed Calvin De Haan to a PTO, he who can play both left or right defense. They also have Ethan Bear, Dylan Coghlan and Jalen Chatfield on the right side. All must clear waivers.
Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Seattle (Cale Fleury, Brogan Rafferty?), Colorado, Detroit, Anaheim and Arizona are teams to keep an eye on as well, as they have lots of depth on defensemen who must clear waivers.
So unless the right deal comes about through trade, you get the feeling that the Canadiens will wait to see what will come through on the waiver wire prior to the season to start. And if that fails, they may turn to a UFA.
What I do know is that it’s less than ideal to play a defenseman on his wrong side. It’s even worse when it’s a young player trying to adapt to the speed of the NHL. As Hughes recognized, he must find a solution as relying on 20 year-old Barron to be ready is a huge gamble. The Canadiens cannot afford to burn the kid.