Depth on Defense And Trade Option

By Bob Trask – It’s very early in the NHL season but the Montreal Canadiens currently sit 12th in the league in goals against average. What makes it remarkable is that the feat has been accomplished with four rookies and two veterans in the lineup on defense. Two defensemen that the team was counting heavily on this season, Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson, have yet to play a game. Both are left-handed defensemen.

That begs the question of what to do when one or both return. Among the players on the all-rookie left side, who hasn’t earned their spot. Certainly Kaiden Guhle, who has drawn the toughest assignments and handled them well, has earned his spot. Jordan Harris already looks like the player everyone hoped Victor Mete would become, but didn’t. His quick feet and quicker mind have resulted in very good performances and he leads all d-men on the team in plus/minus. And then there is Arber Xhekaj who oozes confidence and charisma while bringing a physical element to the team that we haven’t seen in a long time.

Yes, they are all still a work in progress but each has taken their turn at contributing to any success the team has had. It would be a difficult choice to demote one of them, never mind two when the veterans return. And with that in mind, perhaps Kent Hughes is already exploring trade options for one of the veterans.

Trade Options

Joel Edmundson

Despite the leadership that he brings to the team, Joel Edmundson has to be the leading candidate among veteran defensemen to be traded. His leadership abilities are precisely one of the assets that interested teams would value. His size (6’5 and 225 lbs) and his play in the defensive zone add to that value. Edmundson seems to have a high panic threshold and often waits calmly to make the right play coming out of his own end. Creating offense has never been one of his hallmarks but he does chip in once in a while – averaging about five goals and 13 assists per 82 games played.

Mike Matheson is a home-town boy whose skating ability fits in well with how Kent Hughes is trying to build his team. He doesn’t have Edmundson’s size or physical presence, but he provides more offense. In the big scheme of things, Hughes would likely count on Xhekaj, Guhle and Savard to contribute the more physical elements of the game with Matheson patrolling the left side of the blueline.

When it comes to contracts, Edmundson is on a very affordable $3.5 million contract with two years remaining while Matheson is on a more expensive $4.875 million contract with four years remaining. All of this points to Edmundson as being the more sought after veteran defenseman of the two.

Trade Candidates

The Toronto Maple Leafs always come to mind as a team in need of reliable defenseman. As much as their fan base and the media would like to tell you otherwise, the Leafs’ blueline corps is full of holes and potential problems. But would the Canadiens trade an asset like Edmundson to their division rivals? It is highly unlikely!

The team that could really benefit from Edmundson’s presence, however, is the Edmonton Oilers. The are definitely in a win-now mode but have at least one glaring hole to fill. The success of the Calgary Flames also puts additional pressure on the Oilers to keep pace.

Tyson Barrie and Evan Bouchard are both offense-only defensemen who play the right side. At the same time, Ryan Murray has so far proven that he is a less than ideal defensive complement on the left side. Joel Edmundson could step in and provide that combination of maturity and physical size that the Oilers need to round out their team. Those are prized attributes, particularly when it comes to the playoffs.

The Fantasy Trade

The prime candidate for the Oilers to trade in this situation is Jesse Puljujarvi simply because his contract is within $500k of Edmundson’s. With teams tight to the cap, salary offsets become an important factor – and Edmonton would have shed even more salary to make this work. At the same time, defenseman are worth more than wingers and accomplished defensemen are worth far more than wingers trying to find their spot in the league. That means more players need to be added to the mix but Montreal can’t take on an infinite number of contracts because of the 50 contract limit.

Jesse Puljujarvi

Montreal could offer to also take the disappointing Warren Foegele and his $2.75M salary back in return, thus creating an opportunity for Dylan Holloway while trading Puljujarvi could create an opportunity in Edmonton for recently acquired Klim Kostin. But the Oilers would need to pay a price to entice the Canadiens to take on two less than attractive contracts. A mid-round pick could be one of those assets and high-scoring junior draftee, Matvei Petrov could be another. Of course Habs fans would probably be clamouring for Quebec native Xavier Bourgault but it is hard to see Edmonton giving up a former 1st round pick who is just getting his feet wet in the pro ranks.

From Edmonton’s point of view, the trade is unbalance from the point of view of sheer numbers going in each direction. I couldn’t see Hughes giving up any prime prospects but depth prospects like Gianni Fairbrother (currently injured) or Otto Leskinen. If Montreal were to take Foegele off Edmonton’s hands it would create a shortage of wingers for the Oilers. The addition speedy Rem Pitlick to the deal could help offset that loss and with a less costly contract. In fact, Pitlick might fit into the Oilers’ system better than Foegele.

In the end a lot of salary cap gymnastics would have to be undertaken by both teams in order to make any deal work but some components could be:

  • From Edmonton: Jesse Puljujarvi, Warren Foegele, Matvei Petrov, 2nd round pick in 2023 that upgrades to a first if the Oilers reach the conference finals
  • From Montreal: Joel Edmundson, Gianni Fairbrother (or Otto Leskinen), Rem Pitlick

From Montreal’s point of view they have a glut of defenseman and eventually that will have to be pared down. On left wing, moving Rem Pitlick is either opens up a spot for Emil Heineman or Rafael Harvey-Pinard…. or he is replaced by Foegele in the short term.

The Crunch is Coming

Whether or not Hughes decides to trade one of his veteran LD, the fact is that a crunch is coming when the veterans return to health. Eight healthy, NHL calibre defensemen is at least one too many for the team to carry. As Edmundson prepares to come off the injury list, the first move may be sending Schueneman back to Laval but if 6-8 weeks Mike Matheson could be ready to play. That provides Kent Hughes with a lengthy opportunity to evaluate his young defenseman, monitor Edmundson’s health and explore the trade market.

When the time comes he will be ready to make his decision and something like a trade involving the Edmonton Oilers could be in the cards.

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Some Habs’ Key Missing Pieces

By Bob Trask – Nobody in the hockey world expects the Montreal Canadiens to be Stanley Cup contenders this season – or even next season – because there are some pieces missing that a true contender needs. The job of the general manager is to find those missing pieces and add them to the team so the coach can plug them into the lineup and make the team more competitive.

Everyone has a different idea on how to construct a hockey club and every wish list will be somewhat different. The kind of team Kent Hughes is trying to build, for example, is far different from the one that Marc Bergevin put together. Both approaches can be successful but the way in which any success is achieved will look very different.

Another example of different approaches is the difference between the roster of the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa has relied heavily on elite goaltending and a big bruising defense in the last three playoffs; Colorado’s goaltending may have been slightly above average but not outstanding, while their defense relied more on speed and skill.

So what will the Canadiens look like under Hughes and what pieces will he need to add in order to be successful?


Jake Allen

There aren’t many Andrei Vasilevskiy’s or Carey Price’s in the world so it seems doubtful that Hughes will be able to build a team around elite goaltending. When other teams see Colorado succeeding with somewhat average goaltending, it may be a model they will try to emulate. Devoting too many financial assets to the goaltending position can hamstring a GM when trying to build out the supporting cast.

Verdict: Jake Allen is good enough to be the 1A or 1B goaltender on a contending team but the Canadiens need someone equally skilled to share the puck stopping duties with him. It could be Cayden Primeau as early as next year but if not, the Canadiens need to add a netminder with a career average SV% of at least .915 – not superstar territory but still solid.

Left Defense

With Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson in place along with a host of blue chip prospects in the organization, there isn’t a blatant need on left defense for the Canadiens.

Verdict: If everyone can stay healthy, there are no missing pieces here. It will be a matter of choosing the best candidate from the pool of existing talent for the 3rd pairing position. In fact, the surplus of talent here could be used to acquire talent that fills needs in other places.

Right Defense

Right defense looks questionable. David Savard and Chris Wideman are second or third pairing defenseman at best and may be better suited to third pairing and seventh defensemen roles on a contender. At 20 years old, Justin Barron is young and can’t be expected to shoulder too much of the load. If he does, it is a bonus but there is still a clear need for a minute-eater on right defense.

Verdict: Until the prospects in the pipeline are ready to contribute significantly or unless a left shot defenseman already in the organization can effectively transition to the right side, this position remains a question mark for the Canadiens. The free agents’ market and the PTO route are possibilities to address this shortcoming in the near term but players available would likely be only stop-gap solutions and unlikely to push the Canadiens into true contender category.


The potential at center for the Canadiens is mouth-watering but unless they reach that potential the position remains a question mark. Optimists will point to Sean Monahan as a potential #1 center, the size and skill of Kirby Dach, the strong play of Christian Dvorak in the last half of the year, the Swiss army knife skills of Jake Evans and the consistent solid performance of new team captain, Nick Suzuki. Pessimists will point to the individual shortcomings of this group of five.

Verdict: The jury is out on whether there is a missing piece at center for the Canadiens or whether each of these player will find their stride and play to their potential. At this point it could go either way but the talent is certainly there and a move to beef up the center ice position in order to become a contender seems unlikely.

Left Wing

Juraj Slafkovsky

The Canadiens have a good problem at LW because they have too many left wingers, particularly if Slafkovsky makes the team and Caufield remains on the left side. Hoffman, Drouin, Pitlick and Pezzetta all played for the Canadiens last year while Emil Heineman and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard look to be knocking on the door. That is eight bodies for four or five positions with two of those (Slafkovsky and Caufield) having elite potential.

Verdict: The Canadiens do not need to add any left wingers to compete for jobs at the NHL level and may even try to trade a veteran in order to open up an opportunity for a young prospect while acquiring a player who fills a need in another area.

Right Wing

Right wing is not as deep for the Canadiens as LW but with Josh Anderson, Evgenii Dadonov, Brendan Gallagher and Joel Armia available there is no glaring need. In addition, Jesse Ylönen is waiting for his opportunity to crack the lineup. This group is unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of many goaltenders and there is no true sniper on the right side but it is serviceable. In order to become a true contender, the team will need to add some scoring punch on the right side and Dadonov is likely to be gone by year end.

Verdict: The Canadiens could use a modest upgrade on RW from an offensive point of view and Filip Mesar may eventually prove to be that player. Until then, this workman-like group can provide the Canadiens with solid two-way play that can help the Habs remain competitive until the bright young offensive prospects are ready to join the team and transform them from competitors to a contender.


If everyone played to their potential and excess talent in one position (LW) could be used to address deficits in a weaker position (RD), the Canadiens may not be as far away from playoff contention as many believe. Hughes’ other big asset is his prospect pool. The glut of talent among prospects on left defense, for example, could give him an opportunity to re-balance his prospect pool or use a prospect as a sweetener in a trade, much like he did with Ryan Poehling. With another draft ten months away – the Canadiens have 11 more picks – and limited contracts available, don’t discount the possibility of prospects being included in trades.

Of course, some player will exceed expectations and some will disappoint but if the pieces fall into place, a quality acquisition on right defense may be all the Canadiens need to become competitive this year. Not a contender. but competitive. Yes, an elite goaltender would be nice to have but Colorado proved that it wasn’t imperative to succeed. If that is followed up by solid development among the young players already on the team along with the prospects in the organization, the turnaround from a last place finish to a legitimate contender could occur as soon as the 2023-24 season.

There may not be as many missing pieces as you would expect in a team that finished at the bottom of the league last year. My glass is still half-full.

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