By JD Lagrange – American actor, playwright and screenwriter, Harvey Fierstein once said: “Change your mind as often as possible. Just because you thought something yesterday doesn’t mean you have to think it today. Don’t ever become a prisoner of your own opinion.”
In April 2022, I wrote about Nick Suzuki forcing me to change my mind about his readiness to become the Montreal Canadiens’ next captain. Prior to that, I felt like a veteran like Brendan Gallagher or Joel Edmundson would be better suited to be captain for a couple of years, allowing Suzuki to mature into the role as an assistant-captain first. We can see now that he was fully ready and all the credit goes to the organization for seeing it, and to the player for showing the maturity and leadership to succeed.
Like most people, I was extremely concerned when it was announced that neither Joel Edmundson or Mike Matheson would be able to start the season. It got even more worrisome when the team announced that both veterans would be out for an extended period of time. Playing four rookie defenseman on any given night goes against any NHL logic. To play the first 10 games of the season that way is unthinkable.
Yet, even after the return of Edmundson to the line-up, the quartet of Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Arber Xhekaj and Johnathan Kovacevic have missed a combined total of… one single game amongst them since the start of the season! The Canadiens’ coaching staff has preferred to make veteran Chris Wideman a healthy scratch three times instead of sitting the young guys.
Seeing how all defensemen are playing, and with the imminent return of Mike Matheson, who is skating with the team in a non-contact jersey, there is an overload of left-handed defensemen on the team. In spite of my respect and admiration for Joel Edmundson, he and Wideman are arguably the two least effective defensemen on the Canadiens.
Wideman wasn’t doing much prior to being a healthy scratch, particularly with his lack of offensive output in spite of playing key minutes on the power play. With an average of 2:21 minutes per game, he has been by far the most utilized defenseman with the man advantage. Next are Guhle (0:38) and more recently, Xhekaj (0:34).
In Edmundson’s case, we must give the guy the benefit of the doubt. He reaggravated a back injury after colliding with Nick Suzuki during training camp and he has only been back for five games.
Trade market opening up
A few NHL teams had question marks on defense even prior to starting the season but they chose to give their own players a chance. For some, they have succeeded but for others, they fell flat on their faces and are realizing that they need help at the blue line. And with most teams about 15 games into the season, injuries are already starting to creep in on other teams. Of course, we all know about the Canadiens’ rivals down the 401 in Toronto…
The Ottawa Senators are desperately searching for answers at their own blue line as well. With the team under-performing, Thomas Chabot is playing just under 30 minutes a night. This is insane and unsustainable in the long run as at that pace, they will burn him out in no time.
Other teams around the league are dealing with injuries and/or players having a disappointing start to the season, which opens up the market for defensemen. And we know how deep the Canadiens are, particularly on the left side of the defense.
Looking at the composition of the team, the Canadiens will have to clear room for Matheson when he comes back, possibly as early as on the weekend. So who do you cut? Kaiden Guhle? No. Jordan Harris? Highly unlikely. Arber Xhekaj? Possible, but he has proven being a NHL player. It leaves Joel Edmundson on the left…
Onto the right side… David Savard? Very doubtful. Johnathan Kovacevic? The Habs got him off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets and if they try sending him down, they will lose him. Chris Wideman? At minimum wage, he’s a good veteran who is already sitting from time to time, but it’s possible.
That leaves Edmundson… I love the guy, I truly do. But when I look at the situation objectively, when I look at the organizational depth chart, when I look at age, injuries, it brings me to a place I never thought I’d be. Would the team miss his experience, leadership and qualities if they traded him? Perhaps. But it appears like the Canadiens have young players ready to step into a bigger role right now.
Had you asked me about the possibility of trading Joel Edmundson this off-season, I would have laughed and moved on. But the young Canadiens’ defense is slowly but surely convincing me that perhaps, he would be the best candidate for a trade…