By Bob Trask – As talk surrounding the potential trade of Jeff Petry heats up, General Manager Kent Hughes will continue to scour the league for potential replacements. None will be perfect as they will have flaws in their game, but will likely be counted on for only a couple of years until the pipeline begins to bear fruit.
We can immediately forget about Kris Letang and John Klingberg. Not only will they be too expensive but both seem less than interested in Montreal. Look for Letang to remain with Pittsburgh and Klingberg to head to Seattle. Similarly, Josh Manson could be headed back to Anaheim.
At the other end of the spectrum, Josh Brown (Boston), Matthew Benning (Nashville) and Ilya Lyubushkin probably hold little interest for the Canadiens. Erik Gudbranson (Calgary) and Jan Ruuta (Tampa) might have some interest for the Habs but it is probably lukewarm.
That leaves Justin Braun (New York Rangers), PK Subban (New Jersey), Justin Schultz (Washington) and Anton Stralman (Arizona) as potential free agent targets. All four had similar points production. Stralman and Braun are both 35 years old, Subban is 33 and Schultz is 31. Schultz could be the most expensive to sign while Subban’s history in Montreal might work for him… or against him. Each brings different elements to the game but the Canadiens did have some success with another former Oiler defenseman so maybe Schultz could be in the running. However, Stralman might be the best fit on an affordable two-year contract.
Two prominent names are Ethan Bear and Tyson Barrie. Contract talks for Bear seem to have stalled in Carolina while the Oilers, who also have Evan Bouchard and Cody Ceci on the right, seem to be looking to shed salary so they can sign Evander Kane.
The Hurricanes had so little confidence in Bear that he didn’t see the ice during Carolina’s 14 playoff games. There were questions about his commitment and conditioning so anyone trading for him will have to do their due diligence.
Barrie is a PP specialist more than a top 4 defenseman. Having said that, he has averaged over 50 points per 82 games played during his career. Those are impressive numbers but the fact that his 3rd NHL team is exploring trade options says something about his (lack of) commitment to defense. On the plus side his contract is both shorter and less expensive than Petry’s – and depending on how his year unfolds, he could be a trade deadline target for a playoff team.
A more expensive target could be 27 year old Matt Dumba. Minnesota is experiencing severe cap problems and that could make Dumba available. The cost of acquisition and the cap hit are both high so this seems like it would be a longshot.
Timothy Liljegren (RFA Toronto) and Matt Roy (Los Angeles) are both interesting situations but Hughes does not seem like the kind of GM to offer sheet RFAs like Bear or Liljegren. Nor does the LA situation seem feasible.
Habs fans can also forget about veteran high-priced defensemen like Erik Karlsson or Brett Burns from San Jose. High priced salaries for veteran player is exactly what the Canadiens are trying to avoid.
Boiling it Down
When you scan the list of potential replacements for Jeff Petry (assuming he is traded) the list becomes very short very quickly. It makes it easy to see why Chris Wideman was re-signed. It also makes you realize what a rare commodity Petry is and why Kent Hughes could realize good value in a trade.
I have excluded PK Subban because his personality doesn’t seem to fit what Kent Hughes seems to trying to achieve – however PK is several years removed from Montreal and a lot may have changed. Hughes will have better insights on that and I may be hasty in excluding him.
There are too many red flags surrounding Bear for my liking, Dumba is too expensive for Montreal’s current cap structure and as mentioned, I don’t believe Hughes will want to create any controversy or animosity by sending an offer sheet to Liljegren.
The more realistic list includes:
- Anton Stralman
- Justin Schultz
- Justin Braun
- Tyson Barrie
The final option is that the Canadiens could choose to play one of their left-handed defensemen on the right side. The name of Jordan Harris, with his elite skating ability, immediately comes to mind.
The caveat is that Kent Hughes seems to keep pulling rabbits out of the hat and Habs fans could be in for a surprise as the Montreal GM looks to re-structure his defense. The dominoes on right defense will start to fall if and when Petry is traded. These are some of the names to keep an eye on.