Only Fools Never Change Their Mind

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.

Mike Matheson

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.

But who?

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…

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HabsTracks – November 12, 2022

By JD LagrangeHabsTracks is a review, retracing the current hot topics. This week, we’re looking at the Canadiens’ surprising start, the return of key injured players, the rookies’ contribution, the goaltending situation and the discovery of a true first line, amongst other things. Please feel free to comment and share with your friends.

With a 7-6-1 record, the Montreal Canadiens are up to a much better start than anticipated by most and they’ve done it without arguably their number one defenseman, Mike Matheson. To make that even more impressive, they are doing that with not one, not two, not three, but four rookie defensemen, and in a very tough Atlantic Division.

Speaking of Matheson, he is well ahead of schedule and he has started skating with the team, although in a non-contact jersey. The former Penguins and Panthers’ defenseman had suffered an abdominal muscle strain just over four weeks ago and was said to be out approximately eight weeks. If all goes well, he could be back much sooner, or so it seems.

During Matherson’s absence, David Savard has filled the role of top-pair defenseman alongside rookie Kaiden Guhle. Under the circumstances, he is doing an amazing job while teaching the ropes to his young linemate and that, against the opposition’s toughest lines. Prior to the game against Pittsburgh, Savard is second in the NHL in blocked shots while playing 22:34 per game. He’s not a first pair defenseman, everyone including himself knows it. But he is helping the Canadiens immensely so far.

Speaking of the Canadiens’ rookie defensemen, here’s a summary of what they’ve done so far, league-wide:

TOI/GP20:47 (2)20:21 (3)17:43 (9)15:37 (13)
BkS27 (2)29 (1)14 (7)13 (10)
HITS25 (3)11 (8)17 (5)49 (1)
TkA10 (1)6 (9)9 (2)3 (22)

Another big factor in the Canadiens’ early success has been goaltending. Jake Allen has played like he did prior to his injury in the second half of the season. He’s been solid. The surprise has been the play of Samuel Montembeault however. It’s early (too early) to jump to conclusions, but Monty has been playing well beyond expectations. Here are the two netminders’ stats so far:


Speaking of Allen, there are still fans out there who think that he should (or will) be traded this season and that, in spite of the fact that Kent Hughes and Allen himself both said that they want to continue their association and signing a two-year deal. If having not one, but the two parties isn’t going to convince these people, I guess nothing will, right? Here are the facts: in spite of Montembeault’s nice start, he’s far from proven. Cayden Primeau isn’t ready and needs to stay in the AHL this season. The Canadiens don’t have a goaltender anywhere close to being NHL-ready in the system.

It would take a huge overpayment to pry Allen out of Montreal and a first is not it. It would take a first and a blue chip goalie prospect. His contribution goes so far beyond his positive impact in the locker room. It speaks of on-ice too. Fans say: “they can pick one up”. There are teams that have desperately been looking for goaltenders without success. Two Canadian teams (Leafs and Sens) are only two of them. Allen is going nowhere folks.

Changing gear, Josh Anderson is coming back from his two-games suspension for hitting Alex Pietrangelo from behind. On Friday, from reading and listening to the Montreal Media, it seems like they were running out of material to talk about as they were picking on the big Canadiens’ power forward.

Speaking of Anderson, there’s a misconception out there that he is often injured. True that he had a serious injury prior to getting traded to the Habs but in a Canadiens’ uniform, he has played 133 regular season’s games (prior to the game against Pittsburgh). Only Nick Suzuki has played more.

Juraj Slafkovsky has been taking advices from Anderson on how to use his big frame to his advantage. Unfortunately, the young forward has done like his mentor and took things too far when he hit Matt Luff of the Detroit Red Wings from behind. And like Anderson, he was suspended two games which he will serve the last game against Pittsburgh.

Aside from the dynamic duo of Suzuki and Cole Caufield, another forward is doing extremely well. Kirby Dach came with question marks and just as some members of the (French) media started turning on him, Martin St-Louis gave him an opportunity to play right wing on the top line. In his last six games, Dach has three goals, six assists for nine points and has a differential of plus -5. Only Suzuki on the team has more points during that time span with 10. Their linemate Caufield isn’t far behind with eight. This success might force the Canadiens to look at options at center.

The Canadiens have a relatively easy week ahead of them. They will be hosting the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, before heading to Columbus to face the Blue Jackets on Thursday. The will then be returning home and face the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, at the Bell Centre. Those are three very winnable games but has history has often taught us and as Claude “Piton” Ruel has said before: “Y’en n’aura pas d’faciles!

Tue Nov.157:00 PM ET
Thu Nov.177:00 PM ET
Sat Nov.197:00 PM ET

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