A Case for the Defense

Bob takes a look at the the defense core the Habs could potentially put on the ice this season and why it could be a strong one

By – Bob Trask On opening night last year, the Montreal Canadiens fielded a defense corps that had a grand total of 932 regular season games under their belt. Those games were concentrated between two players – David Savard and Chris Wideman. The remaining four players had a grand total of 14 games of NHL experience.

Later in the year, Mike Matheson and Joel Edmundson would rejoin the lineup with mixed results. Matheson’s addition helped; Edmundon’s didn’t.

If we fast forward to today, the young defensemen on the squad have gained valuable experience, Matheson should start the season with the Canadiens and Jeff Petry could start the season with the team as well.

There are still a lot of if’s associated with the team. Petry could be traded, Wideman seems like a longshot to make the team and at least one of the young d-men is likely to begin the season as the 7th d-man. But for arguments sake, let’s assume Petry is still in Montreal when the puck drops for the first game.

The starting six could look like this on opening night.

Jeff Petry864
David Savard735
Mike Matheson465
Jonathan Kovacevic77
Jordan Harris75
Kaiden Guhle44

Waiting in the wings would be Arber Xhekaj with 51 NHL games played and Justin Barron ready for recall from Laval with 46 NHL games played.

If you subtract Petry and add Barron, the defense still has 1442 games of NHL experience to start the season. significantly more than what the opening night roster had last year.

But simply focusing on games played overlooks the fact that the two most experienced defensemen on the team would not be considered 1st pairing players on a competitive squad. Savard is better suited to a #5 or #6 role with penalty killing responsibilities while Wideman would be a #6 or #7 role with occasional power play time. It was hardly a veteran corps around which to build a defense.

As a result, inexperienced players were heavily relied upon to shoulder much of the load. This year they will have their experience to draw on and there’s a chance that the veteran presence surrounding them is an improvement over last year.

As an interesting side note, Jeff Petry was probably the best skater among Canadiens’ defensemen when he left the team. Even if he hasn’t slowed down, there are a trio of defensemen on the team who may be even better. They are Matheson, Guhle and Harris. Digging deeper, I would argue that Xhekaj is also a better skater than Edmundson. It would all add up to very mobile defense corps with the exception of Savard who brings other attributes to the table.

The caveat is that Hughes seems likely to make a trade involving a defenseman either before the season or at that trade deadline and that defenseman seems likely to be Petry.

Regardless of what moves GM Kent Hughes might make, this year’s edition of the Canadiens promises to have a very interesting group of defensemen with the potential to excel.

Options In Goal and Right Defense

By JD Lagrange – What came first? The Chicken, or the egg? The Montreal Canadiens find themselves in a similar dilemma. Is their goaltending bad because of their young defense or does the youth at that position is exposed because of sub-par goaltending? Not an easy question to answer.

Here’s what we do know. Everyone must do their jobs to the best of their abilities. We know that the Canadiens’ defense will be young. And with youth with inevitably come “rookie mistakes”. You cannot have one without the other. Those young defensemen will do their jobs to the best of their abilities – and there is no lack of skills – while the coaching staff, led by Stéphane Robidas, will work on helping them develop and learn from their mistakes. That, we know for sure.

Jake Allen

This leaves goaltending. Jake Allen was hired as Carey Price’s backup. He’s found himself in a spot that is not his as the team’s undisputed number one since Price fell to a serious knee injury. So this will be the second season where he will be asked to carry (no pun intended) the load. A true pro, and while he has done fairly well, his entire career has shown that he’s not capable to be a true number one, even less so on a rebuilding team. At best, he’s good in a 1A – 1B situation.

The issue the Canadiens find themselves in today is that neither Samuel Montembeault nor Cayden Primeau are stepping up to prove that they are ready to have any impact at the NHL level. We can use Primeau’s age (23) to justify that he needs another year (or two) in the AHL as the starter, but Montembeault will turn 26 in a few days. If he’s not ready to be a NHL backup today, he may never be.

Goaltending options

The Canadiens decided to pass on claiming 36 year-old goaltender Anton Khudobin, placed on waivers by the Dallas Stars yesterday. This is most likely due to in part to his fairly high cap (one year remaining at $3.33 million). But that doesn’t mean that the two teams couldn’t work out of trade where the Stars either keep salary or they could take one of the Canadiens’ bad contracts in return. So stay tuned.

There are also two teams who currently have three veteran goaltenders at camp and unless they trade one of them, they will have to try sneaking one through waivers. Here are their situations:

VEGASLaurent Brossoit292.90.895$2.325M (1 yr)
Adin Hill262.66.906$2.175M (1 yr)
Michael Hutchinson32*3.23*.899$750k (1 yr)
SEATTLEPhilipp Grubauer303.16.889$5.9M (5 yrs)
Chris Driedger282.96.899$3.5M (2 yrs)
Martin Jones323.42.900$2M (1 yr)
* AHL stats

Statistically speaking, none of these guys had an outstanding season last year. But they are veteran goaltenders who have seen plenty of pucks and have the potential of providing an improvement over Montembeault and help for Allen.

For those concerned about Montembeault not clearing waivers, just a reminder that he’s on a one-way, $1 million contract for two years. This means that if a team wants to send him down to the AHL, not only will he have to clear waivers, but not all teams are willing to pay such a goaltender $1 million in the AHL. Further, the following are not stats to worry about losing a goaltender to waivers, are they? At least not this early on.


Right defense

The Canadiens have another glaring need which was created since Shea Weber didn’t return. It got amplified when Jeff Petry was traded and while 20 year-old Justin Barron is showing promises, he will inevitably spend some time in Laval this season. We’re talking about the need for a quality right-handed defenseman, of course.


Don’t be shocked if the Canadiens pick one off waivers in the coming days. The teams I would certainly keep an eye on are, in alphabetical order:

  • Anaheim Ducks
  • Arizona Coyotes
  • Boston Bruins
  • Carolina Hurricanes
  • Calgary Flames
  • Dallas Stars
  • Los Angeles Kings
  • Minnesota Wild
  • St. Louis Blues
  • San Jose Sharks
  • Seattle Kraken
  • Winnipeg Jets

All of the above-mentioned teams have a surplus of defensemen who must clear waivers, many of them have some right-shooting players in there.

Through trade, I still believe that a trade is possible with the Edmonton Oilers, who are apparently looking for secondary scoring. To me, one that makes a lot of sense, is Tyson Barrie for one of Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov or Jonathan Drouin. The salary is close in all cases, particularly for Hoffman.

On the right side right now, the Oilers have, in addition to Barrie, Cody Ceci and Evan Bouchard. None of them are third pairing defensemen so they would be trading from a position of strength.

So whether what we touched on in this article takes place or not, something will be happening between now and Wednesday, October 12th, when the Canadiens open the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre. Kent Hughes is lurking.

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