There’s an adage in sports: you can never have enough healthy players.
And while that rings true in most cases, sometimes there are simply not enough minutes to go around, which leads to tense locker-room dynamics and thinly-veiled frustration.
“It’s a good problem when you have too many injuries,” said St-Louis. “But sometimes it becomes a legitimate problem when the team is healthy because there are always players sitting out.
For example, Jonathan Kovacevic, who has quickly become one of the Canadiens’ most reliable defenders, will sit out Saturday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
He doesn’t deserve to sit, but as St-Louis mentions, the press box assignment has nothing to do with his overall play.
“He’s coming out of the lineup because we have 7 defencemen and one has to sit,” said St-Louis. “But he’s given us great hockey. He’s got a good hockey mind. I didn’t know him as a player to start the year, but he supports the offence quite well, and not just in the offensive zone. He’s good in transition because he can read the ice. That allows us to enter the offensive zone with control. I’m quite impressed by Kovacevic this year.
“Sometimes a rookie sits, and they can absorb a lot of information from the pressbox.”
At 25 years old it’s unlikely Kovacevic will learn much from spending the night as a healthy scratch. Truth be told, he needs to gain experience in the NHL.
But St-Louis is right to be impressed by Hamilton native’s play through the first 11 games of the year, a feeling that extends to the three other rookies currently playing on the Canadiens’ blueline.
“Nothing is given,” he said. “Everything is earned. They started the year in Montreal because they deserved it. And since then, they’ve deserved to be in the lineup.”
Telling a player he will not be in the lineup after mentioning they deserve a spot is not an easy conversation. Inevitably, feathers will be ruffled, and patience will wear thin.
“It can be difficult to manage morales,” said St-Louis. “They’re all competitive. So we’re trying to do the best we can. It’s not always an easy decision. We’re trying to make the right decisions based on our short and long-term goals.”
It’s a challenging situation that puts St-Louis in a difficult position. As a former player, he knows how important it is to maintain regular ice time.
But the harsh reality of the situation is, for now, some players will miss games despite playing well.
“We’ll manage the decisions day-to-day, but players aren’t necessarily sitting because they’ve played poorly,” said St-Louis. “We need to continue to push forward, and sometimes it takes a player sitting to find minutes for others.”
The situation has not yet reached a boiling point, however, the Canadiens, who are actively trying to alleviate the roster concerns by exploring trade options, will be forced into making moves sooner rather than later.
Something has to give.