After the gut-wrenching decision to waive Rem Pitlick, another one is on the horizon for the Montreal Canadiens as Mike Matheson nears a return.
With the Canadiens now carrying 14 forwards, seven defencemen and two goalies, the return of Matheson will require another move to be made in order to reintegrate him into the active roster.
It appears that Matheson is not too far away from a return to health, as he was seen at practice today pushing himself quite hard on the ice; a sign that he’s trending in the right direction.
— Stu Cowan (@StuCowan1) November 7, 2022
So who gets the proverbial axe when Matheson returns?
Let’s take a look.
Sending Down A Youngster
It would be an unpopular decision, but likely the easiest way out for Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes.
Jordan Harris, Kaiden Guhle and Arber Xhekaj are all waiver-exempt, while Juraj Slafkovsky and Cole Caufield are the only waiver-exempt forwards at the moment. It would be surprising to see the Canadiens remove another forward from their group after having placed Rem Pitlick on waivers on Tuesday, which leaves the three young defencemen to consider.
As it stands right now, Kaiden Guhle is a virtual lock to stay with the Canadiens for the entirety of the season, as he’s logged some important minutes for the club and seems to be improving game-by-game. Alongside veteran David Savard, Guhle has faced the best the NHL has to offer night-in, night-out and has come out looking impressive.
Jordan Harris has been an unsung hero so far this season, playing a responsible and intelligent game that has drawn the praise of head coach Martin St-Louis throughout this young season. He’s formed a solid minute-munching pairing with waiver claim Jonathan Kovacevic that has produced the best underlying numbers on the club so far.
Arber Xhekaj has also had his moments of dominance this year, and in more ways than one. The towering defender has punished his opposition with bone-crushing hits and some devastating punches, but has had more trouble of late keeping up with coverage in the defensive zone.
If one of these three had to be demoted at this very moment, it would be hard to argue against Xhekaj, even though he’s become a fan favourite in a very short time.
It would be the easiest solution, one that doesn’t jeopardize the Canadiens’ defensive depth down the line and gives Xhekaj the opportunity to play 23+ minutes a night in Laval in all situations. He would then be the first logical call-up in case of injury.
But will Hughes take the easy way out? There’s reason to doubt it.
Waiving Chris Wideman
Veteran Chris Wideman has had a less-than-ideal start to the season.
The offensive defenceman has failed to show consistent offensive ability, despite being afforded top billing on the Canadiens’ power play for the first ten games of the season in Matheson’s absence.
With Matheson likely to take Wideman’s spot on the first power play unit upon his return and Guhle playing an important role on the second wave, Wideman’s use to the team begins to shrink considerably.
His defensive ability has been less than ideal as well, being outplayed by four rookies on the backend in that department.
He is currently the least-used defenceman to have started the season for the Canadiens on October 12 and has already been scratched by head coach Martin St-Louis at least once this season.
If there was a veteran at risk of being waived on the backend, it is most certainly Wideman.
By waiving Pitlick on Monday, Hughes has shown that he’s not afraid to make the difficult decision, and that could result in taking the calculated risk of waiving Wideman.
He has another year on his contract worth $750,000 per year, which might scare off some teams who don’t want to commit the extra year to a 32-year-old.
If he were to clear his cap hit would come off the books for the Montreal Canadiens and they would be able to roll a 23-man roster with the preferred amount of seven defencemen.