Canadiens Potential 2023 Free Agents – Right Defencemen
The Montreal Canadiens have one of the deepest prospect pools in the league, but there’s a clear discrepancy when it comes to the balance of left and right-handed defencemen.
Players such as Lane Hutson, Adam Engstrom, Petteri Nurmi, Jayden Struble, Nicolas Beaudin and William Trudeau all shoot left, while Logan Mailloux is probably the only right-handed defenceman with a reasonable chance to eventually play in the NHL.
The same issue exists on the present-day roster. The left is populated by players like Kaiden Guhle, Mike Matheson, Jordan Harris, and Arber Xhekaj, while the right features players like David Savard, Chris Wideman, and Johnathan Kovacevic.
Of the three, Kovacevic was far and away the best defenceman last season, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue he’s a cornerstone player.
In this article, we’ll take a look at four defencemen that would balance the lineup for general manager Kent Hughes while also bringing important skills to the table.
(Editor’s Note: Justin Barron was mistakenly omitted from the list of available right-handed defencemen.)
John Klingberg – 67 GP, 10G, 23A, 33 PTS.
Expiring Contract: 1 year, $7,000,000 AAV.
Klingberg is the most interesting right-handed defenceman that’s set to become a free agent this summer.
The 30-year-old spent the majority of the season with the lowly Anaheim Ducks, where he earned eight goals and 16 assists in 50 games. Klingberg went on to score two goals and seven assists in 17 games following a trade to the Minnesota Wild, not to mention four points in four games during the playoffs.
Given the Canadiens were among the teams in the running to sign Klingberg last summer, there’s a healthy chance they’ll renew their interest now that his one-year contract has expired.
It’s also worth noting Klingberg has mentioned he’s open to the idea of signing with the Canadiens if the interest is mutual.
There are certainly some red flags in his game, as evidenced by his poor underlying numbers with both the Ducks and the Wild during the regular season, but his short time in the playoffs yielded great results. While Klingberg was on the ice, the Wild controlled 80 percent of the goals, over 56 percent of the shots, and 62 percent of the high-danger chances.
Despite being on the wrong side of 30, Klingberg is the type of defenceman the Canadiens desperately need in their lineup. His offensive awareness is elite and he’s great in transition. He’s also quite useful on the power play.
One of Klingberg’s favourite plays is joining the rush, much like what Canadiens fans saw from Mike Matheson last season.
The sticking point could end up being Klingberg’s price tag, which would make him the highest-paid defenceman on the team.
MUST READ: A comprehensive look at the Montreal Canadiens’ salary cap situation next season.
The Habs certainly have some cap space to work with next season, but a long-term contract could possibly handcuff the team when players such as Kaiden Guhle, Kaiden Guhle, and Jordan Harris are ready for a new contract.
Damon Severson – 81 GP, 7G, 26A, 33 PTS.
Expiring Contract: 6 years, $4.166,666 AAV.
Most teams would rush to re-sign a player like Severson, but the New Jersey Devils currently have an embarrassment of riches on the blueline thanks to players such as John Marino, Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Ryan Graves, who were all given more average ice time than Severson in 2022-23.
With Luke Hughes set to earn a full-time job next season and Simon Nemec thriving in the AHL, there simply is not enough ice time to go around.
Severson, 28, is a physical defenceman that also excels in the offensive zone. He led all Devils players in shot control this season, with an impressive 56.5 percent shot share (CF%). The main driving force behind his success was how many high-danger chances the Devils controlled while he was on the ice (65 percent). Consequently, Severson also led all Devils players in expected goals (60.7 percent).
An unreal pass from Damon Severson (@dseves7) leads to a memorable moment for Yegor Sharangovich. #NHLFaceOff pic.twitter.com/JpEVkdKQ8j
— NHL (@NHL) January 16, 2021
Thanks to his excellent results last year and the probability this will be the biggest contract he signs during his career, Severson is likely expecting a significant raise this summer, which may mitigate some of the interest from the Canadiens, but there’s no denying he’s the type of defenceman head coach Martin St-Louis would love to have in his lineup.
The biggest hurdle for the Canadiens would be convincing him to sign a long-term deal with the team. Severson is reportedly not interested in signing in a big market like Montreal, but things can and do change in a hurry in the NHL.
Kevin Shattenkirk – 75 GP, 4G, 23A, 27 PTS.
Expiring Contract: 3 years, $3,900,000 AAV.
At 34 years old, Shattenkirk is the elder of the group, but he has shown he still has something to offer in the NHL, even while playing for the Ducks, one of the worst teams in the league.
His underlying numbers relative to his teammates were all positive, including his expected goals for percentage (rel. xGF%), high-danger chance control (rel. HDCF%) and shot control (rel. CF%).
He’s not the first guy you want to target, but given the dearth of options in free agency, a reasonable, short-term contract could work out for a team like the Canadiens.
Radko Gudas – 72 GP, 2G, 15A, 17 PTS
Expiring Contract: 3 years, $2,500,000 AAV.
Gudas may very well be the most hated defenceman in the league.
And for good reason.
He’s a nasty player that has been suspended at nauseam by the NHL. Hell, I’m fairly certain Christina Aguilera based her song ‘Dirrty’ on Gudas’ play.
But what makes Gudas even more frustrating to play against is that he’s incredibly efficient in his own zone.
The defence! pic.twitter.com/3AQNPuOuuq
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) May 19, 2023
Think of it this way.
Every time a team spends significant assets at the deadline to bolster their lineup with a ‘tough’ defenceman, they’re looking for a player like Gudas.
But those players are few and far between.
Gudas doesn’t bring the same skillset to the table as Klingberg, Shattenkirk or Severson, and his presence would be made somewhat redundant by Arber Xhekaj, however, given how poorly they performed this season it’s clear the Canadiens could definitely use some help in the defensive zone.
That concern would be addressed by signing Gudas.
All statistics cited are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick.
Micah Blake McCurdy’s excellent hockey viz is available here.
All salary cap information via CapFriendly.
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Savard , Kovacevic and Barron what else do you need. Someone writes an article and doesn’t know who all the defensemen are on the Canadiens? Look at this https://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/leagues/seasons/teams/0000452023.html to see the Canadiens stats for last year to check who you are missing.
Barron was included in the article in an editor’s note.
As a note that the author forgot about him!
Why do we need ANY free agents, especially in defence? We have Edmundson, Matheson, Guhle, Harris, and Xhekaj all on the left side already and with Hutson and Engstrom coming soon. We have Kovacevic, Barron, Savard and Wideman on the right side already with Mailloux on the way in the future. That’s NINE defenceman already on the roster. We need to be moving defenceman OUT of Montreal, not bringing any in.
Gudas is the type of player that I loath even in a Canadiens uniform! He’s a Neanderthal-like player that brings the level of the game way down. He was even lectured by a referee against his Neanderthal-style play. Hockey belongs to intellectuals like Suzuki and not Neanderthals.
I actually will agree with the consensus responses herein and state that we do not need to sign a RD UFA. Would be very nice, but not unless we get a bargain deal – like the one we signed Tofoli to three years ago.
Since the Panthers 1st rd pick is now nothing special on its own, I would use that pick, and package Engstrom + whatever it takes to complete the deal, to move up to get either RDs Rienbacher or Pellikka. Given that HUGE LD list above, Engstrom is expendable for a RD swap…
Or, trade Anderson, who apparently is beyond loved by every team in the NHL, for either a top RD prospect, or to move up in draft to get Rien or Pell above,
In the absence of trades like that, I say just wait until next season and see if Mailloux can hang on the big team, then go from there.