The last two trades involving the Montreal Canadiens should be considered smart business from an asset-management point of view.
Not only did general manager Kent Hughes re-acquire Jeff Petry at a reduced cost, as well as a reliable backup goaltender in Casey DeSmith, but he also added a second, third, and seventh-round pick to his draft stock, which offset some of the cost involved in acquiring Alex Newhook from the Colorado Avalanche during the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
However, the biggest win from a developmental standpoint isn’t necessarily related to the newly-acquired draft picks.
By trading Joel Edmundson to the Washington Capitals, Kent Hughes immediately improved the outlook for the various young defencemen that will be competing for a roster spot once the Canadiens’ training camp opens.
Players like Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, and Arber Xhekaj have already proven they can bring more to the table than a declining veteran like Edmundson. Removing him from the equation doesn’t just liberate precious ice time for players that are expected to play a long-term role in the rebuild, but it also eliminates much of the doubt heading into camp.
It’s a vote of confidence from the general manager, one that should go a long way in helping the young defencemen focus on the task at hand.
Kaiden Guhle with a picture perfect set up for Juraj Slafkovsky's third goal of the year! pic.twitter.com/EqaucoIrrq
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 6, 2022
Edmundson played over 16 minutes even-strength minutes per game, not to mention over 3 minutes a night on the penalty kill, and though the Canadiens were far from a powerhouse team it’s only fair to point out that his underlying numbers left something to be desired, to say the least.
The Habs only managed to control a little over 42 percent of the shots and expected goals during Edmundson’s even-strength shifts, as well as just 37 percent of the total goals.
In this particular case, the Montreal Canadiens significantly improved their defensive outlook by simply removing one player from the equation.
Even though most of the discussion focused on Petry’s return to the Canadiens and the possibility that it may not last long, the most important aspect of the deal was once again related to ice time.
The biggest issue last season was that the Canadiens had too many forwards in the mix, and there simply was not enough ice time to go around for younger players.
It was clear the team wanted to keep players like Hoffman and Evgeni Dadonov in the lineup as often as possible in a bid to improve their value in the trade market. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much value to be found, but at the very least, Hughes managed to move Mike Hoffman without retaining any salary, which wasn’t always a likely outcome.
And by also trading Rem Pitlick on Sunday, Hughes increased the odds that young forwards, the ones that are starving for more ice time, will have more opportunities to make their mark.
Hoffman was given a little less than 16 minutes of ice time per game in 2022-23, whereas Pitlick was given a little less than 13 minutes a night. Players such as Juraj Slafkovsky, Jesse Ylonen, and Rafael Harvey-Pinard will certainly benefit from the available ice time on the wing, which is exactly what you want on a team that is entering the second year of their rebuild in earnest.
Ylonen’s goal tonight, what a shot pic.twitter.com/WjGe5MP2VQ
— Habs Fan TV (@HabsFanTV_) March 19, 2023
If there was one significant criticism to be had last season, it was that Slafkovsky was not given enough shifts, as evidenced by the 12:13 of all-situations ice time he was given during his rookie campaign.
The impact could reach all the way to the AHL, seeing as the Laval Rocket should also be able to provide prospects like Sean Farrell, Joshua Roy, and Emil Heinemane a little more ice time. It may even lead to an opportunity to play in the NHL for one of the aforementioned prospects.
And finally, it will improve head coach Martin St-Louis’ options, as he no longer has to worry about balancing the wishes of declining veterans against the best course of action for his young players.
All Montreal Canadiens statistics via NaturalStatTrick