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Defensive Depth Creating Trade Flexibility For Canadiens



Montreal Canadiens defenceman Mike Matheson

Young Montreal Canadiens defenders are knocking on the door to make the jump full-time to the NHL, opening up potential trade possibilities down the line.

It hasn’t been an easy time for the Canadiens’ blueline over the last few years with all the injuries, but, with injury comes opportunity.

It’s what’s allowed youngsters like Kaiden Guhle, Arber Xhekaj, Jordan Harris, Justin Barron and, just recently, Jayden Struble to make an impact at the NHL level.

Despite odds pointing toward another disappointing finish for the Montreal Canadiens, according to some bookies from Alberta, the opportunity being afforded to the Canadiens young blueliners provides the organization with a dual benefit

One the one hand, the team is able to evaluate their youngsters to determine the organizational hierarchy, helping them decide what’s missing or what they may have in surplus.

The other is that, there are simply too many of these defencemen to fit on the same roster, as all but one of the players mentioned above is left-handed. An overabundance of good players at the same position can be a headache for a coach like Martin St-Louis when it comes to line combinations, but it’s a major advantage for a general manager like Kent Hughes.

Montreal Hockey Now has learned that NHL clubs have already begun scouting the Canadiens’ defence over the last few weeks as well, with eyes on a few of the names mentioned above.

Canadiens’ Incoming Logjam

As of this moment, the Montreal Canadiens currently have Mike Matheson, Guhle, Xhekaj, Harris and Struble as legitimate NHL-caliber defencemen, with Matheson being the lone veteran among the group.

You also have the likes of William Trudeau in Laval or the recently recalled Mattias Norlinder that are also in the fold.

In the amateur ranks, the Canadiens have the exciting Lane Hutson and Adam Engstrom that could be making the jump to professional hockey in North America by season’s end.

In fact, with Hutson is likely to join the Canadiens sometime between late March or early April, depending on how far Boston University goes in the NCAA Championships. With nothing left to learn at the collegiate level, Hutson likely signs his entry-level deal and joins the Canadiens for their final few games of the season; giving fans and management an idea of what’s to come.

Engstrom could be served with one more year in the SHL playing top pairing minutes with Rogle, but it’s a toss-up at this point as to whether he crosses the Atlantic in 2024 or 2025.

Nonetheless, that’s at least seven defencemen with legitimate NHL ability or aspirations; meaning that, especially at the NHL level, some moves will need to be made.

Déjà Vu

This isn’t the first time the Montreal Canadiens have run into this “problem” though, as the summer of 2022 presented general manager Kent Hughes with a similar opportunity.

For years. his predecessor Marc Bergevin over-corrected the organization’s lack of left-shot defencemen through the draft, due to the release of  veteran Andrei Markov and the trading of blue-chip prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

Inheriting a prospect pool filled with left-shot defencemen, Hughes was able to deal from a position of strength and extracted the 13th overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft from the New York Islanders in exchange for promising defenceman Alexander Romanov.

The pick was then instantly flipped in a deal for Kirby Dach; a sequence of events that not only shook the Bell Center to it’s core, but has proved to be a shrewd move ever since, despite Dach’s lack of luck in the health department.

Fast forward two years later, and the Canadiens find themselves in a similar situation, except, this time, they have more options.

In 2022, Romanov was the defenceman with the most amount of current value on the Canadiens’ roster that could be deemed expendable, especially after the CHL playoff run for both Kaiden Guhle and Arber Xhekaj.

With the rapid improvement of Jayden Struble and the coming of blue-chip prospect Lane Hutson, the Canadiens could take this in many directions.

Inevitable Moves Coming

With the way things have turned out, the defencemen least likely to be sacrificed would have to be Kaiden Guhle and Lane Hutson, who are two of the brightest assets for the Montreal Canadiens.

Jayden Struble and Arber Xhekaj play very similar, aggressive styles, while Jordan Harris has more of a safe, two-way style and versatility in being able to play both left and right.

However, the Canadiens defenceman with arguably the highest peak value would be veteran Mike Matheson, who is on pace for a 60-point campaign while making a meager $4.875M until 2026.

Turning 30 in just a few months, it seems unlikely that Matheson will be part of the long-term in Montreal, with Lane Hutson and Kaiden Guhle pegged to hold down the top spots on the left side for years to come.

With two years remaining on his deal, his value to teams will not only be found on his on-ice play, but on their cap structure.

Given the rising salary cap, salaries of Matheson’s ilk will nearly double. Not only will it eventually price him out of Montreal, but it means that he instantly becomes more of a bargain over the next two years  than he already is for rival clubs.

Given the nature of the rebuild, an eventual Matheson trade seems almost inevitable, given how the Canadiens have drafted and built up their prospect pool.

However, if they fee they’d like to retain Matheson for an extra year, to ensure a proper transition for Lane Hutson, then it wouldn’t be outlandish to see the names of Xhekaj, Struble or Harris pop up in discussions over the next few months.

Either way, it’s a good spot to be in.