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Habs Mailbag: Defensive Logjam, Rocket Issues, Trade Options



Montreal Canadiens

Welcome to the first in-season edition of the Montreal Canadiens Mailbag!

Our mailbag is always one of our most popular features, but I’d be hard-pressed to take any credit for its success.

Mostly, it’s because Habs fans have a voracious appetite for all things related to their favourite team, and for that, I would like to offer a sincere thank you to everyone who has participated in the past, as well as those who will submit questions in the future.

This week we discuss several topics, including where Mattias Norlinder will end up, potential trade ideas due to the surplus of goaltenders, trade ideas submitted by Habs Faifhtul, the Laval Rocket’s difficult season, the three-headed monster that is the goaltending situation, Kirby Dach’s injury history, and much more.

If you would like your question answered in the next Canadiens make sure to submit your query in the replies below.


I don’t want to speak for Canadiens management, but I don’t get the sense they called up Mattias Norlinder from the Laval Rocket because they thought he was the most deserving player.

More than anything, it seemed like they re-called someone whom they felt comfortable sitting. A player whose development isn’t all that important compared to younger defencemen in the organization.

And that’s not a good sign for the 23-year-old restricted free agent.

This may be simplistic, but he has not been the same player since he suffered a concussion. His confidence is nowhere to be found, and he has become a tentative player.

I won’t bemoan any player when it comes to playing a more reserved brand of hockey after a brain injury, but the harsh reality of North American hockey is that you can’t be worried every time you head to the corner.

This season we saw a player arrive at camp who was much more confident than in previous years, and that was encouraging, but that confidence quickly faded away once he joined the Laval Rocket.

He’s on an expiring deal and he’s been passed by younger players on the depth chart. What’s more, he was a Marc Bergevin pick, not a Kent Hughes pick.

I could be and often am wrong, but unless he enjoys a sudden and significant uptick in results, I’d be surprised if the team gives him a qualifying offer this summer. I just don’t see a future for Norlinder with the Canadiens.

There’s value to re-igniting chemistry, but at this point in the rebuild, it’s probably time for the Hughes and the Canadiens to focus on elite talent.

They have several reclamation projects in the works already, and they also have a bevy of mid-roster players ready to make the jump in the next few years.

But they still lack elite talent, both in the current lineup and their prospect pool.

I wouldn’t be opposed to acquiring a player like Holloway in a trade, but I would suggest that he should not be valued highly by the Canadiens.

Would he be an interesting throw-in? Yes. Is a player worth paying legitimate assets for? No. At least not for the Canadiens.

The Habs need to set their sights higher.

Full disclosure: I am terrible when it comes to predicting trades, or trade value.

That being said, unlike most people who follow this team, I don’t think the Habs should be in any hurry to trade their defencemen. It’s a position of strength at the moment, but we also have to realize that not every defensive prospect will make their way to the NHL.

If the Canadiens end up having two players who will go on to make a significant impact in the NHL among their defensive prospects, they’ll be lucky.

That’s above average.

But let’s forget the percentage of players that eventually make it to the NHL for a moment.

Jordan Harris carries more value for the Habs than any other team. I’d keep him.

Jayden Struble and Arber Xhekaj would surely attract interest around the league, but they’re also leading the Canadiens when it comes to expected goals percentage this season.

They play a more sheltered role, but they play that role to perfection.

And that leaves Mike Matheson.

His numbers have taken a huge nosedive this season, however, we also have to recognize that he probably should not be facing opposing teams’ best players every night. His production also mitigates some of his defensive woes.

But here’s why I’d lean toward moving him: he’d garner the greatest return.

He produces more than most defencemen in the NHL, but he only carries the 62nd-highest salary cap hit among all blueliners.

The salary cap is going up, which means his $4.85 million annual average value contract will only become more attractive to teams looking to shore up their defensive group.

He’s also older than most of the defencemen on the team, which means he’ll be beyond his prime once the core of the team is ready to compete. Puck-moving defencemen don’t always age all that well when it comes to their on-ice impact.

Of course, there’s value to keeping someone with experience in the lineup, and Matheson currently absorbs a lot of ice time, ice time that his defensive teammates probably could not handle.

In addition, he’s a local player who loves playing in Montreal. That’s rare. And important.

But not important enough to ignore a healthy return in a trade.

1) Justin Barron makes a lot of glaring mistakes, and I think that the perception of his overall play has been warped a little. But he’s far from the greatest defensive liability in the lineup. When he has too much time to think, he often makes the wrong decision, but when he relies on his instincts he can be a very good player. He needs to clean up the big mistakes, but I’m yet to reach the point where I’d suggest he has no future with the team.

2) Bogdan Konyushkov recently signed a three-year extension with Torpedo in the KHL. Don’t expect him to make the jump to North America any time soon.

3) If I had to guess, I’d say Cayden Primeau gets traded because he probably carries a little more value than Jake Allen.

4) I recently spoke to NCAA expert Chris Peters about that very subject, and he strongly believes Jacob Fowler has good odds of taking over the starting goaltender duties for Team USA. It’s Trey Augustine’s job to lose, but Fowler has a long history of shining on big stages.

5) Joshua Roy and Lane Hutson. By a very wide margin, too.

As long as their defensive setups have the structural integrity of a microwaved Kraft Singles slice and their goalies produce numbers that would be concerning in the ECHL, the Laval Rocket will not succeed.

This would have been the perfect time to have Cayden Primeau as an option, but I digress.

Growing pains are to be expected with such a young roster, and when it comes down to it, the AHL is still a development league, but this goes beyond a lack of experience.

There’s no structure to their style of play.

And that’s a recipe for missing the playoffs every season.

By now, you’re all used to my tentative approach to evaluating players. And that applies to coaches, too. I’ve only caught a dozen Rocket games, and while it gives me a decent idea of what’s going on, I’m still a little apprehensive when it comes to criticizing Houle.

He’s dealt with a lot of injuries, a lot of call-ups, and a lot of rookies.

That’s…a lot to deal with.

But I have to say I’m not overly impressed with his lack of adjustments in games. Again, talent has something to do with the equation, but the Rocket are incredibly disorganized.

It’s an issue throughout the lineup.

I feel like Houle is a good coach when it comes to establishing a baseline. He can make a decent team better. But I’m yet to see him excel when it comes to guiding young talent to the next level. Sort of like Michel Therrien.

Players like Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Alex Belzile have joined the Canadiens from the Rocekt and played quite well, but they were not exactly what you’d call young prospects.

It’s too early to make a mid-season change, but the team will have to re-evaluate their coaching situation at the end of the season.

The Canadiens have not provided any update on Jordan Harris’ recovery.

As for David Savard, I’d look to move him because I don’t see him as an important part of the rebuild, but the head coach and general manager probably disagree.

There’s a certain value to having experienced defencemen in the lineup, and we’ve seen Gustav Lindstrom flail since he was promoted to the top pairing. Lindstrom’s numbers are much worse than anything Savard has produced since he joined the Habs.

You can’t ignore a solid return in a trade offer, but for now, I don’t expect the Canadiens to actively shop him on the trade market


I wouldn’t be surprised if the Canadiens rotate their defencemen.

And by that, I mean rotate them in the NHL, as well as the AHL.

The team still has a few players that can safely be re-assigned to the AHL without having to go through waivers. And though many of the young defencemen have performed above expectations, some time in Laval could help when it comes to ironing out some of the finer details in their game.

A trade is possible if the logjam gets worse, but not entirely necessary.

We also have to remember the Canadiens lose a player to injury roughly every two games. By next week, we could be discussing which Rocket defencemen should be called up next.

I do not believe the Habs think this is a healthy situation.

But Kent Hughes has a history of keeping players on the NHL roster for a little too long in the hopes that he’ll eventually get some sort of return.

He did it last year with a handful of veterans, and he’s doing it again this year with the three goalies.

Asset management is important, granted, but so is maintaining a healthy locker room.

And so is development. Keeping important minutes tied into potential trades just doesn’t make a lot of sense from a long-term perspective.

Is a fourth or fifth-round pick really worth creating tension among teammates? In my opinion, absolutely not.

I could be wrong.

The Canadiens could end up getting a great asset in return for Allen or Primeau, but given how the goaltender market rarely heats up, I wouldn’t bet on it.

There will always be a surplus of goalies available in the NHL.

And in the meantime, the Laval Rocket are sinking faster than the Toronto Maple Leafs in spring because they desperately need a goaltender.

The goaltending issue needs to be resolved, and it needs to be resolved as soon as possible.

Here’s the thing about acquiring a player with a long injury history on the cheap: all bets are off.

The Canadiens would not have been able to acquire Kirby Dach on the cheap if he did not have a rocky medical history.

In that vein, I’m not surprised he suffered yet another season-ending injury. The latest season-ending injury was random, granted, but when you purchase refurbished items at the store you’ll note they never offer any sort of guarantee.

The same is true for athletes.

That being said, given that he’s yet to play a full season at this stage in his career, perhaps the Canadiens would be wise to look into some sort of load management plan.

Dach is a crucial player in this lineup, but we can’t ignore recurring health issues. Therefore the team needs to adapt.

As for acquiring another top-six centre, I will say yes to that suggestion every day of the week and twice on Tuesdays. The cap comes into play, but just like some GMs think you can never have enough defencemen, I believe you can never have enough talent down the middle of the lineup.

Perhaps that’s just a symptom of watching the Habs struggle due to a lack of talented centermen for 30 or so years.


I’ve only watched two of his games since he came back from his unfortunate concussion, and I don’t feel particularly comfortable making any sort of sweeping statements based on the small sample size.

But I will say this: he didn’t look like a player who just came back from a serious injury. He was driving the net, generating scoring chances, and heading to the dirty areas on the ice.

He was one of the more physical players against the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Given he’s not a centre, even if Heineman hadn’t been injured, Mitchell Stephens would have probably still received the call from the Habs.

He’ll have to improve his defensive acumen if he’s to succeed in the NHL, but there’s no denying Heineman possesses an impressive level of offensive prowess, something the Canadiens lack.

For now, it’s all about finding his rhythm, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you see him in the NHL at some point this season.

First off, any clementine shortage is worthy of panic. That’s just science.

As for the bigger question, I’d say it’s really hard to judge Gorton’s work.

As far as I know, most decisions are a tandem project between Hughes and Gorton.

In that vein, I think they’ve done a pretty good job, overall. Updating the data analysis department, installing a legitimate development plan, and investing in other important areas to modernize the Canadiens’ approach was not just good, it was necessary.

Of the two, I get the sense that Gorton is willing to take more risks. We saw him plead his case for Matvei Michkov in the team’s draft video.

It was the only scene the team allowed to air that showed any sort of push-back, and, of course, those videos are heavily edited.

There are decent odds that someone else deviated from the groupthink, but from the outside, it seemed like Gorton was the only one willing to take a different route, and that’s very healthy in any group.

I disagree with the development path chosen for Juraj Slafkovsky, I don’t like that they ignored Michkov, and I feel like they sacrificed too many opportunities for their young players in the hope that one of their older players will generate a good return in a trade, but overall, I’d say they’re doing fine.

Not great. Not terrible. Just fine.

To end this mailbag with the ultimate cop-out, we also have to acknowledge that many of these decisions could turn out to be excellent.

In other words, time will tell.