Despite assigning him to the AHL in early December, the Montreal Canadiens are not interested in trading defenceman Arber Xhekaj according to Hockey Insider Elliotte Friedman.
“Just in making my calls, I think they got asked by Xhekaj a little bit,” said Friedman in his latest 32 Thoughts podcast.
Friedman suggested that one of the teams enquiring about Xhekaj’s availability could be the Philadelphia Flyers, though he made sure to explain that was simply an assumption on his part.
“One of the teams I suspect, there’s been a lot of Philadelphia stuff has leaked out here and there, I think it’s because of the Cutter GAuthier stuff, their business was laid bare. I wouldn’t be surprised if Philly was one of those teams. I don’t know if it was a Gauthier deal or something else. It makes a lot of sense. If Xhekaj is not going to be a Canadien, he’s a Flyer. It would make sense. I think they’re one of the teams here.
“But Montreal said no.”
This should come as a relief to a large contingent of Canadiens fans who are well aware that Xhekaj brings more to the lineup than bone-crushing hits and soul-stealing fists.
Xhekaj’s fight last night seen from the stands 🥊 pic.twitter.com/d33FpQO67x
— HFTV (@HFTVSports) January 20, 2024
Not only is Xhekaj one of the toughest players in either the NHL or AHL, but he’s also produced the best underlying numbers of any Habs blueliner.
While Xhekaj is on the ice, the Canadiens control over 50 percent of the shots and 53 percent of the expected goals. No other defenceman has managed to push their numbers over 50 percent this season.
In that sense, the demotion to the AHL did not make very much sense, as they stated the goal was for him to improve his defensive play. As it stands, his defensive numbers are leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else playing defence.
However, his AHL assignment may very well be coming to an end.
The Canadiens announced they had assigned defenceman Justin Barron to the AHL on Monday, which is expected to lead to a well-deserved and overdue recall for Xhekaj. General Manager Kent Hughes also placed Mitchell Stephens on waivers for the purpose of an AHL reassignment, which points to talented prospect Joshua Roy maintaining his place in the lineup. Roy, 20, has looked great since joining the Montreal Canadiens earlier this month.
UPDATE: The Canadiens have indeed recalled Arber Xhekaj from the AHL. He should be in uniform on Tuesday versus the Ottawa Senators.