Other Canadiens Season Preview Articles:
- Must-Watch Players at Training Camp
- Forward Line Predictions
- 2021-22 Top Storylines
- 2021-22 Season Predictions
- Top Prospects to Watch at Rookie Camp
Last week, I wrote an article where I predicted what the Montreal Canadiens‘ forward lines would look like, so this week I will continue that thread and take a stab at what the defensive pairings will be next season. There have been a few changes on the blue line for the team, the biggest being the loss of captain Shea Weber. Weber will miss the season due to multiple injuries, which will force a bit of a shake-up for the Canadiens on the back end.
Who’s In and Who’s Out
The Canadiens didn’t have many moves on the blue line, but a few will be changing cities. Here is a list of who left Montreal and who joined the team.
Shea Weber, right-handed defensemen ; Injured, out for season
Erik Gustafsson, left-handed defensemen; Free Agent (FA), unsigned
Jon Merrill, left-handed defensemen; FA, signed by Minnesota Wild
Cale Fleury, right-handed defensemen; Selected by Seattle Kraken at the expansion draft
David Savard, right-handed defensemen; Signed as an FA
Chris Wideman, right-handed defensemen; Signed as an FA
Every loss aside from Weber can easily be replaced. However, Fleury was a great prospect that could be missed further down the line. Here is how the defensive pairings could turn out next season.
The top pairing is pretty easy to figure out: it will be the same as it was last season. Believe it or not, Joel Edmundson and Jeff Petry‘s pairing ended up being at the top last season. Many would think that it was Weber and Ben Chiarot, but that wasn’t the case. Petry solidified himself as the Canadiens’ top defenseman last season, and Edmundson’s consistent play helped Petry elevate his game.
With the success that Edmundson and Petry had last season and the absence of Weber, there is no reason to think that they won’t be the top duo again. Petry, with Edmundson, has a little more freedom to play a more offensive role, which allows him to step up and help the forwards. Edmundson was the most reliable defenseman in his own zone and was a perfect fit for Petry. As the old saying goes, “don’t fix what isn’t broken.”
The second pairing will be a little more difficult to decide, because there are more options in play. The right side of the pairing will be simple: Savard, who was signed as an FA in the offseason to help fill the defensive hole left by Weber. He won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning and brought great pedigree to the Canadiens. The left side — people can assume — will be big, rugged Ben Chiarot, but then you are left with two stay-at-home defensemen with little offence between the two of them.
Last season, Chiarot was paired with Weber. Pairing him with Savard wouldn’t be much different, but Weber had a little more offensive flair, although most of his points came on the power play — 11 of 19, to be precise. Pairing two defensive-minded defensemen together isn’t the greatest idea in the regular season, but the Canadiens have been trying to make it work for a few years now. The best option for the second pairing would be to match Alexander Romanov with Savard. This would give Romanov more minutes, give the second pairing an offensive type player, and Savard could cover any mistakes Romanov might make.
The bottom pairing will be made up of Brett Kulak and either Chiarot or Romanov. With Kulak, the line gets a good transition defenseman who can provide some offense and steady defense. The issue with Kulak is he tends to be inconsistent and makes game-changing mistakes.
Pairing with Kulak should be Chiarot, but my guess is — to start the season, at least — it will be Romanov. The only issue with either of these guys playing on the bottom pairing with Kulak is they are both left-handed like Kulak is, and one will have to play the right side. Romanov played the right side last season with Kulak and is used to that position, but if Kulak pairs with Chiarot he will probably be the one on the right side. This will be a good pairing no matter who is on it with any one of these players able to slide into the top four when needed.
Wideman will slot in as the seventh defenseman, if he doesn’t get beat out by someone like Josh Brook, who had a great season with the Laval Rocket, or Canadiens’ prospect Mattias Norlinder, who is really catching fire in Europe. Brook will be a longshot to make the team and is entering the last year of his entry-level contract, so he will be playing for his next one. Look to see him get bigger minutes in Laval along with time in Montreal due to inevitable in-season injuries. Norlinder has the skill to be the puck-moving defenseman the Canadiens have been looking for for years. The problem is they need that skill on the top four; unless Norlinder has an amazing rookie and training camp, I don’t see him making the team, and being a seventh defensemen or part of the bottom pairing would be a waste at this stage in his development.
The defensive pairings next season should look like this:
Edmundson – Petry
Romanov/Chiarot – Savard
Chiarot/Romanov – Kulak
It will be an interesting training camp and fans should fully expect Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin to use his cap relief from the Weber injury to acquire a puck-moving defenseman, which will change this entire lineup. If that happens, Kulak will be the seventh guy with Chiarot/Romanov on the bottom pairing.
Trege Wilson has been a freelance content writer for the past four years and with the THW for the past year. He is the co-host of the popular Montreal Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered on IHeartRadio.com.Trege is very passionate about all things Canadiens and loves to provide his readers with great quality news, rumours and opinions on the Montreal Canadiens. Trege has also been featured on JblamSports and JDFSports Podcasts; for interviews and guest appearances, you can contact him at any of his social media accounts listed under his photo in such articles as this one.