Canadiens’ Defensive Depth Gets Tested with Edmundson Injury

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Joel Edmundson’s seen this story unfold before, last season in fact. The question on the minds of Habs fans at this point must be whether or not there will be a similar ending.

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Out indefinitely with a lower-body injury, Edmundson played just 24 games in 2021-22, part of a season in which the Canadiens set a dubious record of 731 man-games lost (and finished in last place). The signs are there for an unwanted encore, with Edmundson’s case simply being the worst of the bunch.

The injuries listed in the tweet above are of course in addition to those previously reported to forward Paul Byron, who the Canadiens envision returning from injury sooner rather than later, and goalie Carey Price, who they do not (potentially at all). So, all that to say, the Canadiens’ depth is getting tested right from the get-go, but especially on defense.

Edmundson Had Been Roster Certainty

Heading into this season, the Canadiens’ already precarious blue-line situation kind of hinged on staying healthy. To maintain some semblance of game-to-game respectability, Mike Matheson, David Savard, Chris Wideman and Edmundson were objectively seen as roster certainties, even if only to help bring along the young guys in Jordan Harris, Justin Barron and maybe Kaiden Guhle. Now what?

Joel Edmundson
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Joel Edmundson – (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Well, reports of other teams being interested in Edmundson were likely never going to lead to anything to begin with, based on the need for veteran leadership on defense. You can most certainly kiss any potential trade goodbye now, not just with regard to Edmundson, but anyone else on defense too.

The Canadiens need whoever they’ve got in the worst way at this point, and that includes at-one-time projected seventh-defenseman Corey Schueneman, who’s theoretically being thrust not just into the role of a regular, but a veteran presence comparatively speaking too. Keep in mind, despite being 27, Schueneman played in his first NHL season last year. More to the point, like Edmundson, he also played in just 24 games.

Schueneman Suddenly Set to Star

If Edmundson is out even for a game, Schueneman is the likeliest to draw into the lineup as a fellow-lefthanded shot (who can also be deployed on the right). As such, Schueneman has significant value as a depth option here, ironically as a pending unrestricted free agent. Not only is he playing for his next contract, but Schueneman is relatively expendable, at least compared to the Canadiens’ younger defensemen with more of a long-term future in the organization.

Obviously, in an ideal world, the Canadiens would re-sign Schueneman. The point here is that, as Sportsnet’s Eric Engels suggested prior to the Edmundson injury, the Habs will have to balance a result-based approach with the need for player development. One likely scenario is rotating the three aforementioned young defensemen in and out of the lineup and between the NHL and American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket.

Corey Schueneman Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Corey Schueneman – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Seeing as the Canadiens just gave up the third-most shots in the league (34.4 per game), the emphasis should more so be on the development end of the spectrum. It has to be, realistically speaking. It’s not like the Canadiens have improved drastically on defense, arguably actually taking a step back, when they traded Jeff Petry for Mike Matheson. Everyone else is returning for all intents and purposes, with Edmundson having been penned in to play a predominant role, especially as an alternate captain.

So, things were always going to take a turn for the worse from a defensive standpoint in 2022-23. The fact they already have does not exactly bode well for those aforementioned results. A guy like Schueneman, whose ceiling isn’t as high as that of any of the Habs’ young guns, should be relied on to take on harder defensive assignments, especially now.

Canadiens Brace for Losing 2022-23 Season

In other words, while still allowing for mistakes to be made for the sake of their development, shielding Barron, Guhle and Harris must be the priority, because the season is already lost. Even so, that doesn’t mean 2022-23 has to be a lost season, only that it will inevitably be a losing one. There is still a lot to be gained, in terms of experience.

Related: 5 Signs Canadiens Are in Fact Still Rebuilding in 2022-23

There is no other conclusion to come to, ironically mere days after Edmundson himself told the media at the team’s annual golf tournament that “rebuilding, that was last year.” And, with the rebuild almost officially now continuing this season, players like Schueneman and fringe NHLer Madison Bowey, who was signed as a free agent, are presumably going to have to step up simply to eat ice time.

Madison Bowey Detroit Red Wings
Current-Montreal Canadiens defenseman Madison Bowey – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Canadiens do have priority when it comes to waiver-wire claims. It stands to reason they’ll exercise that right if Edmundson’s injury is serious enough. However, barring special circumstances, the Canadiens should be focusing on acquiring players of Schueneman’s mold. Their depth, especially on Edmundson’s left side, is set for years to come in theory. Adding to it would only make a developmental rotation in and out of the lineup that much harder to maintain.

Ultimately, the Canadiens have most of the pieces they want in place, but, as Edmundson proves, not everything can be planned out perfectly. There are kinks that need to be worked out, but on the plus side no one should be looking to this season as one in which major progress is shown on any one front. So, there’s no ending about which to be worried, just the next phase in what has to be considered a long-term process. The Edmundson injury is just a minor setback.

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