Canadiens’ Edmundson the Real Unsung Hero

Joel Edmundson has been one of the most consistent defencemen on the Montreal Canadiens since the season started. There wasn’t any fanfare when he joined the team – as a matter of fact, the reception from the fans was lukewarm at best. However, his play this season has proven all his doubters wrong. He has been a steady defender who makes few mistakes – not only did he have a solid season, but he’s playing even better in the playoffs.

Edmundson Acquired From Carolina

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin acquired the rights to Edmundson from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a fifth-round pick in 2020 before Edmundson hit the free-agent market that offseason, which left a lot of people scratching their heads. It would be perfectly normal to wonder why a GM would waste a draft pick on a soon-to-be free agent when they could wait for the signing period season to start. Edmundson also wasn’t the type of defenceman that the Canadiens needed. They needed a puck-moving, top four defenceman, and Edmundson wasn’t any of that; he is a stay-at-home defenceman who can throw the body and clear the net.

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

Edmundson won the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues in the 2018-19 season, where he played an instrumental part in helping the underdog Blues win the championship – he had 7 points with 36 blocks and 42 hits while averaging 16:32 of ice time in 22 playoff games. Edmundson was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for Justin Faulk that offseason. He struggled with the man-to-man type defence the Hurricanes played, but Bergevin thought he would make a great addition in the Canadiens’ zone style of defence and didn’t want to have a bidding war when Edmundson became a free agent. Bergevin signed Edmundson to a four-year contract shortly after acquiring him.

Stay at Home Defencemen Tend to Stay at Home

The biggest issue with signing Edmundson was that Montreal already had a similar player in Ben Chiarot. Both defencemen bring the same type of game, using their big bodies to hit their opponent and clear the front of the net, and the big difference being Chiarot is a bit faster and has a little more offensive flair than Edmundson. Edmundson is younger by two years, but both are classified as stay-at-home defencemen, which the Canadiens did not need more of.

Ben Chiarot Montreal Canadiens
Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

What the Canadiens needed – and still need – is a top-four, puck-moving defenceman. Edmundson doesn’t have a bad first pass, but he is not a puck-mover – at the time of the signing, which was for four years at $3.5 million per season, fans and media were perplexed at why the team wouldn’t save that money for what they needed. There were some comparisons to the Karl Alzner deal a couple of seasons earlier. Another reason fans and media were puzzled was that they already had similar players on the left side, such as Victor Mete, Brett Kulak, and Alexander Romanov. The previous season, the Canadiens had a hard time getting out of their own zone; Edmundson wasn’t going to help change that because, as they say, a team with stay-at-home defencemen tends to stay at home.

Canadiens’ Defence Struggles but Edmundson Stays Steady

This season, the Canadiens hit the ground running and started hot, winning 7 of their first 10 games and dominating the Vancouver Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers. (from ‘Canadiens’ depth allows them to build off last year’s surprising success,’ Washington Post, 01/29/2021) Every player was cruising on all cylinders, and it looked like the Canadiens would be the surprise team out of the North Division. Then reality hit, and the Canadiens slumped to the point that Bergevin decided to clean house, firing head coach Claude Julien, associate coach Kirk Muller and goalie coach Stephane Waite. They were replaced by Dominique Ducharme, Alex Burrows, and Sean Burke, but the season didn’t get much better – under this new regime, the Canadiens actually had a worse record with Ducharme than under Julien, limping into the playoffs.

While Chiarot, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry all went through slumps during the Canadiens up and down season, Edmundson remained steady and consistent throughout. He led the league in plus/minus for most of the season and finished tied for third at plus-28 – all this on a team that finished minus-7. He led his team in being on the ice for the most goals with at 45, was second among defensemen on the team in the fewest goals against (GA) with 29, he finished second on the team in goals for percentage (GF%) with 62.50%, and he tied for the team lead in high-danger goals for (HDGF) with 24. For a guy who was brought in as a stay-at-home defenseman, he helped provide a lot of offence while still keeping the puck out of the Canadiens net.

Edmundson Continues Steady Play Into Playoffs

Edmundson in these playoffs has been just as steady and dependable – so far – as he was in the regular season. He’s fourth on the team in minutes played with 159:43, and he has a 53.26 Corsi for percentage (CF%) – second on the team among defensemen. He leads the team in goals for (GF) with six goals scored while he is on the ice, he’s second amongst defensemen in GF% with 54.54, and is second on the team in expected goals for percentage (xGF%) with 57.78. He has been a machine on the blueline for the Canadiens in these playoffs and a huge reason why the Habs have won five games in a row.

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Edmundson didn’t look like much coming into the season, but his hard work and consistent play have made him one of the best defencemen on the Canadiens. Edmundson continues to surprise even the deepest doubters with his play and shows every game why Bergevin didn’t want to wait for free agency to acquire him. With Edmundson’s play and the Canadiens finally working in a good system, “Steady Eddie” could help lead Montreal to the title of Kings of the North, and be their true unsung hero.


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