The Montreal Canadiens continue their worst start to a season since the Second World War era. Due to this, it may be the best course of action to simply allow the season to play out and get the highest possible draft pick possible, maybe even hope for winning the draft lottery to select center prospect Shane Wright. However, the Canadiens haven’t selected first overall since the 1980 draft, and the odds are still not in their favor even with a last-place finish at only 16.6%.
While any trade made is highly unlikely to save this season, or affect the team in the standings by more than a few points, it is still general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin’s job to try and improve the team in the long term, even if he is in the last year of his contract. If there is any trade to be made during the season that can impact this franchise long-term, it should involve the addition of a puck-moving defenseman, someone like Samuel Girard.
Canadiens Need Puck Moving Defensemen
The Canadiens biggest organizational need is a puck-moving defenseman. They are a team that has built a forward group that uses speed to create scoring opportunities off the rush in transition. Meanwhile, beyond Jeff Petry, who is more of a puck carrier than a puck distributor, the Canadiens have a significant lack of puck movers.
The top option after Petry is Alexander Romanov, who is only in his second NHL season and has shown some signs that he will become a highly mobile two-way defenseman; he is still in need of development. The drop after them is drastic, with the remaining options being at best bottom pairing, depth defenseman who provide some mobility and transitional play but have too many holes to the rest of their games to be used in a top-four role reliably
Now, the Canadiens have added Mattias Norlinder to the lineup.
Norlinder’s call up from his conditioning stint with the Laval Rocket comes at a time when the Habs need to add mobility to their blueline. He will get his chance to play NHL games in the near future, as, on Nov 8, head coach Dominique Ducharme said the plan was to bring Norlinder back up to the Canadiens and give him a chance to play to show what he can do at this level.
Even if Norlinder has a setback and shows he needs another season back in Europe to develop his game, Bergevin can still attempt to find a more permanent solution.
Related: Canadiens Need to Scrap Current Plan
There have been rumors that the Colorado Avalanche are shopping a puck-moving defenseman in Girard. In this case, they were trying to add a star center in Jack Eichel, however, that does point to the Avalanche wanting to add more scoring to their forward group.
Girard has been a leader for Colorado, wearing the assistant captain ‘A’, so why would he be seen as expendable? My THW colleague Marko Zlomislic provides an answer, as it is due to Bowen Byram’s emergence.
“Not only has Byram outstripped him in terms of scoring and defensive impact, but Girard’s specialty – zone exits and transition play – is matched by the burgeoning blue line gem.”-Marko Zlomislic
Colorado’s surplus of high-end puck-moving defensemen may make Girard’s hold on a top-four and top wave power-play position a struggle, but it provides Avalanche GM, Joe Sakic, an opportunity to leverage his depth to fill other needs on his Stanley Cup contending roster.
The 23-year-old Roberval, Quebec native is an excellent example of the NHL’s new generation of puck-moving defensemen. Girard’s major strength is his skating. He has excellent speed and mobility thanks in large part to his edgework. He uses them effectively to aid in his first step speed but also to make quick cuts and changes in direction which he uses to generate space for himself when he has possession or to close gaps defensively.
Last season, Girard had 32 points in 48 games played for an Avalanche squad that competed for the President Trophy all season long, and he did so while averaging over 23 minutes per game playing in all situations. This season, however, he is off to a slow start, having some difficulties defensively. Also, with only three points in eight games, he has seen his ice time scaled back in favor of Byram.
Considering the recent signings of puck-moving defensemen to massive long-term deals, Girard’s contract of $5 million through the 2026-27 season is a reasonable deal for a puck-moving defenseman who can control the transition game and quarterback a power play. On the Habs roster, as a left-handed defenseman, he would instantly fill the top pairing role at 5v5 and would immediately supplant Chris Wideman on the Canadiens’ power play. Girard’s skill for puck distribution would be an instant, effective and long-term help to the struggling Habs offence. Being from the province of Quebec, in a market that craves local heroes would be an added bonus that also comes with its own pressures.
The Canadiens’ Cost
As mentioned above, it makes sense that Sakic would want to add some offensive forwards. Recently they lost Joonas Donskoi to the Seattle Kraken and Brendan Saad to the St-Louis Blues. With them gone, the Avalanche lost two significant depth scoring threats that can also provide excellent defensive play. Since then, they haven’t been able to replace the experience lost, instead, relying on their younger players such as Tyson Jost and Alex Newhook.
For the Canadiens, this means making a trade that could hurt their forward depth on the NHL roster in the short term. The salary cap restrictions, both teams are hovering near the cap ceiling, also means that the cap hits must be similar. Adding a puck-moving defenseman of Girard’s calibre would not be cheap. For the Avalanche to move Girard, they would likely need to replace some of what they lost over the offseason. That means it will take more than someone like Paul Byron.
Two names that would be a fit for the Avalanche are Jonathan Drouin and Artturi Lehkonen. Both provide a similar impact to Colorado that Saad and Donskoi had for their roster. If both are offered in a deal for Girard, the cap is an issue, and it would take Bergevin retaining salary on one of the contracts to help make the numbers work. There is likely more involved in any possible deal, but the basis of a deal is possible.
To make a move of this magnitude during the season would be a departure from Bergevin’s usual approach of avoiding large-scale trades in season. However, in his 10th season as the GM of the Canadiens, and the fact that he is in the final year of his contract with no public plan on he will remain in his post, perhaps it is time for him to try a different approach and add a Quebec born and trained talent to attempt to modernize the blueline with a proven puck-moving defenseman that can fit in with his new young core of players over the long term.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 29 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist with the goal to be a trusted source of information and entertainment.