Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price is poised to return to the Habs, which is great news. Indisputably so. However, the No. 1 goalie’s pending return is far from so much as a Band-Aid on larger issues plaguing the team.
Of course, everyone wishes Price well, as his health is a priority in the best of times, but especially following his month-long stint in the NHL’s player assistance program. Still, even if he could step into game action at 100% as soon as his projected return date this coming Monday, there’s a case to be made the impact wouldn’t be as great as many might expect.
In fact, in terms of the five Canadiens roster players currently on injured or long-term injured reserve, Price, despite being the masked face of the franchise, might not even rank No. 1 in terms of importance. As far as the team’s dwindling playoff hopes are concerned, here are the Habs’ walking wounded ranked from least to most likely to turn things around:
5. Paul Byron
The Canadiens miss Paul Byron, of course. He’s a valuable depth scorer, who, despite falling off from a production standpoint the last few regular seasons, still contributed in the clutch last playoffs.
All that having been said, it’s Byron’s contract the Canadiens probably don’t miss. While Byron has played significant top-six minutes for the Habs in the not-too-distant past, right now he would ironically only get the chance to play a similar role in the event of injury.
Byron’s almost universally seen as a fourth-line winger at this stage of his career, which isn’t a bad thing to be. He’s probably an upgrade over anyone playing there right now, like Alex Belzile, Adam Brooks or Michael Pezzetta, even if you take into account the individual drives of those three to leave lasting impressions on the coaching staff.
However, at a hit of $3.4 million, Byron is less than ideal in that spot, and, yet, once he is ready to come back, the Canadiens will have to make space for him. So, Byron’s impact on the ice will probably be immediate, but it might not be worth it considering the amount of time he’s actually on it.
4. Mathieu Perreault
Don’t let his hat trick this season against the Detroit Red Wings fool you: Mathieu Perreault is miscast as the Habs’ third-line center, at least when he’s healthy. Out after having undergone a procedure to correct an eye condition, Perreault will return fairly soon, but he’s a depth-quality forward through and through. However, at a hit of $950,000 Perreault is more of a palatable option than Byron in some respects.
Keep in mind that Perreault enjoyed his greatest success while with the Winnipeg Jets, a team he called home for seven seasons, all under Paul Maurice. So, it’s fair to say his ex-head coach had a handle on where to play him. He started off at over 17 minutes per game in 2014-15. He ended up under 12 minutes in 2020-21. There’s a reason for that.
It’s not that Perreault is a bad player, but he’s only valuable in spurts, down the lineup, now comfortably in his mid-30s. So, don’t count on him scoring three or even two in a Habs uniform ever again (although it may happen once in a blue moon). He still has a role to play, though. It may not be a big one, but he can still contribute if he’s deployed correctly.
3. Carey Price
If Price can come back at 100% and regain the form he displayed last playoffs, all bets are off. As it happens though, his last few regular seasons didn’t go as hoped to the point that backup Jake Allen technically outplayed him in the 2020-21 season’s early going, at least from a statistical perspective.
Allen of course took over for Price down the stretch last season, when Price suffered a concussion. While Allen’s 2020-21 stats don’t appear all that impressive (11-12-5 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .907 save percentage), they don’t do justice to the way he performed with a lackluster team playing in front of him. Ultimately, he got the job done.
With two shutouts so far in Price’s absence, Allen’s holding his own, at least as much as one can stand out for positive reasons on a team that only has three wins total in 12 games (a .250 win percentage for those at home). It’s not that Allen has been incredible, because he hasn’t. He’s been serviceable and Price could realistically do slightly better. However, it’s hard to believe Price on his own would be a difference-maker based on the variety of reasons explained up to this point.
2. Shea Weber
No, defenseman Shea Weber is not coming back, at least according to Jonathan Drouin. Nothing’s funny about the situation in the sense that Weber’s career has effectively been cut short, but there is some humor in how many cynics and conspiracy theorists believed Weber was just biding his time, healing before he could make a triumphant return in time for the playoffs, like Nikita Kucherov did last year for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The playoffs are a pipedream at this juncture, though. Maybe if Weber were back, the Canadiens would be conceivably closer to realistically making them. Sure, Weber is a shutdown defenseman and would in some respects be more of the same on a defensive corps rife with them. Think a game of Duck, Duck, Goose that never actually gets going (assuming Jeff Petry is the one who’s “it”).
However, Weber, when healthy, is actually a legitimate weapon on the power play. Sure, his one-time shot had become predictable to the point opposing teams could adequately protect against it, but when your team has the fifth-worst unit in the game, clicking at a piss-poor 12.5% success rate, any predictability aside from it not scoring would be welcome.
Say what you want about Weber, but he was still an offensive contributor despite being a stay-at-home defenseman. Right now? When Ben Chiarot is leading all defenseman in goals (two) on your team and is tied for the scoring lead among blue liners with David Savard (three), your back-end is in bad shape. And, without that extra offense from the back-end, the team is struggling to produce overall with just 24 goals. That’s two per game.
Granted, the Arizona Coyotes have just 13 in 10 games, during a season in which they’re arguably tanking, unlike the Canadiens. However, the Coyotes have also allowed just one more goal than the Habs’ 40. So, maybe Weber’s defense could come in handy too.
1. Joel Edmundson
It’s admittedly crazy to suggest the Canadiens need another shutdown defenseman, because they only do like another reminder of how close they came to winning it all last playoffs. However, Petry is probably the poster boy for how far they’ve fallen, as he’s scored just two assists in 12 games so far.
Remember, last year Petry finished with the seventh-most points among defensemen with 42 and ended up getting a few James Norris Memorial Trophy votes. Coincidentally or not, last year was also the season Petry partnered with Edmundson from start to finish, with at-times overwhelmingly positive results.
Clearly, Edmundson alone won’t fix the Habs. Perhaps neither will a rejuvenated Petry, but, with the team’s lack of mobility and offense from the back-end being its biggest weakness, they can’t even tread water in the standings without their No. 1 defenseman back to his old self. A returning Edmundson, who recently returned to the team after attending to a family matter only to get injured, is the best and probably only bet to making that a reality.
In a world where Weber coming back to reinforce the Canadiens’ defense is a fantasy, fans will have to eventually settle for Edmundson. It could be just what the doctor ordered, though.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.