Prior to the start of the 2022-23 season, the Montreal Canadiens had serious question marks throughout their blue line. The inexperienced rookie defensemen were seen as the biggest weakness on the roster, especially as there were few veterans at management’s disposal.
Related: Canadiens’ Kaiden Guhle Exceeds Expectations
The expectation was that head coach Martin St. Louis was going to rely heavily on Mike Matheson, David Savard, and Joel Edmundson. So far this season, those expectations seem to have changed. With Matheson and Edmundson out with injuries early on, there was a need to rely on the youth, and they have stepped up, which could make Edmundson an expendable piece to help the rebuild along.
Canadiens’ Edmundson Injured
Edmundson begins another (his second straight) season on the long-term injured reserve (LTIR) list with a “lower-body injury” and is out indefinitely. Last season, he only dressed for 24 games, but performed well, averaging almost 20 minutes per game. At only 29 years of age, he has logged a lot of mileage in his career, winning a Stanley Cup in 2019 with the St. Louis Blues and helping the Canadiens reach the Final in 2021. When healthy, he is looked to play a leadership role. Ideally as a mentor for the younger players, but also as one of the assistant captains with Brendan Gallagher.
This is why, with two seasons remaining on his contract at $3.5 million, his health should be a concern for general manager (GM) Kent Hughes. As the Canadiens are rebuilding, it could be time to use Edmundson as a trade chip as soon as he is healthy again. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound defenseman has value, as mentioned above his experience and leadership are factors, but there are others. His contract isn’t an anchor either, especially for what he can bring on the ice.
Canadiens’ Rookies Step Up
When a door closes, a window is opened, and with all the injuries, management had to let the kids play. And in the small sample size, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, and Arber Xhekaj have stepped up and none have looked out of place in the NHL, even when playing against some of the league’s superstars.
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As the Canadiens are a rebuilding team this season, Hughes and St. Louis will have a dilemma on their hands once Matheson and Edmundson return from their injuries. Guhle has shown that his development is best served to be done in the NHL, and their return would cut his minutes, but would also cause one of Xhekaj or Harris to be sent down to the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Laval Rocket. This would also have a trickle-down effect as their reassignments would push Mattias Norlinder down the depth chart in Laval, and the 22-year-old needs to play as many minutes as possible to progress his development as well.
Rotating Harris and Xhekaj in and out of the Habs lineup would only make development harder to manage as they wouldn’t be able to play as many games or as large of roles as they need to progress their own development. Corey Schueneman is also filling a roster spot in Laval. If the rookies remain in Montreal, he can be relied upon to play an AHL veteran role, or, if one of the rookies is sent down, he can be called up to play the seventh defenseman role with the Canadiens. Yet trading Edmundson could help solve some of the developmental issues, as well as the logjam on the left side of the Habs’ blue line.
Edmundson is a Trade Chip for the Canadiens
Hughes has already made it clear development of the younger players is a priority and that veterans could be sacrificed for the team’s long-term goals.
“…if a young player is playing well and will challenge a veteran on the last year of a deal, we have to be fair to the room as well. If we played someone just to put them in a showcase, it would be unfair for the room.”– Kent Hughes
While there will be forwards traded away by the deadline, moving a left-handed defenseman is easier to absorb in the short term as there is so much depth at that position in the Canadiens’ system. Which makes it easier to see Edmundson becoming a trade chip.
Despite the recent injury history, Edmundson has trade value, especially to teams looking to contend this season. It is likely pundits will say he is not the type of defenseman that should net a first-round pick, but Hughes’ negotiating skills make it hard to count that option out. Especially considering the return he received in trading Ben Chiarot at the 2021-22 trade deadline.
Edmundson provides a team with a defenseman that has good mobility and a large frame. Also, his style of play is safe as he not only can box opponents out in front of the net but also cut off passing lanes with his long reach and block shots. His transition game isn’t a strength, but with the right partner, it is passable. Finally, he does use his frame, not to initiate contact by dishing out big hits, but to absorb physical play and win board battles.
With the youth stepping up and playing large roles in the Canadiens’ lineup, their development path has shown to be best served by continuing to play in the NHL. As Matheson is younger, has more time left on his contract, and plays more of a puck-moving style, he will not be the first veteran traded; that will more likely be Edmundson. Once he is healthy, he will hold more value to the Habs as a trade chip than as a defenseman who will be taking minutes away from the Canadiens’ future blueliners.