Now that Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin signed interim head coach Dominique Ducharme to a three-year extension as the official head coach of the franchise, it will now be up to the organization’s upper brass to navigate the offseason in such a way that gives Ducharme the best chance at success.
Some of the important issues will be what to do with Phillip Danault and Jonathan Drouin, but the most pivotal move may be the prospect of acquiring a top-four defenseman who can move the puck quickly while shutting down the opposition. The Canadiens’ defensive corps did phenomenal in containing the opposing offensive talent during the postseason, but they still have the chance to take their defensive player to another level. The best way of doing this comes with the recent news that the Minnesota Wild bought out Ryan Suter’s contract, meaning that he will be available. (From “Cutting Zach Parise, Ryan Suter together needed ‘to keep moving forward,’ Wild’s GM says,” Star Tribune, 7/13/2021)
Suter would be a near-perfect fit for the top line with Shea Weber. Let me explain.
The Case for Ryan Suter
For anyone who has watched the Wild play, it is evident that Suter has been the lifeblood of the club’s defensive play since he joined the club in 2012. In Suter’s 16 seasons in the NHL, he has only dropped below the 20-points-per-season mark twice—his first career season and this past year. He can be expected, however, to register 40 points throughout the season. This is something the Canadiens could use in their arsenal. The Canadiens have had trouble finding a defenseman who can move the puck effectively while minimizing turnovers. A player who can make good stretch passes and get up ice is going to be essential.
It’s clear that Suter is a contributor on the offensive side of the puck – and it’s certainly what the Canadiens could use – but it’s his defensive play that seems to be the real selling point. In the past two seasons, Suter has only committed six penalties throughout the regular season, and he blocked 93 shots in the 2019-20 season and 65 shots in the 2020-21 season. This communicates that he is a disciplined player who has no problem meaningfully engaging in plays. For a team that will likely be sticking to the neutral zone trap, Suter would be very difficult for defenders to play against.
Additionally, Suter is also not afraid to lay the body. This aggressive kind of play works well with the Canadiens’ defensive corps, which is already mean and gritty. Suter, in the past two seasons, has chalked up 86 hits – and that’s a solid amount for a player who is on the back end of his career. He also averages a lot of time on the ice, with just over 22 minutes this past season – almost identical to the minutes Weber played during the regular season. There’s almost no dimension of Suter’s game that would disqualify him from being added to an already solid defensive club.
Another upside to bringing the veteran defenseman to Montreal is that Suter and Weber played for the Nashville Predators together early on in their careers. They played a lot of games together, and their chemistry could play a pivotal role in the Canadiens’ success going into the 2021-22 season. The two defensemen know each other’s game, and for that reason, Bergevin could bring these two back together for the first time in a decade to see if they still got it – and I think they still would. We have already seen what veteran players can do for a team – just look at the impact Corey Perry was able to provide this past season.
“Minnesota buying out Ryan Suter and Zach Parise was a shock to the hockey world, especially the Suter buyout as he still very likely has game left in him. He’s projected to be worth 1.4 wins and still provide top pair value in the coming season, immediately becoming one of the best defencemen on the market.” (From “Top 50 NHL UFAs: From Dougie Hamilton and Gabriel Landeskog to Alex Wennberg and Nikita Gusev,” The Atheltic, 7/14/2021)
It’s uncertain what the cap space situation is going to look like for the Canadiens, seeing as how we don’t yet know who Bergevin intends to re-sign. However, if Drouin were to get picked up by the Seattle Kraken and Danault is given an extension to play in Montreal, the cap wouldn’t be the element barring Suter from coming to Montreal for the final years of his career, assuming he will be asking for somewhere between $6 and $7 million per year.
All these decisions, of course, will be based on what Bergevin believes is the most essential for the team moving forward. It could be that he’s looking for younger players who will grow and develop alongside Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Alexander Romanov is already a solid defenseman who will likely grow into a shutdown player, and it may be that there will be a bigger emphasis on acquiring a younger defender. All is up in the air at this point.
The silver lining to this whole situation is that the Canadiens finally have forwards who can consistently score goals. In order for the young forwards to make the most of their time on the ice, it will be essential for the club to have defensemen who can ensure that the Canadiens control the puck much of the time. Therefore, it may make sense to continue campaigning for a veteran defenseman who can give the Canadiens the possible shot at making the postseason for the 2021-22 season.
As with many youngsters who grow up in the Midwest, CG played a lot of hockey. His love and appreciation for the game is why he’s here, writing for The Hockey Writers, covering his two favorite teams: the San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens. But he writes other things, too, including a novel entitled Project: Sleepless Dream. You can find him on Twitter @CGHockeyWriter.