With the Montreal Canadiens in the process of putting together their new front office led by Executive Vice President Jeff Gorton, much has been written and debated about what direction this management group should take with the team’s roster, both in the short term and long term.
As of right now, it’s unclear if they will opt for a full rebuild or a roster reset. Still, it’s pretty clear which young players they should build around, but what is less obvious is which veterans should be counted on to help through this transition period. While there are many factors to consider and cases could also be made to trade them, here are five experienced players who should stick around.
Josh Anderson is set to return to the lineup following a lengthy absence and the Habs missed his presence on the ice and in the locker room.
It’s easy to criticize his lengthy contract which has six years left on it, but the streaky forward is exactly the type of player the team has needed for so long. If he leaves, he will be tough to replace and getting equal value back in a trade will be a challenge as well.
He’s still young, can grow along with the team’s top prospects while also adding a dimension of speed and power to the Canadiens’ offence that is much needed because he drives a lot of the play in the offensive zone. The 27-year-old has also shown some nice leadership qualities during his time in Montreal and should be considered as a candidate for captain.
Speaking of potential captains, Joel Edmundson is also high on the list. The fact that the Habs have been terrible this season, especially in their own zone, while the team’s steadiest defender has been on the sidelines for all 36 games, is not a coincidence. The fact that Jeff Petry has been a shadow of his former self without his usual partner isn’t a surprise either. Quite simply, Edmundson has proven his value to the Canadiens without touching the ice this season.
Not to mention that he comes with a cap-friendly deal that can be moved further down the road. He will serve as a great mentor to the organization’s young defensemen like Alexander Romanov, Kale Clague, Kaiden Guhle, and Mattias Norlinder.
Artturi Lehkonen has been the subject of trade talk for some time already primarily because he’s an expensive bottom-six forward based on his lack of consistent production. Many believe that he’s a luxury that the Canadiens can no longer afford.
However, Lehkonen does so many good things during every shift that don’t show up on the scoresheet. He’s a cerebral player who has a high work rate and who can anticipate plays well. If only he could convert more of the scoring chances he creates.
If I’m Gorton or the Habs’ new general manager, I want Lehkonen’s exemplary habits and the way he carries himself to rub off on my young players. Plus, his trade value on the market appears to be less than what he is worth to the team. If the return is a mid-round draft pick, the preference should be to keep him.
Admittedly, including Carey Price on this list is somewhat of a sentimental choice. Still, regardless of all the speculation surrounding him, the star netminder and his full no-move clause will decide what his hockey future holds.
Of course, the desire to win a Stanley Cup is still there, but there is something to be said for also wanting to play his entire career in the same jersey, and a historic one at that. This is certainly something he will consider when weighing his options. If the plan is to do a reset rather than a full rebuild, it may be more enticing for him to see this through until the end.
It will be important for Price to start playing games again, hopefully, this season, to help determine what path he and the Habs should take. With everything he has been through these past few months, perhaps he isn’t so keen on uprooting his family and relocating to a new city just yet.
Eric Engels of Sportsnet has made a bold prediction that Tyler Toffoli will be moved by this year’s Trade Deadline. While that possibility makes a lot of sense since the Canadiens’ leading scorer last season will net a nice package on the market, the team needs effective players with good contracts if they’re going to escape their salary cap woes and reshape the roster. He fits that bill.
The reality is that the Habs won’t be able to trade everyone even in the event of major turnover so they would be wise to keep Toffoli who has fit in well and built strong chemistry with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield despite their collective struggles this season. Allow them to get their mojo back because having Toffoli to learn from can only be beneficial for two of Montreal’s most promising players.
While many are rightfully excited about the pending youth takeover, the veterans who will ultimately be part of this new era for the Canadiens will play crucial roles in setting up their younger teammates for future success.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media & Marketing Manager as well as co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.