Knock on wood, Montreal Canadiens defenseman Joel Edmundson is finally approaching a return to action. When he opens that door, he may not recognize the team with which he reached the Stanley Cup Final last season though, including his regular place in the lineup beside Jeff Petry.
The two defensemen formed the most used pairing by the Canadiens last season (by a wide margin), with generally exceptional results, Edmundson even leading the league in plus/minus late in the campaign. This season, without Edmundson available, Petry has paired with Ben Chiarot the most, which is somewhat unfortunate in the sense that both are potentially on their way out of the organization with the 2021 trade deadline approaching (March 21).
Petry vs. Chiarot
At the very least, Chiarot, who’s a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA), should be moved, in which case Edmundson would naturally suit up beside Petry. However, even though Petry has three more seasons under contract after this one, there is growing concern as to whether or not he can keep up his level of play from last season (when he earned James Norris Memorial Trophy votes).
After all, Petry scored just two assists in his first 28 games, with calls for him to get traded increasing significantly in volume as a result. However, almost coinciding perfectly with the hiring of Martin St. Louis as interim head coach, Petry has turned it up, with three goals and seven points in his last eight games, begging the logical assumption that it wasn’t all Petry, but rather Petry under St. Louis’ predecessor, Dominique Ducharme.
Nevertheless, there’s an argument the Canadiens should make the most of this opportunity. In other words, trade Petry with his value as high as it is, rather than take the chance he can turn it around permanently. Whether you’re enrolled in this school of thought or not, it is undeniably a possibility, in which case it remains to be seen with whom St. Louis would partner Edmundson.
Edmundson and Wideman?
One of a slew of left-handed defensemen on the roster, Edmundson’s best bet right now would probably be Chris Wideman on the right, even if it’s by process of elimination, with Petry hypothetically traded and David Savard injured. However, Wideman’s mobile style of play is the closest comparable of any defenseman on the roster relative to Petry’s, so it’s probably a good assumption to make.
The problem is, Wideman is an unrestricted free agent, one who perhaps shouldn’t be re-signed. Not because he doesn’t align with general manager Kent Hughes’ vision of an offensive-minded team, but rather because the team is by most logical accounts in the process of rebuilding.
Despite his skill set Wideman doesn’t necessarily have the point totals to match someone in whom the Canadiens should invest, with a respectable but unimpressive 11 points so far this season. Also, despite already being 32, Wideman is far from what one would consider a grizzled veteran (with experience with which to impart incoming young players), with just over 200 games played so far in his NHL career.
Rumors of Letang Reunion with Hughes
Edmundson, who’s going on 29, fits the profile to a greater extent, even if only based on the 75 career playoff games he’s got under his belt. That’s good news, as Edmundson’s contract only expires in 2024. However, unless it’s Alexander Romanov switching to the right side, Edmundson still doesn’t have a suitable partner in the pipeline, which might further fuel rumors of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang joining Hughes, his former agent, this summer.
If you’re dead set on trading Petry away and signing a defenseman who’s older by a draft year in Letang, you had best make sure that Petry’s recent resurgence is temporary, though. In Petry, you’ve got a partner for Edmundson who’s proven to mesh well and, looking at his contract another way, reasonably runs out in 2025. Any free agent, whether they have a relationship with Hughes or not, would be looking for more term than that. If they’re already 35, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Habs’ Left Side Littered with Options
However, that’s the right side. The left is jam-packed. Even if Chiarot gets traded along with fellow-leftie (and pending-UFA) Brett Kulak, you’ve still got Alexander Romanov, Kale Clague and Corey Schueneman, the latter having emerged as a decent depth option moving forward.
On top of that, you’ve got prospects like Kaiden Guhle, who could conceivably learn a thing or two from Edmundson. There’s also Mattias Norlinder and, hopefully, Jordan Harris, who is still unsigned, but also plays with St. Louis’ son, Ryan, and Hughes sons (plural), Jack and Riley, at Northeastern University. So, the left side is set, maybe even to the point that the Canadiens don’t necessarily need Edmundson. But why wouldn’t you welcome back a player like him with open arms?
Edmundson may not fit the mold of a new-age defenseman, but, at 6-foot-5, he’s also the biggest body the Canadiens have (on defense or in general). You tend to find a place for a player that big, especially when he’s proven to be a good fit in the past, new-age defenseman or not.
In truth, Edmundson’s arguably the injured player the Habs have missed the most, with the defense having been in tatters for so long. Things have since stabilized, but no one knows what the defense will look like by the end of the month, other than Edmundson having a spot reserved for him… regardless of who’s beside him on the ice.
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.