The outlook of the Canadiens’ defence has changed drastically over the summer with the departure of the beloved P.K. Subban. The team will look to readjust as a new season approaches. The Habs, along with their fans, hope for a fresh start after last year’s season to forget. With a new top guy on the blueline, let’s take a look at how the Habs should structure their defence to start the 2016-17 season.
The “Watch and Learn” Pairing
Nathan Beaulieu – Shea Weber
Pairing Beaulieu and Weber will bring out the best of both players, as their styles complement one another. For Beaulieu, this is likely the season to step-up and help take over for the ageing Russian veteran, Andrei Markov. For Weber, why not use a strategy that has worked in the past? In Nashville, Weber played with a young, smooth-skating offensive defenceman, Roman Josi. Weber’s size, strength and shot worked well with Josi’s speed and puck moving ability, and the same recipe could work for Beaulieu. (Note: I’m not comparing Beaulieu and Josi’s skill levels, just their styles of play.)
Yes, there have been some rumours lately about the Habs listening to trade offers for Beaulieu, but this hasn’t stopped me from putting him on the top defensive pairing to start the season. As long as Beaulieu is still wearing the Habs uniform, he should be slotted into the first defensive pairing to start the coming season. Having Weber as his partner and mentor could be all that Beaulieu needs in order to take the next step to prominence at the NHL level.
The “Please Stay Healthy” Pairing
Andrei Markov – Jeff Petry
Ah, the fragile ones. The next Habs defence pairing should be fine, as long as they’re still healthy. Petry, a 28-year-old defenceman, has dealt with on-and-off injury issues for much of the last year. Most recently, Petry had sports hernia surgery to end his 2015-16 season. When not hurt, Petry is a deceptively fast defenceman with a long reach that nicely jumps up in the rush if need be. On the other side, Markov hasn’t had any serious injury troubles over the last few years (surprisingly), though, at 37-years-old, he’s in the fragile category.
Markov doesn’t have the legs that he once did, so putting him with someone who can skate is imperative. Petry is fast enough to cover up for minor blunders. Both defencemen make a quick, accurate first pass, so this pairing can be effective if matched up appropriately.
The “Earn Your Ice” Pairing
Alexei Emelin – Mark Barberio/Greg Pateryn
The third, and final pairing, is the toughest to predict. Last season, the Habs saw the newly acquired Barberio step up and prove his worth to the team. The Montreal native impressed enough to earn another contract with the Habs during the offseason. Pateryn, on the other hand, has been working his way through the team system for some time now. The defenceman has struggled to find a full-time role in the NHL thus far in his career, though in his 38 games last season, he proved he’s a suitable replacement if a spot opens up on the Habs’ blueline.
The third person listed above, Emelin, is the most likely to see consistent action this season. In the last year or so, the Russian has been surpassed on the depth chart by the aforementioned Beaulieu, though he hasn’t fallen out of the top-six. Emelin will likely anchor the Habs’ third defensive pairing for the majority of the coming season (unless the team finds a way to unload him and his contract).
The Canadiens should pray for health and luck as the 2016-17 season approaches. With a healthy team and a stellar goalie back between the pipes, who knows what the Habs can accomplish this coming year. The team plays their highly anticipated season opener on Oct. 13, and this is my take as to what the defence pairings should look like on opening night.
Let me know what you think in the comments section below.