Montreal Canadiens: What Are Ideal Defence Pairings For Habs?

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - FEBRUARY 12: Brett Kulak #77 and Jeff Petry #26 of the Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - FEBRUARY 12: Brett Kulak #77 and Jeff Petry #26 of the Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens new acquisitions on the blue line will have to fit in somewhere. How will it shake out?

The Montreal Canadiens played the entire postseason a little thin on the left side of their defence. They had Ben Chiarot eating up tons of minutes and Brett Kulak had some strong performances that earned him plenty of ice time as well. Things got pretty risky beyond those two.

Victor Mete played regularly, but he was moved to the right side. It was Xavier Ouellet, who played sparingly in the regular season, that was the left defender on the third pairing. He suited up for only 12 regular season games with the Canadiens, but was in the lineup for every postseason contest.

So, the Habs have added some reinforcements on the left side already this offseason.

More from Editorials

First, it was confirmed before the postseason that Alexander Romanov would be coming to North America. He played the past two seasons in the KHL and stood out at each of the two previous World Junior tournaments as one of, if not the best, teen-aged defenceman in the world. The Habs also traded for and then signed Joel Edmundson to a four-year contract.

That gives them a lot more options on the left side. With Chiarot and Kulak signed for two more years, only Mete and Ouellet need a contract. They are restricted free agents so there shouldn’t be a lot of trouble getting them on a new deal.

When they do, they are going to have to find a place for everyone. Chiarot, Edmundson, Ouellet, Kulak, Mete and Romanov are six options that shoot left. On the right side, there is Shea Weber and Jeff Petry at the top. Behind them are a couple of wild cards in Noah Juulsen and Cale Fleury.

Juulsen has battled injuries the past few years, but when healthy showed he could contribute at the NHL level. He may need to get back into game shape, having played only 13 games this past season and a total of 24 the year previous. The problem is, he requires waivers to go back to the Laval Rocket, so sending him down to get into game shape is not an option.

Fleury played well for the Canadiens for the first half of last season. He plays a physical, defensive style and doesn’t put up many points. He does not require waivers yet to go down to the Rocket.

So, that is a list of ten defencemen who could be on the opening night roster. Most teams carry seven defenders, though we have seen teams carry eight when it makes sense. It’s not ideal, because then you have two defenders waiting to get into the lineup and not playing every night.

So, who will the Habs keep on their roster? And what will the pairings look like?

Well, it is pretty safe to say Chiarot, Weber and Petry will keep their roles as the top three on the team. The biggest question in the top four is whether Kulak should continue to play with Petry, or should Edmundson get that job? It sounds like Edmundson was told he would be playing with Petry, so let’s say the top four is Chiarot – Weber and Edmundson – Petry.

Then, we have to pick a third pairing from: Mete, Kulak, Ouellet, Romanov, Juulsen and Fleury.

Mete and Kulak have the most experience at the NHL right now and Mete was moved to the right side during the postseason. A Kulak – Mete third pairing would make sense. Kulak is more of a steady, defensive type and that fits well with the smooth skating Mete who likes to carry the puck and join the rush.

That would leave Ouellet, Romanov, Fleury and Juulsen on the outside of the opening night lineup. This could make a lot of sense, but only if the AHL is an option. Romanov and Fleury can be sent down without waivers. This would give Fleury a little more time as a top four defender at the AHL level and could also help Romanov ease into the North American game.

Ouellet would also need to pass through waivers to be sent down, but he has in the past and is probably the 10th best defenceman out of the group anyway.

That would leave Juulsen as the 7th defenceman at the NHL level. This is not an ideal scenario for the 23 year old who hasn’t played a lot in the past two years. He needs game action, but he can’t be exposed to waivers because someone would claim him.

What the Canadiens can do is start with some sort of rotation on the bottom pairing. Maybe one night it is Kulak – Mete and the next it is Kulak – Juulsen, then it becomes Mete – Juulsen for a game.

Next. Habs trade with every Atlantic Division team. dark

If Juulsen proves he is ready to handle the third pairing minutes, Mete or Kulak could be traded to free up the space. Then, Ouellet could be called up to sit as the 7th defenceman. If injuries occur and another defender is needed longer term, then Fleury or Romanov could be called up to step in.