Montreal Canadiens Delicate Dance on Defence For 2022-23 Season

Apr 19, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jordan Harris. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 19, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jordan Harris. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports /

The Montreal Canadiens appear to be heading into 2022-23 with the realization it isn’t going to be a fantastic season. There is almost no way it is as bad as 2021-22 was, but it isn’t likely to be a playoff campaign either.

The Canadiens will have to answer some tough questions next season on their young players. While you want them to get experience at the NHL level, you don’t want them to be constantly hemmed in their own zone because they aren’t ready for the bright lights quite yet.

But you also don’t want them to be stuck behind veteran players if they are ready for a prominent role with the Canadiens. This delicate balance is going to loom large over the organization in the 2022-23, especially on defence.

Right now, the Canadiens have five defensemen who will play the whole season in the NHL, if they remain on the team that long. Joel Edmundson, Jeff Petry, David Savard, Alexander Romanov and Chris Wideman are not going to the minors in 2022-23. That’s five spots and Jordan Harris is likely to take the 6th.

That’s fine, but it would be nice to have another option at the ready if Harris struggles early and needs to be sent down. That could be Corey Schueneman if he signs a contract as he is currently slated to be a restricted free agent.

Many of the other defencemen that are under contract for next season are quite young. Justin Barron (20), Kaiden Guhle (20), Arber Xhekaj (21), Gianni Fairbrother (21), Mattias Norlinder (22) and Otto Leskinen (25) have contracts already. Josh Brook (23) and William Trudeau (19) could join them at the pro level.

That is eight defencemen right there that are young, and may not be ready for the NHL level yet. You don’t want Guhle to play 80 games with the Canadiens if he isn’t defending well at that level. You don’t want Justin Barron playing top four minutes just because Jeff Petry got traded and they don’t have another option.

The blue line could be quite crowded at the AHL level with the Laval Rocket, and that’s even before the team considers re-signing veteran defenders Xavier Ouellet or Louis Belpedio who played a huge role in the team making the Calder Cup conference final.

And if Petry is gone, the team has Edmundson-Savard, Romanov-Wideman and Harris in the NHL. Adding another veteran right defender as a stopgap is a great idea, but adding a couple of them would then push players like Xhekaj and Trudeau to the ECHL which isn’t ideal for their development either.

Is it possible to have too many good young defencemen turning pro at the same time? No, probably not but it becomes difficult to find the right role for each of them.

Could we see the Habs use a blue line of:

Romanov – Savard

Edmundson – xxxxxxx

xxxxxxx – Wideman

With the two blanks being filled by a revolving door of young defenders? Give Barron and Harris a look for a while and then swap them out for Guhle and Xhekaj? Get Norlinder in from time to time? It would be a unique setup for sure, but the only alternative is to sign a couple of cheap, veterans who could play there until a younger defencemen proves he is too good for the AHL.

Romanov – Savard

Edmundson – (One of P.K. Subban/ Gudbrandson/Rutta/Stecher)

(Leskinen/Schueneman) – Wideman

Could work as a stopgap which is exactly what the Habs need. They don’t want to sign a veteran to a three year contract. They basically want to sign the best defender that will accept a one year contract to play in Montreal and eat minutes during a rebuilding season.

The absolute last thing the team wants is a player like Harris sitting as the team’s 7th defender. He would be better served playing big minutes in the AHL.

The long term goal is for the blue line to look something like this in 2024-25:

Guhle – Harris

Romanov – Barron

Norlinder – Mailloux


You want them all to reach their potential and hope they can develop strongly so that become a dangerous blue line.

You just don’t want to ruin any of the along the way. That’s going to be difficult next season. Mailloux will still be in the OHL and Romanov is an NHLer. The other five are all playing their first full pro seasons in North America.

Somehow, the Habs don’t want any of them to play too many NHL games if they aren’t ready, but also not get buried on the AHL depth chart for too long either. So, let’s just say the Habs seven defenders next season are Romanov, Savard, Edmundson, Rutta, Wideman, Schueneman and Leskinen.

That leaves the Rocket blue line looking like:

Guhle – Barron

Harris – Xhekaj

Norlinder – Brook


That looks fantastic, but is an extremely young pro blue line. Brook is the oldest player in that group at 23. It is hard to imagine the team won’t bring back Ouellet or Belpedio but that would push either Norlinder or Brook out of the AHL lineup which isn’t ideal.

Brook’s development has been upset by injuries so maybe they bring back Belpedio to have a good veteran on the Rocket blue line and have Brook start the year with the ECHL’s Trois-Rivieres Lions.

Ideally, Guhle, Barron, Harris, Xhekaj and Norlinder all play either top four minutes with the Laval Rocket or regular minutes with the Canadiens, only if they prove to be ready. Harris probably is as he passed his audition this season, but you don’t want to force him into a position where he has to play 82 NHL games next season after never playing more than 39 in a college season.

It is a delicate balance that needs to be achieved on the Canadiens blue line. A veteran insurance policy would be great, and Chris Wideman re-signing is part of that. But they probably need one more player to fill that role, especially with the assumption the Petry will be traded.

We will have to wait and see how it all plays out in the offseason. Having too many players at the same age on the same rungs of the depth chart could lead to a young defenceman being traded for a forward prospect of the same age.

It is going to be a fascinating offseason for the Canadiens and the delicate dance on defence is a big part of that.

A Winning Habit
A Winning Habit /

Want your voice heard? Join the A Winning Habit team!

Write for us!

Related Story. Should Kaiden Guhle Play in Summer World Juniors?. light