As Canadiens fans look forward to family barbecues and the summer holidays, the Habs management team should not rest until Marc Bergevin gets the team back on a more competitive track. My last piece covered potential targets at centre. This time I’ll be looking at options for defence.
The Canadiens’ defence has made dramatic changes since the beginning of last season. What began as an aging veteran blueline had morphed into a more youthful and mobile group by the end of the trade deadline.
The Canadiens are set on the right side with Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Brett Lernout and Noah Juulsen. The left side is where things will need to change and improve, as currently there are two who seem to be pencilled in to return to the bottom four in Victor Mete and Mike Reilly.
A choice will have to be made, Karl Alzner is likely to remain, but a choice must be made on who to retain between Jordie Benn and David Schlemko. One, or both, will need to be traded this summer simply to make room on the roster, allowing Bergevin to find a left-handed defender who can reliably play in a top pairing role with Weber. This can happen via trade or free agency.
This list is not exhaustive, but let us begin with looking at possible trade targets.
The 25-year-old Brodin has not lit the NHL world on fire. That being said, he is a puck-moving defender who is highly capable in all situations. Brodin’s time on ice has averaged 22:09 minutes per game over his five seasons in the NHL.
While Brodin isn’t a physical defender but compensates with mobility and positioning. He has an active stick to cut off passing lanes. His mobile style and passing game could be complimentary to Weber. The pair could contribute at five on five as well on both the penalty-kill and power-play.
Minnesota is under new management and there is no clear path declared publicly for the Wild. However, if Brodin was made available, I believe that the Wild would want scoring on the wings and draft picks as a return for a proven top-four defender who is signed for three more seasons at $4.16 million average annual value.
As an elite skater, the 21-year-old Hanifin is a prototypical defender for the new NHL which places a premium on speed and mobility. His offensive abilities are not in doubt as he is an excellent puck-moving defender with passing abilities that make him a top power-play quarterback. His downside, however, is his defensive play. It is an aspect of the game that could be mentored by a veteran shutdown defender.
In my opinion, these talents suggest that Hanafin could be an excellent fit with Weber on the Canadiens top pair. Weber could also benefit from having a mobile partner who can pass him the puck to take advantage of his powerful one-timer.
Carolina is another team that has come under new management and has publicly stated that they will be willing to listen to offers. While trade talks will go through Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell, having a familiar face on the management team in Rick Dudley can’t hurt. It should be noted that Hanifin has just completed his entry-level contract and as an restricted free agent without arbitration rights, will be looking at signing a new deal.
Carolina seemingly has their sights set on a playoff spot next season in a very competitive Metropolitan Division, so the cost for the former fifth overall pick could be steep. The exchange for Hanafin could require multiple assets including one or more NHL roster players along with futures.
Now, let’s review unrestricted free agent options that could interest the Canadiens this summer. The pool of defenders to choose from for left-handed defencemen is less than stellar, however there are a few names who could be attractive to the Habs.
Johnson had a reduced role as the season wore on in Columbus to the point that he requested a larger role with the team or a trade. Neither happened. All signs point to a fresh start for the 31-year-old defender this summer.
The six-foot-one-inch, 225 pound left-handed defender is an aggressive, highly-agile athletic player. Johnson’s skating abilities and mobility are superb. He can cover large areas of the ice while physically intimidating opponents. While he does take more penalties than desired, his discipline has improved as he has matured.
Johnson is capable of playing big minutes in all situations which is necessary to anchor the left side of the blueline. When given offensive opportunities, he has been able to put up respectable numbers. His style of play could pair well with Weber.
Johnson is likely looking at a long-term lucrative contract. I suspect that there will be hesitation for teams to offer term past five years. If he were willing to sign for close to his former annual average value of $4.34 million, then it could be a great fit for a younger Canadiens blueline.
Calvin De Haan
The six-foot-one-inch, 195 pound left-handed defender is coming off of a shortened 33-game season where he required shoulder surgery. With De Haan ready for action in the fall, there will be teams interested in signing the 27-year-old if he hits the open market.
De Haan is a solid puck-moving defender. His skating is strong and he possesses an excellent first pass. He focuses on playing a solid defensive game, making him the type of reliable player coaches love. His athleticism coupled with his skill set could allow him to log heavy minutes as a suitable partner for Shea Weber.
De Haan will be looking to get a long-term deal for a significant raise over last season’s annual average value of $1.97 million. This is the type of player that Bergevin has been attracted to in the past: a safe, reliable defenceman. Warts in his game could allow the Canadiens general manager to sign him at a discount.
This summer is key to the Habs taking the next step. After years of being competitive but not getting results, Bergevin should look to add significant talent at the draft, via trades and through free agency. If he cannot do so while filling the gaps at center as mentioned and on the left side of the blueline, his tenure is likely to be at an end. While that is acceptable to some fans, others will be more concerned that yet another year would have been lost without the hope for an exciting season and a deep playoff run.
Edited by Cate Racher, All Habs Hockey Magazine