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Congestion: Kent Hughes solved the problem offensively, but not defensively

In recent weeks, Kent Hughes has managed to get Mike Hoffman and Rem Pitlick out of his line-up. The result? There are fewer and fewer forwards left in town to block the youngsters’ path.

If the season were to start today, 14 guys would potentially have their place :

  • Nick Suzuki
  • Cole Caufield
  • Josh Anderson
  • Brendan Gallagher
  • Christian Dvorak
  • Joel Armia
  • Kirby Dach
  • Alex Newhook
  • Sean Monahan
  • Jake Evans
  • Rafael Harvey-Pinard
  • Juraj Slafkovsky
  • Michael Pezzetta
  • Jesse Ylönen

I say potentially because, in reality, with Christian Dvorak’s injury (which could prevent him from starting the season), it’s possible that a youngster will have his place after camp.

In fact, several guys are going to give it a try.

You’ll have observed, however, that I’ve used the word “potentially” in all this. And that’s intentional, since even though a 23-player lineup normally features 14 forwards, nothing is certain with the Flanelle.

Why not? Because, although Kent Hughes has solved his offensive congestion problem in recent months, defensively it’s a different story.

Defensively, that obviously means at the blue line, but also in front of the net. And everyone knows that right now, the CH has four goaltenders contractually obliged to start the season in town.

Cayden Primeau will go to the ballot and, barring injury, Kent Hughes will have to trade one of his masked men to be able to rely on just two goaltenders. But that’s easier said than done.

If the CH, which doesn’t want to send DeSmith to the minors just to get rid of him, does indeed start the season with three goaltenders, it risks starting the year with 13 forwards and seven defensemen. Logically, at least.

There’s a good chance that the CH will start the season with seven defensemen in the lineup (regardless of the number of goaltenders, but especially if there are three), since that’s what teams normally do.

And that’s where decisions will have to be made.

We have no doubt that the situation at camp in 2023 will be different from that in 2022 (the blue line is now congested), and we have no doubt that the Logan Mailloux, Nicolas Beaudin, William Trudeau, Jayden Struble or David Reinbacher who want to make the club won’t be able to do so.

After all, Mike Matheson and David Savard will be there. When these guys are healthy, they’ll play. Plain and simple.

Kaiden Guhle, the way he played last year, belongs on the ice every night. If he stays healthy and plays like he did last year, he’ll definitely be a force and get big top-4 minutes.

But what about the rest? There’s Mastercard.

Jordan Harris, Gustav Lindstrom, Justin Barron, Arber Xhekaj, Johnathan Kovacevic and Chris Wideman will also be fighting to be among what promises to be a group of seven defensemen.

We need to cut two guys.

I don’t think the Habs want to cut Harris and Xhekaj. On the contrary, I think both guys and Guhle, who are all left-handers who can play right, will play more often than not. And with the big Atlantic division, Xhekaj is useful simply by being in the line-up…

But even so, we know that all three guys (as well as Barron) can go to the minors without going through the ballot.

Of the lot, I have a feeling that even though he finished the season well, Barron is at risk of going to Laval. Unless he has a great training camp, he could be in real trouble.

And to these guys, you have to add Kovacevic, who had a great season last year as a depth player. Add Lindstrom, a player the Habs no doubt want to evaluate. And we have to add Wideman, who… um… has a contract.

Oh yes: he’s also popular in the bedroom. Apparently.

But more seriously, we all know that part of the answer (if everyone is healthy, which is not a given) has to do with the fact that Wideman could be cut. He’s making $775,000 ($762,500 impact) this season, and sending him to Laval would take 100% of his salary off the books.

But will the Habs do it?

I ask because Kent Hughes has said he has no intention of sending Casey DeSmith to the minors just to make room. Why not? Because he’s an NHL veteran… and Hughes probably doesn’t want to lose his reputation as a player-friendly GM.

Sending Wideman out could send just such a message… even if the defenseman can’t keep up.

All this to say that we can see how complex the situation is. There’s no perfect solution right now, and training camp will be very important for a lot of guys.

Can’t wait for camp to start, can we?

In Brief

– The countdown has begun.

– When will there be a 100-point guy in town?

– The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies have a duo to keep an eye on. [TSLH]

– Official.

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