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The Habs weakened twice (to a premium position) to make room for youngsters
Yesterday, the Montreal Canadiens announced that Justin Barron had been traded to the Laval Rocket and that Mitchell Stephens had been placed on the waivers. Stephens is expected to join Barron in the afternoon if he remains unclaimed.

Then, a few hours later, we learned thatArber Xhekaj was taking Barron’s place for the time being.

Logically, we can assume that the Habs intend to add a 13th forward to their line-up to replace Stephens, who was still there until 2pm. And we agree that, with Tanner Pearson nearing a return to action, he should take Stephens’ place in the 23-man line-up.

(Credit: Cap Friendly)
Defensively, the Habs have seven guys (Mike Matheson, David Savard, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble, Arber Xhekaj and Johnathan Kovacevic) plus the three goalies, for a total of 23 men.

There are two interesting findings here:

  • The Habs have only two defensemen who shoot from the right: David Savard and Johnathan Kovacevic, who often skips his turn these days.
  • The Habs have only three center players: Nick Suzuki, Sean Monahan and Jake Evans.
Center is considered a premium position. The same goes for a right-handed defenseman position in the eyes of NHL executives.

And yesterday, the Habs said goodbye to a center and a right-hander to bring back a left-handed defenseman and a winger – if Pearson is indeed back.

What this means is that, barring an unexpected change (we’re waiting for Pearson to return), the Habs will have one less center and one less right-handed defenseman.

And that’s while yesterday’s moves weren’t necessarily mandatory.

After all, nothing forced the Habs to send Justin Barron down since Xhekaj, who was playing very well, had no “time limit” in Laval. And nothing forced the Habs to keep Joshua Roy up top.

But the Habs chose to cut Barron and Stephens (who could leave the organization within 14 hours) because they felt Roy and Xhekaj belonged with the Montreal Canadiens. I wonder if today’s opponent (Senators) was a factor in WiFi’s case.

Does this send a message to the group? It certainly does. And the message is this: those who deserve it will have their place in the sun. And those who, like Barron, don’t deserve it, will work on their game in Laval.

I say Barron because I don’t believe Stephens has been “punished” by the Habs. In my opinion, he was more a victim of circumstance than anything else, since he played the role expected of him.

So, inevitably, the Habs’ coach will have to make amends. Who will play center, for example?

According to Simon-Olivier Lorange in an article published last night on the La Presse website, we shouldn’t be surprised if the Habs decide to play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

In such a scenario, Pearson would obviously take Stephens’ place, Jesse Ylönen would probably still be left out, and it’s conceivable that he’d be joined by Michael Pezzetta. The latter, though little used, still survived the most recent changes. Interesting to note.

The eight wingers would share the workload with just three centers.

And defensively, we have to assume that everyone would be dressed. Justin Barron would, of necessity, leave his place to Arber Xhekaj and Johnathan Kovacevic.

Note that yesterday in training, the two veterans (Savard and Matheson) formed a duo, as did the left-handers Struble and Guhle. This could be the top-4 ahead of the left-handed duo of Harris and Xhekaj. If he plays, Kovacevic could act as seventh defenseman. To be continued…

Today’s training session is unlikely to provide us with any answers. After all, at 10:30 a.m. this morning, it will be an optional training session for the Sens’ only visit to Montreal.

The Sens, less than two hours away, will have been in town as often as the Stars or the Wild. It’s amazing how Gary Bettman doesn’t value rivalries.

As for Barron, let’s note that the defenseman was disappointed, in 2022, to start the season in Laval. Imagine his disappointment, in 2024, to have to take the path to the AHL…

I really wonder what his attitude will be over there. Will he play tomorrow, when the Rocket play at home?

But hey. Since he hasn’t been shooting (his strength, in theory), his defensive game has been a mess in recent weeks and he’s no longer trusted to take on the big clubs like Edmonton and Denver, it’s just as well.

The news undoubtedly came as a shock, but I want to see him bounce back in the right way – like Xhekaj did. It’s important for the rest of his career.

I’m also looking forward to seeing how Logan Mailloux reacts without the Sheriff at his side. His progress should mean that he’ll manage to pull his weight in spite of everything.

To be continued.

In bursts

– Here’s an aspect that needs to be corrected quickly.

– The Lightning are at a crossroads.

– Arber Xhekaj is in demand in the NHL. [TSN 690]

– Yes, Sean Monahan could bring back two first picks… including the one acquired in 2022.

– Jets goalies dominate.

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