The Montreal Canadiens don't just enter the new season with a new look up front, but a very different look on the back end as well. The P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade makes the Canadiens look very different on defence, so it's time to take a look at what the pairings might be when the season gets going.
I still don't think that they improved upon this position, but there are several interesting things to talk about, and it's definitely not a terrible group. So, let's take a look at what they have, and how they might deploy their resources.
A staple on the Canadiens top defensive duo for a long time has been Andrei Markov. However, now that Subban is no longer around to provide him with the mobile partner he requires at his age, he may not be the best option for the team to anchor the top unit.
With Subban on his right, Markov is a top-pairing defenceman. The incoming Weber falls short of offering that mobility, and himself is at his best when you give him a mobile partner. I believe that the best option for Weber as a partner is Nathan Beaulieu.
I'm not positive that Beaulieu is 100% ready for the pressure of manning the top unit, but he did very well whenever he was paired with Subban in the past. Weber is however a steady enough presence that it shouldn't be an issue for Beaulieu to play there with him.
That being said, Beaulieu's numbers with the next staple in the Habs' top-four may be enough for us to still pencil Markov in on the top unit.
Behind Weber, the clear cut number two for the Canadiens on the right side is Jeff Petry, and that much really cannot be debated. He was yet another victim of the injury bug that plagued the Canadiens last year, and the hope is that he can again anchor the second pairing on a more permanent basis this time around.
Petry is very mobile, so it doesn't really matter who he skates with. It must, however, be mentioned that his numbers were far more formidable as a pair with Beaulieu than they were with Markov. The following table will make a pretty compelling case for Beaulieu to play with
Now, the Petry and Markov sample together is the smallest by a sight, but overall these numbers suggest that Petry is at his very best with Beaulieu. In many ways, they even suggest that he would be better off with Emelin than Markov.
For me, Emelin is pretty clearly best used as a third pairing player. So it should be one of Markov or Beaulieu to play with Petry. Basically they're going to have to make an evaluation, and then do something decisive. My advice would be to give Markov another shot with Petry, and see if some of these numbers don't improve with a bigger sample.
Here is where things get very interesting. As I said - barring another curveball in the form of a Marc Bergevin trade - I see Alexei Emelin as being the guy who skates on the left of this unit. As for the right, well let's take a look at Emelin's numbers with three of his comrades.
Emelin enjoyed a decent run with Greg Pateryn, with enough of a sample size that we can evaluate them as a very serviceable third pairing. Conversely, he enjoyed some absolutely ridiculous numbers with Mark Barberio, albeit through a much smaller sample.
I love the idea of exploring that relationship between Emelin and Barberio, just to see if those numbers can hold the weight of a bigger sample. However, put him with Pateryn and you still have a reliable third pairing. It will probably all hinge on which of those two has the better showing at camp this year.
Then there is the dark horse Zach Redmond. I think that he was added to bolster the corps in St. John's, but again, he could also shake things up at camp with a solid showing.
The way I see it, the Canadiens defence should look something like this on opening night.
|Andrei Markov/Nathan Beaulieu||Shea Weber|
|Andrei Markov/Nathan Beaulieu||Jeff Petry|
|Alexei Emelin||Mark Barberio/Greg Pateryn|
Of course, I have yet to address the possibility of Mikhail Sergachev making the team out of camp. Yes, the last Habs prospect drafted in the top-10 did go straight to the NHL (once the lockout was over), but he wasn't a defenceman. That's a much tougher spot to crack, and I don't see it happening, even for the extremely talented Sergachev.
Let's say I'm wrong, and he does make a real push for the roster. That would likely mean that a body has to move out. Sergachev does have the ability to play both sides of the point, so almost anyone would be vulnerable in trade conversations at that point.
But, he would be coming in as a rookie, so you probably would want to let him play his proper side. That likely means moving Nathan Beaulieu, or asking Alexei Emelin to waive his NTC to play somewhere else. This is yet another part of camp that will be very interesting to watch; can Sergachev push the Canadiens to make some more moves?
In any case, this is what I believe we're looking at for an opening night roster on defence. What do you think? Let us know in the comments!