The Montreal Canadiens have had a very straight forward season thus far. They have used 18 skaters and two goaltenders. The only transactions they have made have been to save cap room on off days.
Even Victor Mete, who is the only extra player on the active roster, has yet to play a game this season.
That will very likely change on Saturday when the team plays their third straight game against the Vancouver Canucks. The Canadiens depth has been the strength of their team through five games. From every line scoring, to minutes being distributed evenly, the team has proven that they have effective depth.
The other prong to that depth is having internal replacements. It was the reason the team added Corey Perry and Michael Frolik before training camp opened even though the lineup appeared set. A team with playoff aspirations — especially in the reality of the current season — needs to have players come in and perform.
With Joel Armia suffering from a concussion and Paul Byron leaving early after taking a shot off of his foot, there is a good chance someone will have to come into the lineup. Canadiens coach Claude Julien has no issue going to his taxi squad, especially for the two veteran forwards.
“Those two players have been a great example to our young players,” Julien said after Thursday’s 7-3 win against the Canucks. “They are leading the way right now. What we like about that is their experience and what they are showing to young players who want to become good professionals. They have a great attitude. That’s why [general manager Marc Bergevin] went out to get them: If things happen along the way, we have depth. They are players who can play, who can help us. We’ll see what our injury situation is and how we can react with any changes.”
The situation to bring both into the lineup isn’t as simple as changing the lineup card. Between the team’s cap situation and waiver situation, there will need to be some maneuvering. The Canadiens may have enough cap space to bring one player up without needing anyone to go on long-term injury reserve (LTIR). LTIR would require a player to miss a minimum 24 days or 10 games which is a lot of time for what could be a short-term injury just to get around the cap. LTIR would allow a team to replace the salary of the player. Regular injured reserve is only a minimum of a week but provides zero cap relief.
There is the chance, if both Armia and Byron — who Julien said would be evaluated day-to day — are out that the Canadiens may have to play with 11 forwards and seven defencemen since Mete is on the active roster.
Another possible option would be to send down Alexander Romanov for Saturday’s game, and play Mete in his spot on defence. That would allow both Perry and Frolik to be called up even if no one is placed on LTIR. It’s not ideal for the rookie defenceman, but it wouldn’t need to be a long-term solution either.
Bergevin knew he would have to pull off some cap gymnastics this season. He did his stretching during the off-season to prepare for the inevitability of injuries. Now we’ll have to see what happens now that those gymnastics, and the depth, is being tested.