Earlier this season, the Canadiens were facing a roster crunch up front and ultimately lost center Jacob de la Rose on waivers to Detroit as a result. With Shea Weber inching closer to a return, there is about to be a crunch on their back end. Accordingly, the team is believed to be looking to move a defenseman, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports (video link).
Currently, the team is carrying eight blueliners and they have started to use a bit of a rotation following David Schlemko’s return to the lineup. Once Weber returns, they’ll be at nine and while carrying that many is doable if they opted to have just the minimum number of forwards on the roster, that’s not an ideal situation.
Unlike their situation up front earlier in the year, Montreal does have a little more flexibility when it comes to their defenders as both Noah Juulsen and Victor Mete are both waiver-exempt. If it comes to that, one of them could be sent down to avoid exposing someone else. However, both players have been regulars this season so removing one of them for an extended period of time wouldn’t be ideal.
Realistically, it’s unlikely that the Canadiens have any plans to move those two youngsters as well as Weber or Jeff Petry, who has logged heavy minutes in the early going this season. It’s also hard to imagine that the team will be able to find a taker for Karl Alzner who has slipped to eighth on the depth chart and has a $4.625MM cap hit through the 2021-22 season.
That leaves four depth players as potential trade possibilities. Schlemko has had some success in the past in a third pairing role and Montreal is trying to see if he’s capable of more as he has averaged over 20 minutes a night since coming off IR. He also has another year left on his contract after this one at a $2.1MM AAV which may limit his suitors.
Jordie Benn is a pending unrestricted free agent and came into the season as a potential trade candidate later in the year and he carries an affordable $1.1MM cap hit. However, he’s currently on their top pairing so there may not be too much of a willingness to move him at this time.
The other two defenders on their active roster are 25-year-olds that have been inconsistent in their early careers in Mike Reilly ($725K) and Xavier Ouellet ($700K). Reilly started the season strong but has been a healthy scratch the past two games while it wasn’t that long ago that Ouellet was made available for trade by Detroit before they ultimately bought him out. Both players are set to be restricted free agents with arbitration eligibility this summer.
As a result, there isn’t one specific player that stands out as a likely candidate to be moved. They still have some time to make a decision as even though Weber appears to be ahead of schedule, he’s still likely a couple of weeks from getting the green light to suit up. In the meantime, if a team is looking to add some defensive depth to their roster, they’ll likely be getting in touch with GM Marc Bergevin before too long.