No Depth on Defense? Think Again!

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Defense wins championships. That’s what everyone around hockey, not only the NHL, is saying. In his book, the great Scotty Bowman always claimed that preventing a goal is more important than scoring one as if you allow a goal, you have to score two more to win. The NHL doesn’t look at the scores when awarding points in the standings. Only wins, losses and more recently, looser points (points obtained by losing in regulation or in skills’ competition) have an effect on the teams’ standings. So whether you win 8-7 or 2-1, it counts the same.

In Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens have the best goaltender in the world, and he was rewarded with a contract this summer that will make him paid as such, starting in 2018-2019. They still have arguably the best shutdown defenseman in the NHL in Shea Weber, against whom opponents struggled to score when he was on the ice all season long last year. That hasn’t changed.

Losing Andrei Markov however should have its effect and that, in spite of the fact that he’s not getting any better with age. He was still a key contributor to the Canadiens’ defensive core last season and there is no doubt that he will be missed. But the Habs’ defense was not Markov. It was a group effort, including the two corner stones mentioned earlier.

Here’s what Marc Bergevin had to say about the loss of Markov:

“Loosing Markov creates a big hole. Andrei was a very good player for us, but we added Mark Streit, which I think fills some of that role. We added David Schlemko. I think by committee we should be able to fill that gap. Let’s keep in mind we didn’t lose a 25-year-old defenseman. All respect to Andrei, he’s going to turn 39 in December. At some point we have to move forward.”

A Deeper Group

In a recent article on Sportsnet, beat writer Eric Engels tried to paint a picture claiming that the loss of Markov, Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin has affected the team’s depth at that position. Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, the defense heading into training camp is the deepest in NHL quality than it’s been in Bergevin’s tenure as the team’s GM. Don’t take my word for it, look for yourself, including regular season’s games played in the NHL:

 

  • Shea Weber (841 GP)
  • Mark Streit (784 GP)
  • Karl Alzner (591 GP)
  • Jeff Petry (445 GP)
  • David Schlemko (360 GP)
  • Jordie Benn (315 GP)
  • Eric Gelinas (189 GP) – PTO
  • Zach Redmond (130 GP)
  • Brandon Davidson (101 GP)
  • Joe Morrow (65 GP)
  • Matt Taormina (59 GP)

You add to that group a guy like 26 year-old Jakub Jerabek (367 pro games) and young Brett Lernout who had a taste of the NHL at the end of last season. You also have Thomas Parisi and two newly pro in Noah Juulsen and Simon Bourque, who will likely all start the season in Laval, followed by non other than Victor Mete, the only junior-age player invited to the main camp.

 

If that’s not having depth, very few NHL teams have depth. Perhaps only the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who have 11 defensemen on one-way contracts, have more NHL depth than the Canadiens heading into camp.

Are they lacking a Top-4 defenseman, one who can log quality minutes with Weber? Absolutely and the organization isn’t denying it either. But quality depth, they have. At centre however, that’s a whole different story…

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