The Montréal Canadiens need to add a left handed defenseman this off-season.
If you look at the Canadiens lineup, they have a lot of depth on the right hand side, but lack depth on the left side. On the right side, the Canadiens have Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Christian Folin, Noah Juulsen, Josh Brook, Cale Fleury, Brett Lernout. The left side consists of Victor Mete, Brett Kulak, Jordie Benn, Mike Reilly, Karl Alzner, David Sklenička, Otto Leskinen, Xavier Ouellet and Gustav Olofsson.
While Kulak and Benn were effective for the Canadiens at points last season, the Canadiens need consistent and more reliable left handed defensemen.
With that in mind, the Canadiens will likely be testing the trade market and some of the defensemen who they will likely be interested in are Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers and Ryan Murray of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The second to last time that the Canadiens traded with the Edmonton Oilers for a defenseman, they struck gold. On March 2, 2015, they acquired Jeff Petry in a trade with the Oilers and Petry has been a dependable mainstay in the Canadiens lineup ever since. So, the question is can they do it again?
Last off-season, Darnell Nurse took quite a bit of time to come to terms with the Oilers on a new deal. On September 17th, he signed a two year deal with a 3.2 million USD AAV.
While Nurse was the best defenseman for the Oilers, he did struggle quite a bit. In the visual below (created by Sean Tierney, data from Corey Sznajder), you’ll see that while Nurse’s possession exit percentage and break-up percentage were pretty solid, he was only a smidge better than Oscar Klefbom and Jason Garrison.
With a new regime in Edmonton, perhaps new general manager Ken Holland will look to acquire some extra draft picks in the upcoming draft and utilize Nurse as trade bait. And who knows, perhaps Nurse will fit in a bit better in Claude Julien‘s defensive scheme and have the opportunity to shine.
Plus, Habs fans should keep in mind that Nurse’s performance last season was much better than Mete, Ouellet, Alzner and Juulsen. So, he would definetly be an upgrade on the left side. Also, Nurse is a physical defenseman (162 hits last season) and he could come in handy when the Canadiens take on speedy clubs like the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Just try to visualize Nurse on the blue-line shutting down speedy wingers like Zach Hyman, Mitch Marner, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov.
It’s no secret that the Columbus Blue Jackets are in for a crazy off-season. In order for the Blue Jackets to remain a contender for next season, they need to find a way to keep Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Zachary Werenski in Ohio.
With those four big names that need to be locked up, they could potentially run out of cap room and might need to move on from Murray. Murray will be a RFA on July 1st and could get a 4-5 million USD AAV deal.
My concern with Murray is that he’s not a reliable defenseman when it comes to breakups. He’ll get the puck out of the zone, but when it comes to shutting down his opposition, that’s a different story. In the visual below from Sean Tierney (data from Corey Sznajder), you’ll see that Murray is a break-up magician at 5v5. But, if Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen doesn’t expect the Canadiens to overpay for Murray, then perhaps Murray could be an attractive option for Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin.
If I’m in Bergevin’s loafers, I’m making Nurse my priority. Adding Nurse would boost the Canadiens’ blue-line and would add another physical defenseman to the team. Plus, Nurse is pretty solid at offensive production. Last season, he had 10 goals and 31 assists in 82 games. Not bad considering he was on an Oilers club who had trouble scoring goals.
Worst case, Bergevin can try to acquire Murray and if that falls through then he can try to find a cheap free agent defenseman to try out.
stats from hockey-reference.com, Corey Sznajder
visuals from Sean Tierney
featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals