On the precipice of just their second game of 2022, the Montreal Canadiens still don’t know exactly who will be playing for them against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.
They had four full lines of forwards and seven defencemen practising Tuesday. And they have six recovered players, who were stuck in the United States with COVID-19, meeting them in Boston. So, let’s just say complicated decisions are looming -- and not just for head coach Dominique Ducharme.
Vice president of hockey operations and director of legal affairs John Sedgwick is going to have a lot of paperwork to file with the league to get some players rostered, and others sent to the taxi squad and the AHL. And though he’s probably unconcerned about it, he’ll have just an afternoon to get it all sorted out.
“We’re going to skate tomorrow, and then make decisions because it’s a question of conditioning,” said Ducharme before the Canadiens left for the airport.
Some of those decisions will be easy -- with this many healthy bodies around, Brandon Baddock, Louie Belpedio, Gianni Fairbrother and Cayden Primeau are all likely destined for either the taxi squad or Laval. The difficult ones will be with Jake Evans and Alex Romanov -- established NHLers who have gotten in some skating while stuck in the U.S. but haven’t participated in an NHL workout for weeks.
Under normal circumstances, they’d be left out of Wednesday’s game -- especially with the Canadiens playing the Blackhawks in Chicago on Thursday.
But these aren’t normal circumstances, and the Canadiens would prefer to ice as many NHLers as they can.
I can think of four players in particular who are hoping they won’t.
The first two are Laurent Dauphin and Lukas Vejdemo, who both showed well in their short audition prior to the break and are both currently penciled into Wednesday’s lineup.
The former had a goal and two assists in five games after getting off to a great start in Laval, collecting 11 goals in 18 games with the Rocket. The 26-year-old has taken a long road to this point -- getting in 35 games of NHL experience before spending more time in the AHL than he ever wished to -- and said on Tuesday he’s treating this as his last chance.
Because Dauphin has made good on it so far, Ducharme didn’t discount the possibility of him staying as the team edges even closer to full strength.
“He’s a competitive guy, has good hockey sense,” Ducharme said. “He’s intelligent. When I say competitive, he puts himself in good positions to be successful. I think that with physical maturity, but also mental because he knows himself better as a player, he’s using his strengths to have success.”
The coach has been saying all along that the 25-year-old Vejdemo has been doing the same.
The Swede has played confidently, and he’s found a way to contribute in different areas, including on the penalty kill. And after 162 games in the AHL, he appears ready to play full-time in the world’s best league.
“You get more mature, you build some confidence too,” Vejdemo said of developing in the AHL. “You just need to use your strengths and do all the details right. You can’t have any days off, you need to be good every game. So, I think I learned that over the years here -- to be better every day and have the same level through more games. That’s what I tried to do, at least, and learn. I felt that’s a big part of my game now -- more consistency and trying to be good every game.”
If Vejdemo’s not going to get the chance to show that here and now -- before regulars Paul Byron, Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson and Mathieu Perreault are able to return to the lineup -- when will he?
He’s one, Dauphin’s one, and now let’s talk about the other two on the aforementioned four-man list.
Start with Cedric Paquette. I wonder if one of the things Sedgwick will have to do by 2 p.m. ET Wednesday is place Paquette on waivers if Evans proves ready to jump in against the Bruins.
The veteran, who signed for one year at $950,000 last off-season, was on Vejdemo’s wing at Tuesday’s practice. But it’ll be extremely hard for Ducharme, or those above him, to justify keeping Paquette there much longer as the Canadiens return to health.
Even if Paquette remains in place when Evans returns, Paul Byron is coming off the COVID protocol list any day and is just days away from making his season debut. It’s a matter of time before Paquette finds himself on the outside looking in. And players like Dauphin and Vejdemo, who have earned more opportunity, can’t continue to be shelved for him.
Lastly, Romanov may not have participated in a practice with teammates since 2021, but he’s probably been doing nothing but training in the States. I would think Ducharme would have to chain him to a seat in the press box to keep him out of the lineup against the Bruins, but we’ll see.
Because Sami Niku is quarterbacking the team’s first power-play unit (with Cole Caufield and Mike Hoffman across from each other on the flanks, with Nick Suzuki in the bumper, and Jonathan Drouin down low), that likely puts Chris Wideman on the outside looking in.
He’d prefer to play, but the Canadiens are starting to look more and more like… the actual Canadiens.
As Ducharme put it, “With each passing week since the season started, it felt like we were losing a guy or several guys. Now it feels like we’re adding some every week.”
It creates a problem roster-wise, but a good problem for the Canadiens -- except for Sedgwick, who might want to carry around tape recorder like us reporters do just so he can remember who’s moving where.
Regarding Sedgwick and the vacant GM job
He’s used to all this, and he’s a master of it.
That’s why, after his brilliant navigation of the most complex cap manifestations the Canadiens have dealt with since 2005, he was signed to a three-year contract extension on June 23.
Could he take on more with the club? My sense is absolutely.
Because his name is Sedgwick, and not Briere, Luongo, Castonguay, Quintal or Darche, he’s garnered very little media attention in the Canadiens’ GM race. Which is silly.
Sedgwick may not have the right accent, or speak French as fluently as the other candidates, but he has more relevant experience than virtually anyone on the list.
Sedgwick joined the Canadiens in 2013 and has since helped launch both the Rocket and the ECHL’s Trois-Rivieres Lions. He’s a contract specialist who’s been heavily involved in player negotiations, arbitration cases and the day-to-day strategic and financial planning and execution of the club, and my sources say he’s in contention for the job.
Whether Sedgwick fits as the best spokesperson is certainly in question. The strength of his French is at the root of it.
But given where Sedgwick is starting from -- he clearly understands everything and speaks quite well -- he could improve quite quickly.
Having lived in Quebec my whole life, I understand there is a portion of the population who will not accept the Canadiens’ GM not speaking French.
But I also know that those same people are all about anglophones making an effort to speak French and improve in French, and the Canadiens have to consider this, too, in their evaluation.
If they’re serious about hiring the best person for the job, they can’t overlook this candidate. And I’m told they’re not doing that.