Canadiens’ addition of Edmundson brings balance to blue line at fair value


Joel Edmundson (6) moves the puck ahead of Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine (29), of Finland, during the first period in Game 4 of an NHL first-round hockey playoff series, Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

MONTREAL — The text that came in from a Western Conference executive was a balanced and informed assessment of Marc Bergevin’s decision to trade for and sign Joel Edmundson.

“Good deal,” the executive said of the four-year, $14-million contract Edmundson signed with the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. “They’re going to like him. Great team player, according to people who know him well. Not fun to play against. Good complement to skill D. He’s a 4-5, so slightly overpaid for where he slots.

“But term is good, and that’s better than what Montreal would’ve paid in [the] UFA market. He was going to be in demand.”

Even with a global pandemic putting a dent in hockey-related revenue — ensuring the upper limit of the salary cap will remain stagnant for the next two seasons — six-foot-four, 215-pound defencemen who skate reasonably well and chip in a bit of offence will always be valuable commodities on the open market.

It’s not hard to figure out why the Canadiens were compelled by the possibility of adding one to their mix, or why they traded a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes to obtain Edmunson’s exclusive negotiation rights three weeks ahead of free agency.

They watched their top three defencemen — all of them large, physical and mobile — hold the most offensively potent Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers forwards largely in check over their 10 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and thought it probably wouldn’t hurt to get another such player.

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And yeah, maybe Edmundson doesn’t quite shoot like Shea Weber, or skate and pass like Jeff Petry, but there’s hope he can be as effective as Ben Chiarot proved to be in his first year of a near-identical deal he signed last summer with the Canadiens.

The analytics suggest that’s anything but guaranteed, but that’s fine by Edmundson.

“I don’t really pay attention to that at all,” the B.C. native said during a conference call Thursday. “But if people are saying I got 20 points (in 2019-20) because it’s a fast-moving Carolina team, I think the Canadiens are just as fast and just as skilled. So I’m definitely not worried about that. For myself, I don’t really look at analytics at all. I know a lot of people really dig into that …Just going out there and being physical, just being that presence that you won’t find in the analytics, it’s something that stats don’t really show what I can bring to the team.”

I’d suggest what he’s bringing — outside of size, physicality experience, a decent skating stride and a reputation for being a good teammate — is stability next to Petry and balance to the rest of the Montreal blue line, provided he plays close to his potential.

The options weren’t limitless for a Canadiens team that’s had little success in free agency in recent years. Heck, they’ve had virtually no success in it with the top dogs, so if you were holding your breath for the Boston BruinsTorey Krug

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Still, the Canadiens filled a need here. Maybe they’d have done it with Marco Scandella, had they retained him after trading for him in January. Instead, they moved Scandella to the St. Louis Blues in February and were left with the same hole they had prior to acquiring him for a fourth-round pick from the Buffalo Sabres.

The Montreal native is a player the Canadiens could’ve used in the playoff games they were gifted by the NHL/NHLPA return-to-play format. Scandella, 30, had four goals and 13 points and averaged 17:35 per game over the 62 he played this season. The six-foot-three, 212-pounder had a 51.5 per-cent corsi rating starting 50 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone. He signed a four-year, $13.1-million deal to stay with the Blues.

Edmundson, 27, had seven goals and 20 points and averaged 18:27 per game over his 68 with Carolina — and he had a 50.8 per-cent corsi for starting 45 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone.

Both players got limited no-trade clauses, and Edmundson got $5 million in signing bonuses — the bulk of which will be paid over the final two seasons of his deal, when escrow will go from being capped between 14-18 per cent to 10 per cent in 2023 and six per cent in 2024.

That was a cookie for Edmundson for skirting free agency and taking a marginally better deal than Scandella’s. A fair compromise, especially considering Edmundson is four years younger and was markedly more impactful (in every traditional statistic category) in the playoffs for Carolina than Scandella was for St. Louis.

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All to say, we may never know what Edmundson would’ve gotten had he gone to free agency, but the Canadiens fairly assessed his potential market value and, as the executive quoted up top suggested, might have even gotten a bargain.

Now here’s what they bought: a player that helps gives their blue line a similar look to the one the Blues had when they won the 2019 Stanley Cup with Edmundson among their top six.

“We had size in St. Louis, but we also played physical and, at the same time, we could all skate and keep up with the faster forwards,” said Edmundson. “Our goal was to wear down the other team. I think we broke down a lot of teams. I like the way [the Canadiens] are built. It’s a young team with a lot of speed. With the addition of me on the back end, Shea, Chiarot and Petry, you have size and we can all skate.”

Brett Kulak and Victor Mete bring speed and puck-moving to the equation and, provided he’s capable of being impactful as a rookie, Alexander Romanov is a Swiss Army knife type. There’s some young, talented depth in Cale Fleury, Noah Juulsen and Gustav Olofsson, and Xavier Ouellet proved serviceable in the playoffs.

Edmundson thought about all of that, and about how the Canadiens clearly wanted him and were willing to give him fair value and good term in these most uncertain times, and he signed.

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They’re happy he did, and he said he couldn’t be happier.

“It’s been one my family’s favourite teams for their whole lives,” Edmundson said. “My dad’s side of the family is French and that whole side of the family loves the Canadiens. It’s not only a dream come true for me, but I know my dad’s super excited.”

One would think Carey Price and Weber, who have spent the last three off-seasons skating with Edmundson in Kelowna, are also enthused.

“When I got traded here, Shea reached out and shot me a message,” Edmundson said. “It’s nice that I know them going into Montreal. They always say nothing but good things about Montreal, so I’m very excited to join them.”

Edmundson also said he’s prepared for everything else that comes with wearing a Canadiens uniform.

“All that pressure doesn’t really matter to me; I feel like I play well under pressure,” he said. “I feel like every year of my career so far in playoffs, where obviously there’s the most pressure on you, that’s where I perform at my best. It’ll be a lot different, but I’m looking forward to it, that’s for sure.”


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