BROSSARD, Que. — You can see why he’d be an appealing player, and why everyone we spoke to in Edmonton last week had his name on the tip of their tongue.
At six-foot-five, 221 pounds, in possession of a Stanley Cup ring, an impressive playoff resume and a lot of nastiness to go with that size, you have to think Montreal Canadiens defenceman Joel Edmundson is a player the Oilers would love to get their hands on between now and the and March 3 trade deadline. That he’s signed for one more season — and for a digestible $3.5-million salary — could make him that much more enticing to general manager Ken Holland, who has repeated on several occasions he’s not a fan of giving up premium assets for a rental.
Speaking with our reporter friends in Edmonton, not only could they see the fit, but they also have a deep understanding of the need. Our friend Mark Spector isn’t the only one to have penned columns through the Connor McDavid era about the lack of defencemen bringing Edmundson’s brand to the blue line, and everyone else working in that market can see the void that’s been left since Adam Larsson went to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 expansion draft.
We saw it live last Saturday, when the Oilers were defensively porous at 5-on-5 in a game they won because the Canadiens gave them multiple 5-on-3 opportunities with a rash of second-period penalties.
Management had to be watching the same thing and wondering, “What if?”
If it were as simple as just giving up a high pick, or a quality prospect, the Oilers might have already attempted to jump the market to get Edmundson in order to help suppress the chances they regularly give up.
But a team as tight up against the cap as Edmonton would want Montreal to retain salary in the deal, regardless of how reasonable Edmundson’s contract is, and the Canadiens won’t have an interest in doing that.
We suspect they’d be willing to take a contract back, but that could increase what they ask for in return for trading Edmundson.
What we know for sure is the Canadiens are more than willing to listen on the player. They know trading Edmundson can help them continue to reshape their roster as they build towards icing a team that can win on a sustainable basis, and they’ll negotiate with teams to do what makes the most sense for them in that aim.
There will be a market that extends beyond Edmonton for Edmundson’s services, especially knowing just how much the alternate captain of the Canadiens brings both on and off the ice.
“He’s a leader here. He really is,” said goaltender Jake Allen, who won the Cup with Edmundson for the St. Louis Blues in 2019. “I’ve seen him grow into one. I’ve seen him since his first year pro. We missed a couple of years together, but now we’re back together, and (I’ve seen) just how much he’s grown as a person. His hockey play, he’s gotten better, but it hasn’t changed as much as his leadership off the ice. A lot of guys look up to him on this team. He’s a big presence on the ice, but off the ice he’s a huge piece of glue for this team.”
Considering Allen also said, on Thursday, that the biggest sign of growth he’s seen from the young Canadiens this season is how they’ve meshed together, there’s no underselling those qualities Edmundson possesses.
Still, his value will mostly be based on what he can do on the ice.
“He’s a presence on the ice,” said Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis. “He’s just calm and kind of steady. The simplicity of his game, too, I think it helps our group because I feel, at times, we’re playing a complex game but there’s some simplicity in Eddy that calms things down, especially when we need a defensive shift or a blocked shot or a puck to get out. And he can still play his game inside our complexity.”
St. Louis brought up this play from Tuesday’s 4-2 win in Seattle to illustrate that Edmundson thinks the game well and has more of an offensive dimension than he’s given credit for.
That he read a bad line change from the Kraken, jumped into the rush as the last man back for the Canadiens, and made a finesse play to set Rem Pitlick up for his first goal of the season speaks to that — much more than the one-goal, two-assist stat line through 16 games this season does.
Edmundson only playing that much because he hurt his back for a second consecutive training camp will naturally be a cause for concern for any team giving up what it’ll take to pry him out of Montreal.
It’s taken the 29-year-old time to catch this moving train, and the inexperience of the Canadiens’ other defencemen he’s been paired with hasn’t given him the best opportunity to play as reliably as he did when he was with Jeff Petry through the team’s run to the 2021 Final, and those are other factors that will be considered.
But they will likely be mitigated if Edmundson remains healthy and his game continues to trend upwards as we approach the deadline. Playoff teams know the value of these types of players — the Florida Panthers gave the Canadiens a first-round pick, a fourth-round pick and a prospect for six-foot-three, 234-pound defenceman Ben Chiarot, and he was a rental — and always have interest in adding them.
It’s why, as we travel through different NHL cities the Canadiens are scheduled to play in over the coming weeks, we expect to hear Edmundson’s name come up a lot more.