Canadiens bracing for potential Edmundson trade at deadline

Gabriel Vilardi scored the game-winning goal and added an assist to help the Los Angeles King beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2.

LOS ANGELES — If this was Joel Edmundson’s last game in a Montreal Canadiens uniform, it’ll have a lot to do with the 75 he’s already played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Sources we connected with late on Thursday suggested at least two playoff-bound teams remained interested in his services, making it possible he could move before Friday’s 3:00 p.m. ET., deadline. We didn’t need them to tell us that had this 3-2 loss for the Canadiens against the Los Angeles Kings not been Edmundson’s first game in a little over a month, he’d have likely been traded days ago. 

If that seems counterintuitive, given Edmundson’s recent injury history and his contract, which counts for another $3.5 million on the salary cap for one more season beyond this one, we get it. We can acknowledge he’s not the type of defenceman you immediately think of as a piece to put a contending team over the top. 

Martin St. Louis understands turbocharged, free-wheeling, puck-moving defencemen are more en vogue, too. 

But the coach of the Canadiens also knows the type of value an experienced, rugged defenceman like Edmundson holds come spring.

“The game is more about the skating and the possession (than when he was playing from 1998-2015), so there used to be more Joel Edmundsons out there and there used to be less (Scott) Niedermayers,” St. Louis said earlier on Thursday. “Now it’s a little bit flipped. Guys like Eddy, on the bench, they just bring a presence.”

On the ice, says St. Louis, that presence is magnified.

“(Edmundson brings) physicality, and the opponents know in certain spots of the ice they’re going to pay a price probably more than versus a Niedermayer, so to speak,” St. Louis continued. “Niedermayer-kind of guys, they’ll crowd your space differently, with their feet and with their stick, and big guys like Eddy are going to make you pay a price physically. 

“They’re fun to have on your team. I think the guys on the bench feel a difference when Eddy’s dressed versus when he’s not dressed.”

The Canadiens could feel it against the Kings, and anyone watching could see it.

St. Louis had dressed seven defencemen to spread the ice time on Montreal’s blue line, and even with Justin Barron leaving after his second shift of the game, he was still able to keep Edmundson’s shifts to a reasonable count. 

The big man, who played just 14:42 over 18 shifts — and just 2:59 over six in the third — started tentatively but ramped up his game with every shift, matching up against the Kings’ top line of Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe and Quinton Byfield for most of the night at 5-on-5, registering four hits and one blocked shot, and putting up the type of performance he’s been known for throughout his eight-year career. 

It was the type of performance that would’ve at least reassured the teams still interested in his services he might be worth gambling on over the coming hours.

If they were wondering how Edmundson’s back would hold up, after it kept him out of Montreal’s last 11 games — as well as 10 at the beginning of the season and 58 of 82 games last season — they were able to see it held up alright throughout the game.

“I felt great out there,” Edmundson said.

If that remains status quo over the coming weeks, a team willing to take the chance will get a player worth having in the end.

It was in the playoffs where the six-foot-five, 221-pounder imposed his punishing style to help the St. Louis Blues go deep in consecutive years before helping them win the 2019 Stanley Cup.

Then in 2021, Edmundson helped the Canadiens get within two wins of their first Cup 28 years by throwing 65 hits and blocking 30 shots. He commandeered a penalty-killing group that held its opposition to just five goals on 61 attempts. 

He averaged 23:23 per game and emerged as the leader he was later officially recognized as when the Canadiens made him alternate captain to Nick Suzuki in the fall of 2022.

We reached out to Montreal’s other alternate, Brendan Gallagher, to give us a sense for how much Edmundson meant to the Canadiens on that run, and how much he’s meant since, and the response we got was that he couldn’t possibly sum up Edmundson’s worth over text.

“Great teammate, great player, tough as nails,” read the text former Canadiens teammate Ben Chiarot sent us after he scored a goal for the Detroit Red Wings in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken earlier on Thursday. 

“That’s a guy you want on your team when you’re going into a big game!” Chiarot exclaimed.

He was echoing the words Kaiden Guhle — a blossoming, 21-year-old rookie defenceman who’s been paired with Edmundson at times this season — said in San Jose before the Canadiens beat the Sharks on Tuesday and reinforcing the ones Suzuki used Thursday morning. 

Said Barron earlier on Thursday, “I think it’s just he’s good in every asset of his game all over the ice. Obviously, with his size and strength, he’s very good in the defensive zone. He’s hard to get by off the rush, strong in front of the net, makes hard plays, but we’ve seen at times he definitely has enough skill to make plays at the offensive-zone blue line and get up in the rush a little bit. He’s just a real steady player and good leader on this team as well. He makes everyone better.”

“He’s a hell of a player and he knows exactly what he needs to do out there in his role and maybe plays it perfectly,” said Suzuki. “He’s a big influence on the ice and off the ice.”

No one has sensed that more than Jake Allen, who won the Cup with Edmundson in St. Louis and watched from Montreal’s bench as he played such a huge role in the Canadiens’ run two years ago. 

To the goaltender, who made 30 saves against the Kings, the possibility Edmundson gets traded in the coming hours appears very real because of what the defenceman has proven he can do when it matters most.

“He’s just a big, mean bastard out there,” Allen said. “He doesn’t back down, he’s not afraid of anyone, he’s got that long range. I always think I’d rather have a d-man with size than no size. As you know, space is so valuable in the playoffs. You can get away with it in the regular season, but I’ve seen it first-hand — taking away space is crucial and to have a six-foot-five defenceman with range, who’s lanky and experienced, who’s played probably his best hockey in the playoffs, I think that’ll be the driving factor in I’m sure why he’s wanted by a lot of teams.”

Even if Edmundson said he’d prefer to stay with the Canadiens, he’s been bracing himself for the possibility he goes.

“There’s rumours going around everywhere, and all us guys — we see them,” he said. “When you’re in a situation like our team, everyone’s kind of on edge. It’s just part of the business, it’s not fun. But it’s definitely in the back of your mind…

“I’m not going to say I’m excited. It just sucks being in the position when you’re one of the bottom teams. No one’s safe really. There’s probably a handful of guys on our team that are safe, and the rest of us it’s not fun. It’s going to be a long day.”

Whether it ends with Edmundson remaining with the Canadiens and playing in Anaheim against the Ducks is the big question.

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