Since the Habs signed Chris Campoli a couple days back, speculation has been rampant about the Canadiens’ blue line. We all knew it was going to be crowded to begin with, but the addition of Campoli begs a question that we do not yet know the answer to-what’s going on with the Canadiens’ D corps?
Initially, it was thought that PK Subban (back), or, more likely, Andrei Markov (knee) had reinjured themselves and were going to be out for an extensive period of time. However, although he may not be ready to start the season, it sounds like he hasn’t had a major setback. As for Subban, he has been practicing but has played in only one preseason game, which was a week ago. If he and Markov both miss the start of the season, a very slow start could be in the cards for Montreal, which would be disastrous considering their second half collapses the last couple years.
First, let’s examine the sure things: Hal Gill and Josh Gorges will be playing every night for this club, barring injury. They are the defensive rocks that make Subban’s (and Markov’s) offense possible. The Hockey News had an excellent piece on Gill and Subban’s relationship a couple months ago. but will they be paired to start the season? As of right now, no one knows.
Besides those 2 sure-fire starters (once they get healthy), there are still a whole bunch of questions and variables. One of them, Yannick Weber, appears to have been solved-Weber has been playing forward in practice the last couple days. If that continues, look for Weber to have a similar role as last year where he is usually a healthy scratch and can fill in up front or on D when needed.
Then there are the others. It was widely thought before and even at the beginning of training camp that Jaro Spacek, Alexei Yemelin and Weber would be battling it out for the bottom pairing. Even Jeff Woywitka and Mark Mitera were expected to hang around. The Habs also had 2 junior aged d-men (Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi) playing well in camp. However, with the emergence of Raphael Diaz, the signing of Chris Campoli, and the underwhelming play of Yemelin, Mitera, and Woywitka, things are more uncertain. By my count, that’s 7 defenseman to fill the bottom 2 and figure in a healthy scratch-so that’s 7 d-men for 3 spots.
My guess (which is as good as anyone’s at this point) is that Spacek, Yemelin, Campoli and Diaz all make the team. This means the Habs will carry 8 defensemen, which is ok given the uncertainty of Markov and Subban. Woywitka and Mitera have really sucked in the preseason and have pretty much obliterated any chance they had. Beaulieu and Tinordi are still a year or so away from really being ready to compete for a roster spot in camp. The Habs have to keep Yemelin on the big team despite his underwhelming-bordering-on-terrible play because if they send him down to the AHL, he will immediately go back to Russia, which is really not an option at this point. The Habs just signed Campoli to a fairly rich contract for this stage of the game, and he is decent, so one would assume they’re not doing anything with him. Spacek has already looked gassed and the season hasn’t even start yet, but he’s not going anywhere (excluding a trade, of course). As for Diaz, he is sort of my “upset” pick to make the team (no, I don’t think Gallagher will). The smooth-skating Swiss has impressed in camp, although it has been overshadowed by the emergence of Gallagher. If they kept him as their 8th d-man (keeping 8 is something Gauthier has showed openness to), it wouldn’t surprise me.
Then again, nothing would at this point.
Stu Krantz-the Puck Schmuck-is on Twitter. Hit him up @StuKrantz