Joel Edmundson, Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals

Canadiens Move Edmundson and Improve Their Future Blue Line

The NHL free agency period, when unrestricted free agents can be signed, began at noon eastern on July 1. For the Montreal Canadiens and general manager (GM) Kent Hughes, it was not a time to go and find pieces to help the team compete now. 

Related: Canadiens Fans’ Negative Reaction Hurts Rebuild Plan

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Instead, on this Canada Day, Hughes was using this period to progress his rebuild plan. He did so by making a small yet significant move, trading defenseman Joel Edmundson to the Washington Capitals. While this deal seems underwhelming, it is indicative of the team’s goals.  

The Canadiens Have a Trade to Announce 

Hughes kicked off his offseason work by dealing alternate captain Joel Edmundson to the Capitals for Minnesota Wild’s 2024 third-round pick and Washington’s seventh-round pick in 2024. Washington receives a veteran defenseman with vast experience, having won the Stanley Cup in 2019 with the St. Louis Blues, then as a key piece of the Canadiens’ playoff run to the Final in 2021. Also, the Canadiens will retain 50 percent of the final season of the defender’s contract, meaning the deal will save both sides $1.75 million in cap space. 

Joel Edmundson
Joel Edmundson, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It would be fair to say Edmundson struggled last season. However, that is most likely due to the lack of support for him to fit into his most suitable role due to the team lacking most of its veterans because of injuries. But it was also due to his injury issues, having missed a significant part of the season due to back issues

In 2022-23, Edmundson played 61 games for the Canadiens, scoring two goals and 13 points while playing an average of 19:34 per night. While his offense is limited, he provides mobile defensive coverage and a good first pass to help in transitional play. Also, the Capitals are adding size (6-foot-5, 221 pounds) on their blue line and some help with their penalty kill, a role he has always been well-suited to fill. While this deal may not satisfy some fans because of the value in the return, there is more to this trade than just the draft picks. 

Canadiens Added Benefits 

The two largest issues facing the Canadiens heading into July 1 were a lack of salary cap space and a lack of roster positions for their young blueliners to slot into. The Edmundson trade to the Capitals helps to alleviate both of those problems.

Click to read all of The Hockey Writers’ 2023 NHL Free Agency coverage

On the salary cap, with 50 percent of his $3.5 million gone ($1.75 million remains on the books for 2023-24), Montreal now has some cushion as they were over the limit, meaning they have $490,000 in available cap space. There is still the option of placing Carey Price back onto long-term injured reserve (LTIR) if necessary, which would add another $10.5 million to use to resign their restricted free agents. 

More importantly, with Edmundson out of the way, the left side of the blue line has an opening. That side has been overborne with young defenders all season long. The top pair is anchored by Mike Matheson on the left side, leaving only two regular spots on that side. With Edmundson in the lineup, it meant that a player like Kaiden Guhle or Jordan Harris was forced to move to the right side, making them play on their offhand side. Now, those two can compete for top-four minutes. While Guhle likely wins that battle, as Harris has spent more time playing on the right side, as he played there for much of his developmental time in the NCAA.  

Kaiden Guhle, Montreal Canadiens
Kaiden Guhle Montreal Canadiens (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It can’t be forgotten that a third rookie, Arber Xhekaj, was also playing on the left side. Before he went down with his shoulder injury, he was leading the NHL in goals by rookie defensemen while also providing the team with something they had been lacking for some time, the intimidation factor to keep opposing teams honest in their approach to the Habs.  

Additionally, this now opens an internal competition between the three rookie left-handed defensemen. There will likely be a rotation involved for them. And this now provides them all added opportunities for ice time in more situations, which will help them to build experience, helping the Canadiens in the long term as they are all considered part of the team’s upcoming competitive window. 

The Habs had two needs this summer: shed cap and open space for the youth. Moving Edmundson fills both needs. While it’s clear that this is just the first move Hughes will need to make to address those two needs, this one makes it clear that he will be busy this summer as he continues to shop most of his veterans on the trade market.

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