Cayden Primeau, Chris Wideman, Jordan Harris, Montreal Canadiens

3 Canadiens Facing Their Last Chances in 2023-24

The Montreal Canadiens have a log jam of young players trying to force their way onto the NHL roster. This has only gotten more pronounced as the players from the last few drafts begin to sign their entry-level contracts. General manager (GM) Kent Hughes will need to move contracts out to clear the way.

Related: Canadiens Next Step, Make Way for Youth

There are several players who have had more than enough time to find their niche with the organization but have failed to do so. Many will immediately say “Mike Hoffman” when asked who needs to step it up, but he has had his chances with the organization, and it is obvious that there is no future for him in Montreal. If anyone is to get sacrificed via trade, buyout or waiver wire, it will be him, but there are others that are on the verge of being added to the expendables list.

Chris Wideman

Chris Wideman arrived in Montreal as a depth defenseman when he was signed to a one-year deal by former GM Marc Bergevin. The 33-year-old right-handed defenseman played above his salary and role that season, earning himself a two-year extension. Unfortunately for him, last season saw him go from 27 points in 64 games in 2021-22 to a woeful six assists in 46 games in 2022-23. Some of that decline in production had to do with having less playing time from being a healthy scratch and injuries.

Chris Wideman Montreal Canadiens
Chris Wideman, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As a depth defenseman, he’s been passed on the depth chart with the emergence of Jonathan Kovacevic as a steady and reliable defender, but also with the arrival of Justin Barron and his need for ice time to develop. Add David Savard, who projects to round out the right side, there’s no room for Wideman. His best hope is to be retained as a seventh or eighth defenseman and improve on his play last season. While he is in his final season of a two-year deal paying him an average annual value (AAV) of $762,500, he is playing for his next contract, not to force his way up the Habs’ depth chart.

Cayden Primeau

The Canadiens were not shy in adding goaltenders into the prospect pool this past summer, selecting three goalies at the 2023 Draft. Add to that direct competition as Jakub Dobes’ two-year, entry-level contract begins this season, and he will be eager to prove himself ready to be the starter in the American Hockey League (AHL) for the Laval Rocket. All of this, and the fact Primeau is no longer waiver exempt, place him in a position where he has to take an NHL job and avoid being placed on waivers.

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Having two more years at $890,000 in his current contract makes it less likely he would get claimed off waivers during training camp, as many teams have goaltenders in their own systems that earn similar money and are at a similar stage of development. It is understandable that he had some issues in his play in recent seasons, as he was never allowed to settle into a starters’ role in Laval. Going back and forth between NHL and AHL is difficult. There are adjustments to make with the speed of play and the abilities of the defense in front of him. However, he was able to put up solid numbers in the AHL, with a .909 save percentage (SV%) in the regular season. But this is also a problem for him, as it is essentially what he has done every year in the AHL.

Primeau has flashed moments of brilliance, such as the 2022 AHL Playoff run, where he led the Rocket to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final with a stellar .936 SV%. He followed that up with a lesser playoff performance during the 2023 play-in round, going 0-2 with a .912 SV%. If he can’t find consistency and improve on his past stats, he will have a difficult time earning an NHL job. And with the crop of goaltenders that are beginning to enter the system, he will lose his spot on the depth chart.

Jordan Harris

This one may surprise a few people. Having Jordan Harris on this list may not feel right, but a cursory glance at the depth chart shows why. Harris had a very good rookie season, as the 23-year-old totaled four goals and 17 points in 65 games, doing well enough to earn himself a two-year extension worth $1.4 million on average per season. The left-handed defender does nothing flashy. He doesn’t play a physical brand of defense, doesn’t have a booming shot or make end-to-end rushes, but he just plays a steady, reliable style of defense. His greatest strength is his hockey IQ, which not only helps him in his impeccable positioning or his timing in joining the rush, but it also plays a key role in his ability to adapt quickly to the NHL and do so while playing both sides of the blue line.  

Jordan Harris Montreal Canadiens
Jordan Harris, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

His addition to the list has nothing to do with his play or his fit in the community, as he was the King Clancy Memorial Award nominee for the Habs. It has everything to do with the Canadiens’ depth chart on the left side of the blue line. He is in competition for ice time with players like Mike Matheson, Kaiden Guhle and Arber Xhekaj, who all have skill sets Harris can’t provide.

Also, Harris has to hold off the up-and-comers like Jayden Struble, William Trudeau and, of course, Lane Hutson. Without him finding an offensive gear he hasn’t shown yet, his time in Montreal may not last beyond this current contract. It is unfair, as he is more than capable as an NHL player, but the bar is set much higher in his case than any others because of the sheer number of left-handed competition in Montreal and with the prospects coming up.

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With one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL, there will be many players already in the professional ranks feeling the push of this wave of youth against their backs. The pressure to prove themselves as worthy of not just an NHL job but to remain in Montreal is mounting, as the window of time they have to do so has become much smaller. As a result, some of the players who aren’t reaching expectations will need to be moved out of the way sooner rather than later. No movement will happen to the players mentioned above prior to the season beginning. But if they can’t improve on their current level of play, it won’t be long before they get moved to make way for the next wave of youth.

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