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As the regular season approaches, the Canadiens have some tough decisions to make

With less than a week to go before the season opener at the Bell Center on October 12, the Montreal Canadiens are in the home stretch of what was a first training camp for many participants. Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton, General Manager Kent Hughes and Head Coach Martin St-Louis are going through their first camp in Montreal and they have some serious decisions to make.

To create a clearer picture, sorting battles at each position can help make the drill easier.

In order to

There’s no question about Jake Allen, who the Canadiens just signed to a contract extension. Originally signed to be Carey Price’s backup, he’ll take a seat that isn’t really his, as the team’s number one goaltender for a second year in a row.

To back him up, neither Samuel Montembeault nor Cayden Primeau have shown enough so far to make a solid case to become Allen’s replacement, or the team’s 1-B starter. It’s embarrassing too. Unless one of them improves significantly, the Canadians might be forced to seek help outside of the organization, either for a clear number one or for a veteran to share the tasks with Allen.

In the center

After acquiring Kirby Dach and Sean Monahan, the Canadiens are left with five players who are very capable centers in the NHL. Although currently injured, there is no denying that new captain Nick Suzuki will be the center of the team’s first line. But beyond him, it gets a bit murky.

Christian Dvorak, Monahan and Dach are all capable of crossing the second or third line and none of them are typical fourth line crosses. This place belongs to Jake Evans. A temporary solution could be to play Monahan and Dach on the same line and have them share the face-off duties. So either Monahan would play left wing or Dach would switch to right wing. In such a scenario, Dvorak would take on third-line duties.

On the left wing

One word can sum up the situation on the left wing: crowded. Despite being a right-hander, Cole Caufield has had the most success on Suzuki’s left, so he should be a staple on the front row, left wing. As wingers can easily be switched to their off-wing, the situation beyond is fluid.

You have Jonathan Drouin, Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, Juraj Slafkovsky, Emil Heineman, Rem Pitlick, Michael Pezzetta and Paul Byron (injured) all shooting left. Dadonov played a lot on the right wing. But even if you move it to the right, there is a mess on the left wing. There will be six (seven counting Byron) battling it out for three spots.

On the right wing

Josh Anderson, Brendan Gallagher Joel Armia and Jesse Ylönen are the only right-handed wingers in camp right now. For this reason, perhaps adding Dach to the right of Monahan, who is a more experienced center player, could be a temporary solution. But what about Dadonov? Do you add it to the background image on the left? Ylönen is a wildcard as a right-handed right-winger and while he’s not a top prospect, he looks like he’s ready for the NHL.

on defense

The decisions will not be easier in defense. There were four spots announced even before training camp. We know that Joel Edmundson, back from injury, will have his place. We also know that Mike Matheson, David Savard and Chris Wideman will be with the Canadiens to start the season. That leaves three “permanent” positions to make seven defenders.

Considering he’s been paired with Savard for several preseason games now and has done very well, it’s fair to assume that Kaiden Guhle has earned his spot. That leaves Justin Barron, Jordan Harris, Arber Xhekaj, Otto Leskinen, Corey Schueneman and Madison Bowey battling for the final three spots (two if Edmundson returns). Of this group, only Schueneman and Bowey must go through derogations to be sent to Laval.

Kent Hughes has already talked about having a rotation between Laval and Montreal, when talking about their young defensemen, so you can expect that to happen. But for the development of a young player, he has to play. So having one of them as a seventh defender wouldn’t make much sense from a development perspective. Therefore, one of Schueneman, Bowey or even Leskinen should be retained as an extra.

Surveillance waiver thread

Due to finishing dead last in the NHL last season, the silver lining is that the Canadiens have first dibs on any player they wish to claim. This will be true until October 31, because starting November 1, the NHL will use that season’s standings when making a claim.

So it’s a way for Hughes to try to improve his team’s situation, whether it’s in net or having a veteran right-handed defenseman. I’ve been saying this for a while, and it’s even truer now, but keep an eye out for the Carolina Hurricanes.

After signing Calvin de Haan from his PTO, and with Don Waddell confirming that Jake Gardiner is ready to return, the Canes have an abundance of defenders who need to clear waivers. To make matters worse for them, they are in a very tough spot with their salary cap.

On the other side of the waiver wire, Hughes could be forced to use waivers to send higher wages to minors as well, particularly at left wing. Could either Hoffman or Dadonov be placed on waivers if Hughes can’t trade them? It’s an option for sure.

And then there is the commercial option. We will not go into detail as the options are numerous. One thing we know for sure is that Hughes still has a lot of work to do in the coming days. Stay tuned, Habs fans.