Gustafsson Deal Gives Canadiens Coveted Blueline Depth

Habs' GM Marc Bergevin was very busy changing the complexion of his roster long before the trade deadline, so the last day was used for stockpiling veterans on defense.
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You could argue that Montreal Canadiens' GM Marc Bergevin addressed the issue of depth on the blueline at this trade deadline and there’s little doubt he did that in the short-term, but it comes at expense of the long-term.

The day prior to the deadline, Bergevin put a 22-year-old puck-moving and mobile defenseman in Victor Mete on waivers and, to the surprise of no one, Mete was picked up. The Ottawa Senators, who were second in line to get Mete after the last-place Buffalo Sabres, added to their embarrassment of riches in youth to add another piece to that group. So Bergevin went out and filled that hole by acquiring Erik Gustafsson, a 29-year-old puck-moving and mobile defenseman.

Well, OK.

In the end, the Canadiens are probably a touch better and deeper on the blueline and that’s all well and good. Ask anyone who has ever been a GM in the NHL and he’ll insist that it is utterly impossible to have too much defensive depth. So the Gustafsson acquisition, along with the acquisition of another 29-year-old rearguard in Jon Merrill, gives the Canadiens some dry powder entering the playoffs. With Ben Chariot out of the lineup with a fractured hand, and the Canadiens suffering without his presence in the lineup, Bergevin was well aware what kind of havoc an injury to a key element can play with a team’s roster.

Let’s get one thing straight when it comes to Gustafsson. If Canadiens fans are expecting the same player who shocked the hockey world with 17 goals and 60 points in 2018-19 with the Chicago Blackhawks, they will be very, very disappointed. That season was the aberration in his career and while he does move the puck very well, he’s clearly no longer a big offensive producer. The fact that the Canadiens only had to give up a seventh-round pick in 2022 should be a dead giveaway. And he won’t be getting the offensive looks in Montreal that he got that season in Chicago, anyway. Unless, of course, the Canadiens’ blueline gets ravaged by injuries down the stretch and in the playoffs and Gustafsson is forced to move into a more prominent role, in which case the Canadiens will likely be sunk anyway.

Even though the Brendan Gallagher injury hurts them immeasurably, the Canadiens know they’re just one Carey Price bubble performance in a wide-open North Division away from having a very special playoff run. With Bergevin doing all of his heavy lifting prior to the deadline, this was a day for supplementing the roster filling in with depth. In that sense it was Mission Accomplished.

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