HabsWorld.net -- 

It’s well-known by now that the Canadiens have a surplus of defenders and that there’s a wide expectation they’ll deal from that.  Justin Barron might not be the one being dealt but the decision they make on him should set the stage for a good chunk of their offseason plans.

After a 2022-23 campaign that had its fair share of ups and downs, Barron was hoping that he’d be a full-timer in Montreal this past season.  That didn’t exactly happen.  After a first half which was once again bumpy, he was back in Laval for most of the second half before getting a late-season recall due to injuries.

That’s a nice luxury for the Habs to have and is one of the benefits of a defence corps that is considerably younger than most.  Having some waiver-exempt players gives them the flexibility of shuttling someone down to Laval to work on something.  We saw it with Arber Xhekaj as well this year and he benefitted from it.

But that luxury doesn’t exist anymore; Barron can’t return to the Rocket next season without passing through unclaimed.  And it’s safe to say he’s not passing through unclaimed.

That means it’s decision time for management.  Is Barron someone that they see as part of Montreal’s longer-term plans?  (Or at least for a couple of years.)  If yes, then hold onto him and move someone else.  Pretty simple.

But what if they’re not so sure?  Then it gets a bit trickier.  Sure, he can go into next season battling for a spot in the top six but what if he lands in the sixth or seventh slot?  Then he’s in and out of the lineup barring injuries and we’ve seen in the past that being in that situation – especially if it’s the extra player – can crater a player’s value in a hurry.

Accordingly, if there’s some doubt, it makes sense to look to move him now.  For all the inconsistency (which is quite common for a young blueliner), here’s a player with nearly 100 games of NHL experience with good size, good puck-moving abilities, and four years of team control remaining.  Being a right-shot player certainly helps as well.  Even if you’ve soured on him, Barron still has pretty good trade value.  He can be a quality young piece in a package for more of a win-now piece and he could fit in a trade for a young forward in a similar situation in a change of scenery type of swap.  Both types of moves could make sense.

But if he’s on the fringes next season, that drops in a hurry and as we know with trading young players, timing is everything.  This could very well be a case where moving early is better than moving late.

Having said that, moving Barron then makes the right side look a bit thin.  In David Savard, you have a veteran that many think doesn’t have a long-term future in this organization.  Then there’s Johnathan Kovacevic, a depth player that many think doesn’t have a long-term future in this organization.  That’s it for proven players.  Behind them, there are two quality prospects in Logan Mailloux and David Reinbacher who should be core players but probably aren’t ready yet for full-time NHL minutes.  Mailloux still needs to shore up his defensive play and Reinbacher could use a full season in North America before talking about making him a full-timer.

In that case, moving Barron then makes it harder to trade someone like Jordan Harris.  While he’s the speculative candidate of choice to be moved for a lot of people, they may need to keep him around to play on his off-side as he’s the most experienced of the lefties when it comes to playing on the right.  Kaiden Guhle can do it but given how important he is in Montreal’s future plans, they’d probably prefer him anchoring a pairing from his natural side.  If you need to hold onto Harris to hedge against Mailloux and Reinbacher not being ready, that might make it harder for Lane Hutson to break camp with the big club.  (And if you think Hutson needs time in Laval no matter what, substitute Jayden Struble in the last sentence; it applies to him too.)

That’s what makes Barron the first domino, so to speak.  If he sticks around, then you look at moving Harris and perhaps another lefty depending on the plans for Hutson.  But if you move him, you’re also limiting what else you can do with the back end this summer.  On the flip side, if you move Barron, you’re probably getting a pretty good return for him so that does need to be taken into account.  I’m not sure that it’s an easy decision either.

For me, it boils down to this.  Does management believe he’s a top-five defender or better on the roster for next season?  That’s an odd placement but there or anything above it means Barron is a regular while anything below that means he’s in and out of the lineup.  Since that’s the spot where his value could drop quickly, that becomes my cut-off.

Keep him if he’s in the top five or higher and move out Harris and perhaps another blueliner after that.  But if Barron’s spot is more tenuous, then it might be better to trade him this offseason, even if it might limit what else they can do with the back end after that.  Either way, it’s a bigger decision than it might seem at first glance.