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The Habs’ roster already set, except for the fourth line

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Still a few days before the beginning of the 2021 season, the vast majority of the Habs’ player personnel decisions seem to have been made already. As a result, the first three lines, the starting goalies as well as all defensive pairs seem to be set in stone in Montreal.

Please consult this article for more information on this particular matter.

However, the relative immutability of the roster doesn’t reach the fourth line of the team, which could be the theater of many changes and of much upheaval until the end of training camp and the first game of the season, on Januray the 13th against Toronto, 7:00 PM Eastern time.

Before the signing of Perry and Frolik there was not nearly as much uncertainty as there is now pertaining to that matter. Evans had performed really well against Philadelphia, so did Byron, and Lehkonen was as much a victim of added depth as anyone on the team, a third-liner now slated to play on the fourth. What would happen with Montreal’s last trio was crystal-clear, the fans knew ahead of schedule what would happen, and then you had Belzile, Poehling and perhaps even Weal as credible NHL forward depth to boot.

But Marc Bergevin decided otherwise, and added more experience and depth to his team throught the signings of Perry and Frolik at the expense of a bit of uncertainty roster-wise on the fourth line, and some manner of added salary-cap crunch.

Incidentally, so as not to go over the salary cap, Montreal’s GM and his administrative team will be unable to keep an intact 23-man NHL roster. They will instead have to hold 21 or 22 players, with the added 4-6 men exceptionally permitted this season by way of the Taxi Squad.

Depending on the performances of each player (and the details of their contracts to be sure), there could be as much as 5 or 6 different players (Byron, Lehkonen, Evans, Perry, Frolik and maybe Armia if he struggles on the third) set to be given a spot on the Habs’ fourth line. Of course, all will depend on the changes and adjustments of Montreal head coach Claude Julien from game-to-game.

But what about Byron (yes, him again) in all this for the Habs?

Given these many changes and the salary cap situation for the Montreal Canadiens, simple logic would normally dictate that the diminutive Habs’ forward, worth $3.4M on the cap until 2023, would normally be put on waivers in favor of Corey Perry’s physical game and much more palatable $750,000 contract (which the team probably doesn’t want to lose on waivers too).

However, Montreal’s head coach, in an interview given to Eric Engels yesterday, expressed an entirely different vision of the matter.

More importantly, not only did Byron receive praise from his coach, Claude Julien also evoked the possibility of eventually slotting the former Calgary Flames player at center, just like he did in the past. This decision was probably put together as an attempt to alleviate the lack of experience down the middle of the lineup for the Canadiens (without Byron as center, the Habs would roll Suzuki, Kotkaniemi and Evans at the position, all of which are very young and still a bit green).

The fact that Evans does not need to be put on waivers to be assigned to the Taxi Squad, contrarily to Perry, Byron and Frolik, also perhaps plays a hand in all this, which could lead to a possible fourth line composed of Lehkonen, Byron and Perry (Evans and Frolik would remain possibilities too).

Ground-breaking conclusion (not)

No matter what happens, a great variety of changes and rotations could happen as far as the last trio of the Habs goes, and it will be interesting to follow these new developments as they are implemented by the coaching staff.

Let us just say, to conclude, that the experience of watching such a deep group of forwards, even the grinders and fourth-liners, will undoubtedly be more fun (and less painful as fans) to watch than the littany of NHL journeymen, like Tom Pyatt, Michael McCarron and Eric Tangradi, that came and stayed altogether too long on the team’s rosters over the years. Depth at the forward position has its perks, it seems.

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