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Pat Hickey: The Canadiens have too many young, talented defenders

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With so many blue-liners pushing for NHL ice time next season, the onus is on the Habs to figure out who they need to keep.

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Marc Bergevin liked to say you can never have enough defenders.

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But as the Canadiens experience a busy offseason, they may have too many defensemen.

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There's something appealing about having a depth chart that includes 11 players deep on defense, with eight of those players being under 23 years old. This is the best selection of young defensemen since the Canadiens won their last Stanley Cup in 1993 with players like Éric Desjardins, Mathieu Schneider and Patrice Brisebois.

The problem is that there isn't enough room on the roster for them all, and while there is the potential to have the AHL's best defense corps in Laval, the key for the Canadiens is figuring out which players will contribute to a future playoff run. Run that could potentially be exchanged in advance for much-needed help.

The task became more difficult for coach Marty St. Louis and the front office with the highly anticipated debuts of Lane Hutson and Logan Mailloux.

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Hutson is listed at 5'10″ (maybe) and weighs 162 pounds, but he is a dynamic presence on the ice. He resembles a water beetle that is constantly looking for a shooting lane or an open teammate. There will be times when he is outgunned in his own ranks and has unfavorable opponents on the road. But when the Canadiens have the puck, especially on the power play, you want it on the ice.

It takes a lot to surpass Mailloux, who is 1.90 meters tall and weighs 100 kilograms. He is also an offensive threat and ranked third in scoring among AHL defensemen. His defensive play improved and he was named to the AHL's All-Rookie team. As a bonus, he and 2023 first-round draft choice David Reinbacher are right-handed, and this is an area of ​​need for the Canadiens. Last season, the Canadiens were forced to use left-handers Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris on the right side.

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Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes won't be afraid to trade a promising defenseman if the deal is right. Two years ago they parted ways with Alexander Romanov to get Kirby Dach, and that worked out much better than when Bergevin sent Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin.

If a deal does happen, it probably won't involve veterans Mike Matheson or David Savard. There are suggestions on social media that the Canadiens should move Matheson because his value is high, but they're not moving their No. 1, who is among the league's leaders in minutes played and points on defense. At 30, he has many productive seasons ahead of him and is a homeboy who speaks French.

Savard is an expert shot blocker who, along with Matheson, provides leadership and example to the younger defenders. His greatest value will be at the trade deadline next season. If the Canadiens are in the playoffs, they will need him. If not, he would be an attractive addition to any playoff team in need of a physical shot blocker.

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Women are the focus: Danièle Sauvageau isn't surprised to see the Montreal PWHL native playing a game at the Bell Centre.

“I thought it was going to happen, but I'm surprised it sold out so quickly,” said the longtime women's hockey advocate, who serves as the team's general manager.

The Montreal-Toronto game on Saturday (1 p.m., CBC, RDS) sold out within 20 minutes.

The game sets a record for the largest attendance at a women's ice hockey game, but is also significant for Montreal's title hopes in the inaugural PWHL season. This could be a preview of the playoff semifinals and Montreal will have to prove it can beat Toronto, which is unbeaten in four games against Montreal. Toronto is currently in first place in the standings, while Montreal has slipped to third. PWHL rules allow the first-place team to select its opponent in the semifinals, and if the current rankings hold, Toronto will certainly select Montreal.

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Montreal lost four games in a row before the World Cup break and superstar Marie-Philip Poulin missed the last three games due to injury. The good news is that she competed in the World Cup and was the player of the game when Canada beat the United States in the final.

Coaching notes: When the Buffalo Sabers fired coach Don Granato earlier this week, Marty St. Louis moved up one spot on the NHL coaching list. St. Louis has been on the job for less than three years, but only seven coaches have been on the job longer.

And a coaching change at the Brooklyn Nets usually gets a big reaction in Canada, but the NBA team is poised to hire Sacramento Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez. The 41-year-old Spaniard is also the coach of the Canadian team for the Paris Olympics.

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