We touched on it not too long ago, Montreal Canadiens’ GM Kent Hughes has left himself a lot of work to do for this upcoming off-season. By trading away Tyler Toffoli, Ben Chiarot, Artturi Lehkonen and Brett Kulak, Hughes has not only unloaded a bunch of salary for this season, but he has also freed-up over $6.5 million for next season. He almost did more as the Canadiens’ GM reportedly came close to trading Jeff Petry and Shea Weber’s contract at trade deadline.
Since being hired as the Executive Vice-President of Hockey Operations, Jeff Gorton has been clear about the type of team that he wants: speed and skills. And since Hughes has been the GM, he has held the same dialect. There are a few ways to accomplish that.
Former GM Marc Bergevin and his assistant-GM Trevor Timmins started drafting and trading for more young, skilled players when they started the team’s reset back in the summer of 2018. Some of those players are just starting to trickle in. We have since seen the likes of Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov take some key roles on the Canadiens, while Jesse Ylönen is showing positive signs with the Laval Rockets. So adding from within is an option, although few are ready to make an impact… yet. It takes time to proper develop young prospects.
Two other tools available to the Canadiens to accomplish their goal is through trades and free agency. As the team is still tight to the salary cap for next season, how active they are in the free agency period will be directly related to Hughes’ ability to trade away some high salaried players to create some cap room. The NHL Draft is on July 7th and 8th while the free agency frenzy starts on July 13th this year.
Creating cap space
Hughes’ trading skills will be highly tested from now until the Draft. Trades can and likely will be completed beyond, but fans can expect the bulk of those trades to happen by the Draft, as picks are often part of the deals, particularly when trying to shed salary. Here’s what the Canadiens are looking at, in my humble opinion:
Shea Weber’s $7.857 million contract will likely be gone. It was reported that it was almost traded at trade deadline but the two teams couldn’t finalize the insurance portion of the deal on time. Many feel like the Arizona Coyotes are the destination for Weber’s contract, to help them reach the cap floor.
One of Jonathan Drouin or Mike Hoffman will be traded. While Drouin is a local product and has been injured often, he’s more of a play-maker in comparison to Hoffman, who is more of a goals’ scorer. Drouin and his $5.5 million contract are in trade rumours, but Hoffman’s $4.5 million deal is affordable for teams searching for secondary scoring.
Jeff Petry was also almost traded by trade deadline but that deal fell through at the last minute. It is unknown if the team and the player have had a change of hearts since then, but Petry had requested a trade last season to be closer to his family. Trading him would free up $6.25 million is salary cap space, but would create a gaping hole on the right side of the defense.
Christian Dvorak ($4.45 million) is in the rumour mill as well but the center position depth has been challenged since the departure of Phillip Danault as a free agent to Los Angeles, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed an offer-sheet with Carolina. Even if they were to draft one of Shane Wright or Logan Cooley, these young men would be unlikely to be able to bring what Dvorak brings to the team, not for a couple of years at least.
Joel Armia had a horrible season and he’ll be the first to admit. Separated from his wife due to COVID travel restrictions, his heart and his head didn’t seem to be at the right place, similarly to Petry. The Armia’s just gave birth to a baby and the Canadiens’ winger had an excellent showing at the World Championship, winning the Gold Medal against Canada. It is very likely that Hughes would consider unloading his $3.4 million contract.
Another player shared the same cap hit as Armia, and that’s assistant-captain Paul Byron. Injuries are starting to catch up with the Ottawa-native, who has one more year left to his contract. If a team shows interest, don’t be surprised if Ti-Paul gets traded, especially that Rem Pitlick has stepped into his role nicely.
You can also expect a few hockey trades into the mix. Hughes is on record saying that he wants to solidify and add veteran depth to the goaltending position in the event Carey Price can’t play. So don’t expect Jake Allen to be traded anytime soon. There are a few goalies available through trade or free agency, as we’ve touched on recently.
There are a few younger players available through trade as well, some of which would fit in nicely with what Gorton and Hughes are trying to do. I’m thinking of guys like New York Rangers’ Vitaly Kravtsov, who was drafted by Gorton, and Longueuil-native Maxime Comtois, who was on the trade block last season. Detroit Red Wings’ Filip Zadina would be another interesting trade target fitting the mold.
Last but not least, don’t be surprised if the Habs trade the Flames’ first round pick (26th overall) and at least one of their two second round picks to move up in the Draft. The Canadiens have a lot of prospects in the pipelines already, and they have another 14 picks at the upcoming Draft. At some point, they will reach the saturation level as they can only have 50 players under contract.
So while Hughes and the Canadiens have been busy with the NHL combine and getting ready for the Draft, while everything seems to be quiet on the trade front, expect them to be quite active in the next four to six weeks on the trade front. What Hughes manages to do in shedding cap space will also dictate how busy he will be on the free agency market.
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