By JD Lagrange – In spite of having shipped out Tyler Toffoli, Ben Chiarot, Artturi Lehkonen and Brett Kulak at trade deadline, Kent Hughes and the Canadiens still had to clear more cap this off-season. They needed to do so in order to be cap compliant to account for Carey Price and Paul Byron, in spite of their uncertain future, and to re-sign some of their own pending free agents. They were so tight that as of July 17th, they haven’t signed a single unrestricted free agent.
So by trading away Jeff Petry this weekend, one would have thought that clearing that $6.25 million cap hit would have given the Canadiens some wiggle room but alas, it didn’t work. Or at least not as well as we had hoped for. In the deal, the Canadiens took on Mike Matheson and his $4.875 million contract, which happens to be a year longer than Petry’s. The $1.375 million save in that trade was, thankfully, used to re-sign Rem Pitlick, whom Hughes had not given a qualifying offer. His new cap hit for the next two years sits at $1.1 million, so very little gain on the overall picture.
Here’s roughly what the Canadiens’ NHL roster could potentially look like as it stands today. It’s early and lots of moving parts in there, of course.
As you can see, there is an overload of wingers on this team, particularly on the left, and that’s not taking into consideration Jesse Ylönen and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, who could cause some surprises at camp. I have estimated Kirby Dach’s cap hit at around $2 million on a 2-year bridge deal. Juraj Slafkovsky’s bonus (around $3.5 million performance bonus) would be accounted for next season when some contracts are set to expire.
Choices to make
The Canadiens have added at center when sacrificing Alexander Romanov and acquiring Kirby Dach. They have also traded away Ryan Poehling in the Jeff Petry deal that saw Mike Matheson land in Montreal. So the center line has gained in talent, but not in numbers. It’s still not a position of strength for the Canadiens.
The departure of Petry has deepened what already was a gaping hole on the team for right-handed defensemen. When you think about it, in a calendar year or so, the Canadiens have now lost their number one defenseman in Shea Weber, and now their number two in Petry. Neither has been replaced by NHL-ready depth and both were patrolling the right side.
The deepest positions on the Canadiens is the left side of the defense and, as mentioned above, at the wing position. And the most substantial contracts that could be shed are at forward, on the wing.
Brendan Gallagher is unlikely to be going anywhere for two reasons. For one, Hughes is on record saying that he wants to keep him and two, with the season he’s had last year and with his contract, he would not be easy to move. Josh Anderson has the most value off the list above-mentioned but as we’ve explored before, trading him would not be a smart choice.
In order to keep his cap flexibility for the future, and because the Canadiens are unlikely to make the playoffs in a much improved Atlantic Division, Hughes will probably want to hang onto Jonathan Drouin and Evgenii Dadonov. Both would be great trade chips at trade deadline and since the 2023 Draft is said to be excellent, trying to accumulate first round picks would be a sound thing to do.
This leaves three names: Mike Hoffman, Joel Armia and Paul Byron. Since Byron’s hip is still giving him grief, his playing future is unknown, so it’s doubtful that he would be going anywhere. Hoffman and/or Armia is the way to go. The return won’t be big for either of them, but both are useful players for a playoffs’ bound hopeful as both are useful players.
Of course, if Pierre-Luc Dubois is to be traded, more cap will need to be cleared. We have debunked the myths surrounding the Winnipeg Jets’ player and we have explained in detail why the Canadiens would be better off acquiring him now instead of waiting for him to become a free agent in two years’ time. But if they do get him, they’ll need to clear even more cap space to sign him.
Hockey with a hard salary cap has its benefits in allowing weaker hockey markets to be competitive with the big boys, but it also has its complications. The issue is not the cap itself, it’s the desperation with some GMs to overpay for players in a competitive world at a time (free agency period) when the temptation to overpay is at it’s greatest.