By Bob Trask – Every team has weak spot in its lineup and General Managers spend the off-season trying to strengthen those positions of weakness. With the first week of August behind us, Canadiens’ fans are getting antsy about what Kent Hughes can and should do to address the shortcomings on the team. While a dramatic trade could take place, August is typically the quietest month in the hockey world.
Cap and Deadline
A lot of the talk is focused around the cap challenges that various teams face. Montreal is one of those teams frequently mentioned but the cap situation is not as dire for them as it is for others. Even without any players being assigned to the long time injury reserve (LTIR), the Canadiens can still be cap compliant by the time the season starts on October 12th. And yes, that includes re-signing Kirby Dach. In the short term, it could require going with less than a 23 man roster but it is an option that is available – although not necessarily an attractive one but an option nonetheless.
In those two months, the team will have a much clearer picture regarding the health of Paul Byron and Carey Price. While it does tie Hughes’ hands with regard to player acquisitions, he is not forced into a fire sale either.
Training Camp & Pre-season
This will be one of the most important training camps in team history. A lot of players will need to be evaluated in order to determine whether they deserve to be in the NHL or not. There could be surprises both on the positive and negative side. With that in mind, I can understand why Hughes may hesitate to make a pre-emptive move if the potential solution is already within the organization.
An example of this might be the situation on right defense. The returning veterans are David Savard and Chris Wideman with Justin Barron a leading candidate for the 3rd spot. But Martin St-Louis and Stephane Robidas have a handful of left shot defenseman that will probably be evaluated on their ability to play the right side. This group includes Corey Schueneman, Otto Leskinen, Jordan Harris and Mattias Norlinder. It may even include Mike Matheson.
Pre-season games will also give Hughes the opportunity to showcase some players for potential trade opportunities. If they show well, the value could go up. In the case of players like Hoffman and Armia, it is doubtful that their value would drop after their respective performances from last season. In the past, Hughes has shown a willingness to be patient in order to get his price.
It is worth mentioning the LTIR situation again. The earlier that a decision is made, the easier it becomes for Hughes to make any adjustments. If Price, for example, demonstrates that he is able to play, then Hughes will be more motivated to create cap space with other moves. In this case, one might expect a player like Hoffman or Armia to be moved, particularly if they are having strong camp and pre-season. If Price is unable to play, it creates an opportunity for Hughes to add a higher profile player via trade.
A lot of what Hughes can and will do is based on the LTIR situation but that is unlikely to be known until the third week of September (a week into training camp) at the earliest.
While on the topic of injuries, it should also be noted that injuries are a fact of life in professional hockey and some occur at the most inopportune times. Think of Joel Edmundson last year. The same situation could occur again. And if it was with another team, a door opens for a potential trade.
Setting the Roster
Based on all these factors, it is highly unlikely the roster will be set for some time. Players already in the organization need to be evaluated and that won’t start in earnest for over a month. The salary cap situation sits in the background but, for now, the team is cap compliant and the deadline for becoming fully compliant is early October.
Opposing teams will also be analyzing their strengths and weaknesses for the upcoming season. It is one thing to do it on paper but they will also want to see their players in training camp and participating in pre-season games.
The initial moves have been made for most NHL teams, including the Canadiens. Now they need to see how those moves impact the team to determine whether more changes are required or if they are happy with what they have already done.
Other than a handful of free agents who will probably sign before month’s end and the sporadic minor deal, it’s unlikely that a lot will happen in August. Of course, blockbusters moves involving players like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane could be consummated at any time, throwing my entire theory out the window.