By Bob Trask – With the trade for Sean Monahan and the announcement that Carey Price almost certainly won’t be returning to the lineup for the upcoming season, the roster picture and the cap situation for the Canadiens became a little bit clearer.
The Cap Situation
By my rough calculations, if Price moves to LTIR (and that seems to be a given), Montreal will be under the cap. Assuming Kirby Dach signs for about $2.25M and either Jesse Ylönen or Michael Pezzetta make the 23 man roster, the Canadiens would be about $3.0M under that cap. That also assumes that Byron’s $3.4M salary would count against the cap.
From a salary cap point of view, the situation is suddenly much less urgent. That allows Hughes to take his time and test the market for other potential trade candidates. In other words, he can deal from a position of strength rather than weakness.
Depending on Monahan’s health status, the Canadiens could go from a team that was weak down the middle to one that is strong down the middle. In fact, the team now has five bonafide NHL centers on the roster. Opposing GMs who have been circling the carcass of the the last place, cap strapped Canadiens in the hopes of prying away a player or two on the cheap our now facing a different situation.
While Sean Monahan feels he will be ready to go, or close to it, the Canadiens may take a more cautious approach by starting him on the injury list and having him play a conditioning stint in Laval. That could take the team to mid-November when Kent Hughes could decide who he wants his four starting centers to be.
By the trade deadline, the Habs will have a very clear idea if Monahan has fully recovered from injury, if they want to extend him, if the want to trade him or if they will simply allow him to go in free agency without an offer. Given the cost of acquisition, there is no downside.
Unless a trade is made for a goaltender that involves giving up a winger, it seems like Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault will be the starting tandem in net. Trading Allen before having a replacement lined up doesn’t seem like something Kent Hughes would do.
Right defense is a position that is still a question mark for the Canadiens and Hughes could attempt to address it in the free agent market or via a trade.
On the free agent side, Anton Stralman seems to be the best fit but free agents aren’t always anxious to sign with last place teams. However Stralman may have had his interest piqued with what the new management team is doing and the acquisition of Monahan could make the situation even more interesting for him. He may see a team headed in the right direction.
The counter argument is that the veteran Stralman may want to play with a legitimate contender in order to have a shot on the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately for him, a lot of the true contenders are already close to the cap limit and the mid-level teams may or may not make the playoffs.
Enter the Montreal Canadiens. Signing with the Canadiens pretty much guarantees that he wouldn’t be joining a playoff team but if he had a solid year, a deadline trade to true contender (with salary retained) gets everyone a win. The Habs fill a hole on RD until they can determine where Justin Barron fits into the equation, Stralman signs a fairly priced one-year contract with the opportunity to be traded to a contender, and any contender acquiring him has seen him play for three quarters of the season and gets his service at 50 percent. Of course, Kent Hughes picks up another draft pick or prospect in the trade.
If a UFA signing is out of the question, the newly found cap space with Price on LTIR allows Montreal to hunt for a little bigger game on the trade market. The list here gets really short, really quickly and with some of the names you would have to hold your nose. It could include someone like Tyson Barrie, Tyler Myers or Matt Dumba. None replace the departed Jeff Petry and Barron could prove to be better than any of them. Still, a trade is a possibility and the increased cap flexibility increases that possibility.
Unlike the goaltending and right defense positions, the Canadiens have an excess of bodies on the wings. Not necessarily an excess of talent, just an excess of bodies. Clearly some are not going to make the team. They could be traded, sent to Laval, lost on waivers, added to the injury list or simply released but the Canadiens are not going with 13 wingers on their opening night roster. Juraj Slafkovsky and players like Emil Heineman and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard hope to make the decision even more difficult for the Habs braintrust.
It seems a foregone conclusion that one or two wingers will be dealt, if not before the start of the season, then certainly before the trade deadline. The advantage Hughes now has is that his cap situation is a lot less urgent if Price goes on the LTIR.
Questions and Answers
One big question seems to have been answered yesterday and that is the question surrounding the status of Carey Price. The Canadiens goaltending situation is much clearer now than it has been since last September. It may not be the situation we had hoped for but the team now knows what it is and how it will move forward.
And as one question is answered, others are asked. Who will be the four centers, will the team add a right-shooting defenseman, will a winger be traded and who among the prospects has a chance at making the team? Bit by bit, Kent Hughes is answering those questions and molding the team into one that plays exciting, winning hockey for the best fan base in the NHL.