By Bob Trask – Each NHL team is restricted to having 50 players under contract at any given time. The Montreal Canadiens currently have 48 players under contract leaving them little room to add more bodies but that will change when some contracts expire on July 1st. Let’s dive in a little deeper.
Expiring contracts – UFAs
Canadiens’ players in this group include Jonathan Drouin, Sean Monahan, Paul Byron, Alex Belzile and Chris Tierney, all of whom were on the season ending roster or on the injury list. There is also a handful of Laval Rocket players who will become UFAs this year. They include Anthony Richard, Otto Leskinen, Frederic Allard, Corey Schueneman and Madison Bowey.
That is a total of 10 players and should the Canadiens decide to walk away from all of them, they would have 38 players remaining under contract. But many of those players would need to be replaced so it is a bit of a mirage to claim they would have room to add 12 players. For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that there are up to 12 contracts available.
Expiring contracts – RFAs
The biggest name in the RFA group currently on the Canadiens’ roster is Cole Caufield and you know his going to be re-signed. The picture is not as clear for Denis Gurianov or Michael Pezzetta, but you would have to think that Hughes would re-sign Pezzetta even if he wasn’t expected to make the NHL roster out of training camp. Signing two out this group of three would expand the number of contracts available to 13.
The Laval Rocket have a larger number of pending RFAs led by Jesse Ylonen and Rafael Harvey-Pinard. Both seem likely to be re-signed. After that, there is Lucas Condotta, Mitchell Stevens, Joel Teasdale and Nicolas Beaudin. It would not be a stretch to see three of this group re-signed leaving the Canadiens with 14 available contracts.
So far we have looked at players who may not return, thus opening up rosters spots. But the Canadiens have a handful of graduating juniors. Under NHL rules they are allowed to let those contracts slide (not count against the cap or the 50 man roster limit) but that will change next year when they turn pro. The three forwards and one defenseman in this group are Joshua Roy, Riley Kidney, Filip Mesar and Logan Mailloux. Mesar could return to junior but there is a good chance he plays in Laval. Those four contracts reduce the cushion to 10 available contracts. Owen Beck is a long shot to crack the NHL and can’t play in the AHL next year so I have left him out of the equation. His contract will likely slide again next year.
Signed for Next Season
Three players are also signed to entry level contracts for next season. They are Xavier Simoneau, Jayden Struble and Jakub Dobes. With those contracts taking effect on July 1st, the available contracts is whittled down to 7 and suddenly the roster space is getting tight.
No NHL GM likes going into a season with his full complement of 50 roster spots filled. It limits the opportunity to make multiple player trade and given where the Canadiens are on the road back to respectability, it is an option that they undoubtedly want to keep open. A reasonable amount of wiggle room might be 4 contracts leaving the Canadiens with only 3 available spots in this hypothetical scenario where Ylonen, Harvey-Pinard and maybe Condotta, Teasdale and Stephens or Richard are re-signed.
This glut of players points to a few things possibly happening.
The most obvious is that a large number of the UFAs will likely not receive contract offers. However, if the Canadiens did want to roll the dice one more time with Monahan the team is suddenly down to 2 roster spots.
The second thing that is likely to happen is that the Canadiens attempt trade quantity for quality allowing them to offer contracts to the remaining RFAs and UFAs who they feel would round out the Laval roster.
The Canadiens could also trade a player or two who counts against the 50 man limit for a draft pick or for a player who doesn’t yet count against the 50 man limit. Players in this group included drafted players who have not yet signed an ELC with the club that drafted them. These could be players drafted out of the CHL last year or unsigned draftees still playing in the NCAA or in Europe.
One way or another, Kent Hughes will have to deal with the glut of players who are currently part of the organization. Evaluations will be made and decisions taken on those evaluations. The management team faces a lot of work over the next 2 months.
As we can see, the 50 man roster limit creates challenges for NHL general managers. It is not a simple matter of acquiring boatloads of talent; there are limits to deal with on many fronts. The salary cap is one of them but the 50 man roster limit is another.