As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look towards the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The first batch of Offseason Primers will feature Atlantic Division squads. Today’s edition delves into the possibilities surrounding the Montreal Canadiens offseason.
Montreal Canadiens Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
The Habs have a pretty tame offseason outlook ahead of them. Very few of their big names are up for contract renewals this offseason, but there are a few to highlight. General manager Marc Bergevin will likely be spending the majority of his time on his restricted free agents. Those with arbitration rights include Max Domi, Charles Hudon, Xavier Ouellet, Jake Evans, Jacob Lucchini, Lukas Vejdemo, Andrew Sturtz, Antoine Waked, and Joseph Blandisi. The Habs’ non-arbitration-eligible RFAs are Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, and Michael McNiven.
Salary Cap Outlook
Montreal is in relatively good shape this offseason. Carrying $18.36 million in cap space (per CapFriendly), the Canadiens should have enough leeway to not only retain the players they want but add in free agency too.
This is a very transformative offseason for Bergevin and the team, as he tries to position Montreal to be a perennial playoff contender with the emergence of youngsters such as Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
There’s no reason to expect anyone of note on the Habs should depart this offseason unless it’s via an unforeseen trade. The Habs likely let Kinkaid walk, but he spent a portion of the season in the AHL and hasn’t been a factor with the team lately. Weise and Folin may test the open market, but Montreal could certainly retain them for extra depth on near-league-minimum deals if they so desire.
While not exactly a diamond in the rough, no one really predicted Domi’s explosion in Montreal. After a few solid seasons with the Arizona Coyotes organization, Domi lit up the net his first year in Montreal with a 72-point campaign. While he cooled down considerably this year, his goal-scoring totals were still solid and he’s cemented himself in the top-six forward group in Montreal. While Evolving-Hockey’s contract projections (subscription required) have him receiving an eight-year term, that’s a little high for a player who’s had multiple inconsistent seasons. Their next most likely outcome is a five-year deal, which is much more favourable. For that, the projected cap hit comes out to $6.23 million, fair for the player and the team. After Montreal’s biggest hurdle is cleared, they still have $12.13 million to spare in cap space.
Mete’s been an intriguing piece to watch in Montreal over the past few years. The fourth-round pick broke into the NHL when he was only 19, and he’s been a capable performer ever since. He fills out either a second or third-pairing role quite nicely and serves as valuable defensive depth on a team that’s lacked defensive structure this year. As he’s still a developing prospect, Montreal likely retains him on a cheap bridge deal. Evolving-Hockey projects a fair two-year deal with a $1.81 million cap hit, still leaving Montreal with a solid $10.32 million in open space.
Potential Free Agent Additions
Unlike the previous Atlantic Division editions, this section seems to be the focus of the piece. While most of Montreal’s counterparts are focused on retaining talent, the Habs have real space to attract some big-money free-agent signings to accelerate their return to glory.
Montreal’s structural defensive issues this year were well-documented, as was their paper-thin depth on left defence. While Mete and Ben Chiarot were nice in their roles, the Habs never found a true top-pairing man to complement captain Shea Weber. Montreal has a few options here to alleviate this problem, considering their cap ceiling.
Option One: Go All-In on the Big Name
As alluded to in the Boston Bruins Offseason Primer, defenceman Torey Krug will likely be hitting the open market. The Habs are one of the few teams that have not only the money to attract him, but a clear fit in the lineup as well as outlined in another piece. On the open market, EH projects Krug will receive a five-year deal worth $7.38 million a year. It’s the price you have to pay for Krug’s acumen, but the Habs certainly have the room to make it work. While it would limit their other possibilities in free agency, they would still have the room to reacquire Ilya Kovalchuk. He found a good fit for his ageing yet passionate game in Montreal this season and could return to the team on a one-year, $2.33 million deal as projected by Evolving-Hockey.
Option Two: Spread the Love
If Montreal chooses to not put all their money down on Krug, they can work to provide additional quality defensive depth. With Krug’s money, they could reasonably acquire a lesser-skilled but capable defenceman. Joel Edmundson and Brenden Dillon are both solid options in that regard, and will likely cost the team about $3-4 million. They could then use the additional cash to spring for some more forward support. Carl Soderberg jumps off the page as a good utility middle-six piece, who could easily slot in on the centre or wing. He’s projected to real in $4.33 million a year for three years on the open market.
Check out the other Offseason Primers for the Atlantic Division:
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