With Their Cap Space, The Habs Will Be Lurking Around Several Teams

COVID-19 has affected many people, many businesses, sports teams and leagues alike. Some people have lost their jobs, others have been working under very unusual conditions. We have all been affected by this deadly disease one way or another. The NHL is no exception as for the first time in history, we are watching playoffs’ hockey in August without any fans in the stands, with teams competing for the COVID Cup, or the Summer Stanley Cup.

If you ask NHL teams and their General Managers, they will tell you that a Summer of playoffs, while inconvenient due to having to reschedule events like the Draft and free agency, is the least of their problems. Directly related to the loss of revenue by the league, the NHL and the NHLPA have agreed that the salary cap would not be going up as originally anticipated. Instead of raising to the $88 million range, the cap will remain at $81.5 million.

While this news may not be a big deal to common fans, NHL GMs see it completely differently. You see, in a hard salary cap league, GMs aren’t just managing year to year. They have a 3-4-5 year assessments, with ‘capologists’ hired to look after the long term impact of contracts, current and future. A decision to sign someone today will impact the team’s ability in the next several years. Pending UFAs have to be re-signed, and so will pending RFAs. How much will they command and who can teams keep?

While they don’t know by how much exactly, they are always planning on the cap going up ever so slightly in their projections. The cap has pretty much always gone up every year so why would they plan differently? It’s not like anyone could have predicted a pandemic, right? This means that some teams who were already tight to the cap will have to make some decisions. In some cases, some tough decisions, in order to comply with the cap requirements. Here are a few teams that will have to tip-toe gingerly into next season:

TEAMPROJ. CAPPROJ. CAP SPACE# PLAYERS SIGNEDLTIRKEY PLAYERS TO SIGN
$79,990,000$1,510,00016Marian Hossa $5.275MTaylor Hall (UFA)
Carl Söderberg (UFA)
$79,452,499$2,047,50120N/AAlex Pietrangelo (UFA)
Vince Dunn (RFA)
$76,166,666$5,333,33415N/AKevin Shattenkirk (UFA)
Zach Bogosian (UFA)
Mikhail Sergachev (RFA)
Anthony Cirelli (RFA)
$75,679,999$5,820,00116Ryan Kesler $6.875MN/A
$75,125,000$6,375,00016N/ARobin Lehner (UFA)
$75,097,500$6,402,50022N/APierre-Luc Dubois (RFA)
$74,146,795$7,353,20518N/ACorey Crawford (UFA)
Dominik Kubalik (RFA)
$73,708,533$7,791,46716N/ACody Ceci (UFA)
Tyson Barrie (UFA)
Kyle Clifford (UFA)
Because we’re Habs’ fans
$63,142,142$18,357,85816N/AMax Domi (RFA)
Victor Mete (RFA)

Habs’ cap space

Reading comments on social media and at the bottom of articles everywhere, there are many Habs’ fans who don’t believe in the Canadiens’ chances of signing top UFAs. They look at recent history, when guys like Milan Lucic, John Tavares, Jake Gardiner or Matt Duchene all picked other teams than Montreal to continue their career. For that reason, they don’t believe that having cap space is an asset as they feel like the team won’t use it anyway.

I’m here to inform those people that the cap space the Habs currently have isn’t just an asset for signing pending free agents. Allow me to remind everyone that the Winnipeg Jets were tight to the cap with players to re-sign back in the summer of 2018. The Jets ended up trading Joel Armia, alongside Steve Mason, a seventh-round draft pick in 2019, and a fourth-round pick in 2020 to the Habs in exchange for Simon Bourque. As we know, the Canadiens had cap space and they immediately bought out Mason’s contract. In the meantime, they benefited from Armia’s contribution and got that 7th round pick and will be selecting in the 4th round at the next NHL Draft in October.

Ignore the annoying guy in the background who recorded this, and listen to what Brian Burke, who knows a thing or two about how things work in the NHL, has to say:

As you saw in the table listed above, there are several teams who will find themselves in the same boat as the Jets were in 2018. And Marc Bergevin is well aware if this.

Teams of interest

So what type of deals could we expect? To be honest, your guess is as good as mine and the only people ‘in the know’ are the GMs involved in discussions. This shouldn’t prevent us from speculating though, right? I will stay away from teams in the Canadiens’ division as we know that while not impossible, trades are often more complicated when they’re in direct competition. Here are three random teams from the list above:

Arizona Coyotes

If Taylor Hall decides to test the market and sign elsewhere, the Yotes will only save $3 million. While Bergevin will likely be tempted to offer Hall a contract, it will be as a UFA. But the Canadiens could still explore a trade with them. Complicating things a bit is that Steve Sullivan is only interim GM so will he be the one making decisions, or will they have someone in place on time to deal with this? We’ve read rumours about Oliver Ekman-Larsson but I personally don’t buy it.

They might want to unload the contract of Derek Stepan, who has one year left at $6.5M? Or perhaps one of Alex Goligoski or Niklas Hjalmarsson? 23 year old forward Lawson Crouse (6’4″, 220 lbs) could be an interesting add to the Canadiens’ lineup. If they’re willing to eat a bit of salary, Antti Raanta could be a good backup to Carey Price?

St. Louis Blues

There’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that the Blues would love to retain the services of their captain Alex Pietrangelo. But that will take a considerable amount of cap space. While some Habs’ fans are dreaming of 23 year-old defenseman Vince Dunn, the reality is that they have much better options to get under the cap. Could a forward like Ivan Barbashev or Zach Sanford be the ‘Armia’ of a Alexander Steen deal?

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have a lot of money invested in their defense and it hasn’t been paying off for them. While they have the option of letting Corey Crawford walk, they have to re-sign Dominik Kubalik who will be up for a substantial raise from his $925,000. One of Calvin De Haan (2 yrs – $4.55M), Olli Määttä (2 yrs – $4.083M) or Connor Murphy (2 yrs – 3.85M) might be sacrificed?

As you can see, there are deals to be done out there. What kind of deal? Who knows? Don’t forget that the Canadiens have 14 picks at the October 9th and 10th NHL Draft and some could easily change hands. Bergevin also has the option of getting more assets, which would then allow him to complete trades for either an improvement at the Draft or to immediately improve his team. He has a lot on his plate this summer, but are there any harder working GMs out there?

I am 100% convinced that the Canadiens top hockey man will try to make a big splash at the Draft and I’m also pretty sure that he’ll want to offer a contract to Taylor Hall. Whether he is successful or not remains to be seen but if there are two certainties, it is that: 1- Bergevin will try hard to improve his team; and 2- the Habs are on the right track after what we’ve seen during the COVID Cup. Go Habs Go!

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