The second game that new Montreal Canadiens executive vice-president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton saw was at least an improvement on the first.
But Saturday’s spirited 4-3 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators didn’t change much. In the standings, in the locker room or surely in Gorton’s mind.
The evaluation process is underway for Gorton and likely will continue into 2022. Who sticks around and who is jettisoned for draft picks and/or prospects will be decided over the coming months. The new boss was unwilling last Friday to outline what his long-term plan is for the Habs. But in the short-term, both the length and cost of contracts will be part of his assessment of his new club.
“I think as we move forward we’re definitely going to be looking at everything,” said Gorton with respect to the team’s veterans on expensive deals. “There’s definitely contracts that are long-term that we’ll have to look at and discuss and figure out who’s going to be here and who’s going to be a part of this going forward.”
It’s early days but based on Gorton’s comments, loyalty and sentiment won’t factor into his decisions. Conversations will have to be had with veteran players about whether they want to stick around for the foreseeable future.
Let’s look at what the Montreal Canadiens could and should do with their five most expensive contracts.
TVA’s Renaud Lavoie gave an update on Carey Price’s recovery from off-season knee surgery yesterday.
Don’t expect Carey Price to be back in @CanadiensMTL lineup in December. That being said, he should resume training with his goalie equipment on, in the next few days.
— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) December 5, 2021
While the decision on what to do with the remaining four years, $10.5 million dollar contract Carey Price’s contract seems fairly obvious, Gorton’s past track record suggests otherwise.
When he and Glen Sather announced a rebuild with the New York Rangers in February of 2018, the first question was what would the team do with star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Swede had three years remaining on his contract worth $8.5 million with a full no-movement clause. In the end, the Blueshirts waited until just before the start of Lundqvist’s final season to buy him out.
Price already waived his no-move clause in the off-season to expose himself in the Seattle expansion draft. So he might be willing to do so again. But it’s unlikely the Habs embark on a full rebuild like the Rangers did in 2018. That same season, Marc Bergevin announced his reset. The club have made 45 draft picks in three seasons. For all intents and purposes, the Canadiens are already in year three of their rebuild. With youngsters like Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Ryan Poehling, Alexander Romanov and Jake Evans already on the team (expect Mattias Norlinder to be returned to Sweden shortly), the youth movement is in full effect in Montreal.
Gorton is in a unique position to have his cake and eat it too. If the Montreal Canadiens manage Price’s injury history properly, they could still have one of the best goaltenders in the game available to them for two to three seasons with a young core supported by veteran players.
Gorton mercifully brought a halt to Petry’s disastrous start to the season last week. He was given at least the weekend off with an upper-body injury that in part could explain his early season struggles.
It’s extremely hard to evaluate or forecast who Petry is as a player right now and will be in the future. He’s in the first year of a four-year contract worth $6.25 million dollars per season. Petry also has a modified no-movement clause with a 15 team no-trade list. Based on his first quarter of this season he is surely not worth that deal. But he has put up more than 40 points in the past four seasons before this year. That’s high-end to elite level production from the blueline.
Other general manager around the NHL likely look at Petry and believe that he could rebound given a change of scenery. Which is why the Montreal Canadiens should keep hold of him. A dramatic drop-off in play is rare for a player at 33 years old. 35-plus? Another story. The physical tools haven’t disappeared. The injury combined with a crisis of confidence are likely the culprits for his horrendous start.
With Price in nets and Petry on the blueline the Montreal Canadiens would have the veteran base to help sheperd the talented youngsters into their lineup over the next two seasons.
While he has long been tabbed to be the next captain of the Montreal Canadiens, Brendan Gallagher’s drop off the last three seasons has been alarming.
The repeated hand injuries have affected his shooting, passing and stickhandling abilities. He hasn’t scored thirty goals in three seasons. He is in the first year of a six-year contract worth $6.5 million dollars per season. That already looks like an anvil hanging around the neck of Gorton.
Without regular linemates Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar for the first season, Gallagher has looked lost at times. Head coach Dominique Ducharme’s constant line-juggling and the myriad of injuries haven’t helped of course. But he has looked at his best next to Jake Evans and Artturi Lehkonen on what has been at times the team’s third line.
That’s difficult value to justify to anyone.
His heart and compete level will never be questioned. But he looks like a prime candidate for the team to move in the summer. Gorton and co. will surely have to eat at least half of his salary for the duration of the contract to make the move digestible to interested parties to the tune of just over $15 million dollars.
Verdict: Trade in the off-season
It’s impossible to talk about Drouin’s career as a member of the Montreal Canadiens without discussing the manner in which he was acquired.
The deal to bring the Saint-Agathe-des-Monts native home for 10th overall draft pick Mikhail Sergachev is one of the biggest blunders of the Bergevin era. But over the past two years he has at least made it appear not as disastrous as previously thought.
Injury history and mental health issues aside, Drouin has showcased a renewed compete and confidence level when he’s been on the ice. He’ll never be confused with Gallagher in terms of effort. But aside from Nick Suzuki he is the team’s most skilled player and has averaged more than half-a-point per game his entire career in Montreal.
In 2021 that is in the ballpark of the $5.5 million dollars per season that Drouin gets paid. As a middle-six forward and power-play producer he could look very attractive to contending teams. If Gorton eats half the salary for next season combined with Drouin’s three-team no trade list, getting a first/second round pick for him or a high-end prospect wouldn’t be out of the question.
Verdict: Trade before the 2022 trade deadline
Consistent compete level. High-end work rate. Potential future captain of the Montreal Canadiens.
No, we already spoke about Brendan Gallagher earlier. We’re talking about Josh Anderson.
Anderson has made Gallagher somewhat redundant over his first two seasons with the Habs. His production has been close to Gallagher’s. He also brings the intangibles that a re-setting team would covet from a veteran.
Anderson is also one of the few unicorns in the league. His combination of size, speed, physicality and production is unique in the NHL. The Habs spent 20 to 30 years trying to find a player with his skillset. They would be foolish to let a player like that leave their team no matter the elevated price.
If the return is a number one centreman or a number one defenceman then Gorton should consider moving the big forward. Besides that his $5.5 million dollar cap hit for the next five seasons could be an asset to the Canadiens in the locker room and on the ice.