The Montreal Canadiens have holes everywhere in their lineup, but, in order to fill those holes moving forward to ensure sustainable success, they’re going to need to shed some salary this summer.
Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes has been open about his need for financial relief under the NHL Salary Cap. During his end-of-season interview, he reinforced his desire to go into the summer to relieve the Habs of some big salaries.
“We’ll look at different options in terms of gaining some cap flexibility,” said Hughes on his summer plans. “We’re not going to try to free up cap space for next season that costs us prospects or draft picks to make us better next year and then hurt us 2-3 years from now.”
The Canadiens operated most of the season $18M over the limit due to Carey Price and Shea Weber being on LTIR. When asked to speculate on how they would go about creating Cap space for the team, Hughes outlined a few options that could present themselves throughout the summer.
“Hypothetically, trading Petry would give us cap flexibility,” said Hughes. “If Carey can’t play, we have LTI money to work with. When we know more about Carey’s situation, it’s going to give us a little more of an indication as to what kind of cap flexibility we need or don’t.”
There are options for Hughes and the Montreal Canadiens to give themselves the Cap space needed to make some changes this summer, as the club is currently projected to have $961,191 in Cap space for next season. Yes, the Canadiens could use LTIR with Weber and possibly even Price, but it would remove any flexibility the Canadiens would have of making in-season trades or significant changes to their roster. Below are just a few ways the Montreal Canadiens could accrue some much-needed Cap space.
Trading Shea Weber’s Contract
Trading Shea Weber’s contract has been something that Hughes has openly discussed for over two months now. He claimed to have come very close to moving the contract at the NHL Trade Deadline, but that a last-minute change squashed the deal. Hughes doubled down on his desire to move Weber’s contract this summer, claiming that Weber’s playing days are over.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that Shea Weber is going to be physically capable of playing again,” said Kent Hughes during his press conference on April 30.
According to our friends at Puckpedia, Shea Weber’s contract has a Cap Hit of $7.857M for another four years after this 2021-2022 season but only has to be paid a total of six million in actual dollars during that span. That’s extremely attractive to a team like the Arizona Coyotes, whose new arena deal with Arizona State University will inhibit them from being able to spend much higher than 60M in player salaries for the foreseeable future.
The discrepancy between Weber’s Cap Hit and actual salary will allow the Arizona Coyotes ownership group to save millions on their payroll while their revenue potential remains low due to the limited attendance of their new home at Arizona State University. With Arizona set to be a bottom-feeder for the next couple of seasons, they will likely stay away from the unrestricted free agent market for a while, and acquiring high Cap Hits with low salaries is likely what gets them through the next couple of years until a new arena deal can be reached.
It would also give the Canadiens some breathing room under the Cap for next season, all while finally giving them the flexibility of being able to accrue Cap space throughout the season.
Moving Jeff Petry
It’s no secret that Jeff Petry would have welcomed a trade earlier this year, given the catastrophic state of his game and the ongoing family issues. Hughes had expressed a desire to move him near the deadline, even having a deal in place for the veteran that fell through in the final moments.
At the time of his end-of-season interview on April 30, he hadn’t spoken to Petry about if his mind had changed, but Hughes certainly kept the trade option very much open.
“I haven’t spoken to Jeff recently to see where he’s at,” said Hughes. “We’re going to meet all the players today, and we’ll see if there’s been any change on his end. If not, we’re at the same point. We’ll trade him if we’re able to do it without hurting the team.”
Jeff Petry’s play under Martin St. Louis, which saw him rack up 21 points in just 29 games, is sure to increase the interest in the veteran defender this summer. With competitive clubs looking to improve their defence, Petry’s unique blend of speed and offence could be of great interest, as clubs enter the offseason with much more financial flexibility than they had during the Trade Deadline.
Moving Jonathan Drouin
Jonathan Drouin has been extremely unlucky over the last two years, injuring both his wrists and requiring surgery to repair them. He’s spoken about his desire to return to the Montreal Canadiens in the fall, but the risk of continually having his $.5.5M Cap hit on LTIR might be more complicated now. When the Canadiens are near or over the Salary cap and put a player on LTIR, they gain most, if not all, of the player’s Cap hit in LTIR relief space. If the Canadiens are able to shed salary by trading the players above, then they would be on the hook for Drouin’s full Cap hit in the event of another injury in the future.
That kind of uncertainty about his health might make Hughes want to move Drouin, despite being a very talented player, to offer the Canadiens more certainty and flexibility. Even if the Canadiens would need to retain part of Drouin’s salary to make it work, it would still offer them some much-needed Cap room to sign potential replacements and resign existing forwards like Rem Pitlick.
Should the Canadiens feel they want to hold on to Drouin and not sell low on his value, the argument could be made to keep him; but it would force the Canadiens to seek another route.
Potential For Buyouts?
The Canadiens could decide to buy out some of their more problematic contracts, like those of Joel Armia ($3.4M) or Paul Byron ($3.4M), as both are paid far more than what they bring on the ice. Although both veterans have given their all to the club in the past, the reality is that they could be replaced by players making near league minimum salary or on their entry-level contracts.
Their buyouts would give the Canadiens immediate wiggle room of almost $2M each, while having minute consequences on the future Cap structure of the team.
Evidently, Hughes and the Montreal Canadiens have many options they could choose to shed some salary this summer, as they look to increase their Cap flexibility to make some big moves. It’ll be interesting to see where they go from here, but it should make for a very entertaining offseason.