The Montreal Canadiens have three weeks to decide which restricted free agents (RFA) they’d like to retain, as the deadline for qualifying offers looms.
NHL teams must give their restricted free agents qualifying offers by 5 pm on July 11 to retain exclusive negotiation rights. If a player does not receive a qualifying offer from their club, they effectively become unrestricted free agents and are free to sign with any team as of July 13, when free agency officially opens. A qualifying offer is defined as an official, one-year contract offer to an RFA, which is done to retain exclusive negotiation rights with the player until a deal is reached. The players can refuse the qualifying offer, which is quite common, but by receiving said offer from their NHL team, it now gives both parties the entire off-season to come to an agreement on a new contract.
The Montreal Canadiens have a big influx of young players making the jump to the pros next season with Kaiden Guhle, Arber Xhekaj, Jan Mysak, Emil Heineman and Mattias Norlinder joining the organization full-time; as well as the return of Otto Leskinen. That strong influx of prospects will affect what the Montreal Canadiens do with their current crop of RFAs, as the team is limited to just 50 contracts between their NHL and AHL teams. As it stands, the Canadiens officially sit at 33 contracts out of 50 already accounted for, with ten RFAs up for new contracts. The Canadiens will have to make a decision on the following players, as some will be allowed to walk into free agency without a contract in favour of more promising and younger players.
It’s not a question of if Alexander Romanov will receive a qualifying offer, but how long his next deal will be. The 22-year-old defenceman took some big strides in his development this past season, going from being a healthy scratch in late October to being the most used defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens down the stretch.
The Canadiens could seek to offer Romanov a bridge deal of one or two years in length just to give them more time to evaluate how much better the young defender can become, but one thing is certain: Romanov is most certainly part of the plan in Montreal.
Pitlick was a revelation for the Montreal Canadiens this season after being picked up off waivers from the Minnesota Wild back in January. During his time in Montreal, the speedy winger put up an impressive nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points in 46 games, proving to be one of the best waiver pick-ups in recent memory. He quickly gained the confidence of head coach Martin St. Louis and was one of the most used forwards on the club down the stretch. Pitlick is a slam dunk to not only receive a qualifying offer, but likely a bonafide extension in the form of a 1-to-three-year deal.
Pezzetta was the feel-good story coming out of training camp this past season, as the rugged and chirpy winger wowed fans and won over their hearts with his relentless effort and physical play. Pezzetta, whom very few thought had legitimate NHL potential as early as last season, was able to force the Montreal Canadiens to call him up, and keep him up for the remainder of the season. Playing in 51 games this past season, Pezzetta put up five goals and six assists for 11 points; all while playing 4th line minutes as a rookie. As the Canadiens continue pushing toward a younger and faster team, Pezzetta has shown he can protect his teammates on the ice, while also being able to play smart and physical hockey. It’s an asset to an organization that’S set to go through a youth movement, as he can look out for younger players who will be targeted by rival teams.
It would be shocking not to see Pezzetta receive a qualifying offer, as he has more than earned it.
When Clague was picked up off waivers, it was seen as a change of philosophy for the organization, as new executive vice-president Jeff Gorton brought in a younger, mobile defenceman to a club full of stay-at-home blueliners. Clague’s time with the LA Kings was very inconsistent, and it was believed that a fresh start would help him establish himself as a permanent NHLer. Unfortunately for Clague, his time in Montreal mirrored his time with the Kings, as he was quickly surpassed in the depth chart by Corey Schueneman and then Jordan Harris, after he joined the Canadiens after the trade deadline.
With Guhle, Xhekaj, Norlinder and more joining the pro ranks for the Canadiens next season, and his very minimal usage by Martin St. Louis down the stretch, it would be very surprising to see Clague retained at this junction, as the Canadiens simply have too many left-shot defensemen.
Montembeault was a warrior for the Montreal Canadiens this season, as he was given the impossible task of trying to keep the team afloat after a long-term injury to Jake Allen. Picked up off waivers in early October, the 25-year-old suited up for 38 games in Montreal and performed as well as he could, given the circumstances; even playing through a wrist injury that required surgery at the end of the season. Montembeault had some excellent performances for the Canadiens when solicited defensively and proved he could be a capable backup in the NHL if given the chance.
It would be wise to retain Montembeault and offer him a qualifying offer as the Canadiens continue to wait on the health status of Carey Price.
Schnarr was acquired at the trade deadline from New Jersey to give a much-needed boost to the Laval Rocket, who were extremely thin down the middle this past season, due to Ryan Poehling and Laurent Dauphin being up with the big club. He put up decent numbers for the Rocket in his 20 games with them to end the season, posting four goals and six assists for 10 points. With Jan Mysak being the only bonafide prospect to join the Rocket next season at the center position, it may be wise to retain Schnarr as a scoring presence for Laval, as they look to pick up where they left off this spring.
If general manager Kent Hughes thinks he could find better replacements in free agency that are willing to start in Laval, then it wouldn’t be surprising to see Schnarr walk in favour of a more impactful presence at center.
After dealing with a long list of injuries over the last three years, the 2021-2022 season was the healthiest Teasdale has been since his junior days. In 44 games with the Rocket, he put up 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points; all while playing a very physical game with a never-say-die attitude. Due to all the injuries he’s sustained, the 23-year-old has only played 70 games at the pro level for the Laval Rocket and could stand to be given another year to show he can take his development up a notch.
Despite being a very highly-touted prospect just a couple of years ago, the writing seems on the wall for defenceman Josh Brook. The mobile right-shot defenceman has been plagued by injuries during his time in the pros and has failed to establish himself as the offensive force that he was for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL. During this past season, Brook split time between Laval and the Trois-Rivières Lions of the ECHL and couldn’t get his game going during that time. He was able to make more of an offensive impact for the Lions in the ECHL playoffs, putting up almost a point-per-game in their seven post-season games, but wasn’t part of the Black Aces that were called up from the Lions to join the Rocket in the AHL playoffs.
It looks as if Brook’s time in the organization could be coming to an end, which is a real shame given how highly touted he was before jumping to the pros and given he plays a position of need as a right-shot defenseman.
Schueneman is an interesting situation. Like Clague, Schueneman is facing some stiff competition on the left side of the Montreal Canadiens’ defensive depth chart. However, he showed he could play in the NHL if needed, and looked very capable in a bottom-pairing role under St. Louis down the stretch. If the Montreal Canadiens feel he could make the squad as a 7th defenceman, he could be worth qualifying, to allow younger defencemen more time to develop in Laval.
The only issue is that Schueneman is waiver-eligible, meaning that, if the Canadiens do ever need to send him down in favour of calling up a younger guy, they could potentially lose Schueneman to a less fortunate club who needs help on their blueline. Schueneman could be a good insurance policy for the club, if there aren’t any major changes or acquisitions for the Montreal Canadiens over the next three weeks.
This is a no-brainer, here. Cayden Primeau showed he’s still got a lot of potential and has not reached his ceiling in terms of how good he can still become at the pro level. The 22-year-old proved his doubters wrong down the stretch, posting very respectable numbers in his final few games with the Rocket during the regular season, before putting up an MVP performance for Laval during the AHL Playoffs.
With his newfound confidence and the wealth of experience he gained during these playoffs, Primeau has likely comforted the Montreal Canadiens management team and has likely secured himself a one-to-year extension to allow him to continue developing in the AHL for at least another year.