The Laval Rocket announced the signing of former Montreal Canadiens prospect Brett Stapley, keeping the youngster within the Canadiens organization, for now.
The Montreal Canadiens’ former 2018 7th round pick came to terms on an AHL-level contract with the Canadiens affiliate, the Laval Rocket; a rather creative move by the club. Brett Stapley has been a free agent for about 15 days now and could have signed anywhere else, but the Canadiens have given him an opportunity to prove himself in the AHL for Stapley to earn an eventual offer of an entry-level contract.
The move is a rather creative one by Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes, as it provides a no-risk investment in a prospect that could pay dividends down the road.
Why An AHL Contract?
Stapley had an up-and-down trajectory playing for the University of Denver over the last four years. His freshman and sophomore seasons looked promising, but he ultimately only saw his offensive numbers increase after being surrounded by top offensive talent. Despite putting up good numbers in his final year in the NCAA, the Montreal Canadiens will be getting quite the influx of young talent over the next two years.
The 23-year-old Brett Stapley saw his NHL rights expire on August 15th due to the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement Article 8.6 (c):
If a Player drafted at age 18 or 19 is a bona fide college student at the time of his selection in the Entry Draft, or becomes a bona fide college student prior to the first June 1 following his selection in the Entry Draft, and remains a bona fide college student through the graduation of his college class, his drafting Club shall retain the exclusive right of negotiation for his services through and including the August 15 following the graduation of his college class. The Club need not make a Bona Fide Offer to such Player to retain such rights.
With Stapley having graduated from the University of Denver in 2022, he needed to be signed to an entry-level contract (ELC) before August 15 of this year for the Montreal Canadiens to retain his rights. Hughes ultimately decided against giving the youngster an entry-level contract. The reasoning for such a move has much to do with the management side of the hockey business, as each NHL club can only have a maximum of 50 players under contract, including their usual 23-man NHL roster. This means clubs must be selective with whom they decide to sign and who they let go. It would be easy for a team to sign every prospect they draft, but the contract limitations make it so that they need to be convinced of the youngsters’ NHL potential.
In this situation, the benefit is that players on AHL deals don’t count against the Canadiens’ 50-contract limit, giving Stapley a shot to play in a professional setting and prove he deserves to be part of Montreal’s 50 contracts the following season. Had the Canadiens signed Stapley to his ELC this summer, he would count against their limit, even if he played in Laval, for two years; which could reduce Hughes’ ability to make deals at the NHL level. By signing an AHL deal, the Canadiens essentially bought themselves some time to further evaluate how Stapley will progress once he jumps to the pros. Having played for a stacked Denver University squad the last few years, Hughes and co will monitor the youngster’s progress and reassess next summer.
A First Since 2014
Usually, when an NCAA player gets to the August 15 deadline and have their rights expire, they sign with a different club than the one that drafted them. Stapley, going against the grain, has chosen to sign with Laval, where he would have been playing had Montreal signed him to an ELC before August 15. It’s a practice the Montreal Canadiens haven’t utilized often in the past. In fact, the Canadiens haven’t had their AHL affiliates sign an NCAA-based prospect whose rights just expired in almost eight years. The last time such an occurrence happened, the then affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, the Hamilton Bulldogs, signed 2011 fourth-round pick Josiah Didier, to an AHL deal.
It didn’t necessarily work out for Didier in the Canadiens organization, but he has had a respectable career in the AHL ever since. In adding Stapley to the Laval Rocket, management has given head coach JF Houle another offensive centre capable of playing up and down his lineup, adding to the potential dog fight at forward that is being foreseen for the Laval Rocket. After having tasted post-season success for the first time in their history last summer, you can expect that the Canadiens and Rocket will want to repeat their success this year and go even deeper. Adding a player like Stapley could help them in that venture, all while proving to the Canadiens that he is worthy of an ELC at the same time.
I call that a perfect compromise.