Montreal Canadiens are soon to find themselves an interesting position come NHL Trade Deadline, as the NHL trade market is in disarray this season.
On a recent segment with TSN 690, NHL Insider Darren Dreger spoke to the rising frustration in the NHL from general managers looking to make a deal.
“I’ve talked to Billy Guerin and he’s frustrated, but he’s an aggressive GM. He wants to do something,” said Dreger on what he’s heard. “The reason he’s frustrated is that other general managers just don’t seem to want to get active in that sense. A lot of that is tied to the salary cap.”
The salary cap and the lack of market for rental players as of yet has things pretty much at a standstill, similar to last season at this time. However, there are interesting differences this season that put the Montreal Canadiens in an advantageous situation.
The idea that teams will wait until the very day of March 3 to make a deal because they want to accrue more space under the salary cap is not a valid argument this season.
16 of the NHL’s 32 teams are currently using Long-Term Injury Reserve (LTIR) relief space in order to field an NHL roster at the moment.
Unlike the few teams currently under the salary cap, those using LTIR do not accrue cap space as the season goes on and have no benefit to waiting until the last second to make a deal.
Last season, there were about 7-10 teams using LTIR leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline, so the big jump this season, especially among playoff-contending teams, is sure to benefit the Canadiens, who won’t need to wait to drum up a market for their players when the time comes.
More Than Meets The Eye
Speaking of Montreal’s cap situation, the Canadiens currently sit at $2.57M in LTIR relief space at the moment with 23 healthy bodies on the roster.
However, Sean Monahan and Brendan Gallagher still count against the cap at the moment, meaning the Canadiens are essentially paying for a 25-man roster, while holding only 23.
When Gallagher or Monahan returns, one can assume Rem Pitlick will be sent down to Laval, saving the Canadiens $1.1M. But what happens when the Canadiens are at full health?
Montreal’s true, maximized cap space at the NHL Trade Deadline will be up to $4.5M, as they would save $1.1M in salary for every contract they assign to the Laval Rocket or place on waivers.
The Canadiens will also have their three slots for salary retention available, along with the knowledge that they’ll have over $20M in cap space for next summer, setting them up to be bigger cap brokers than many initially thought back in September.
Up to $4.5M in wiggle room, and the ability to save even more money by moving out contracts at 50% would not only maximize the return on the players traded by the Canadiens, it would help them enter trade discussions with other teams desperately needing cap space.
Worked out pretty well the last time the Montreal Canadiens pounced on such an opportunity, wouldn’t you say?
Patience Is A Virtue
The Canadiens also have the luxury of time on their side.
They don’t have to rush to move their players, since they’re not a full-blown seller at this year’s Trade Deadline, at least not openly.
That means that, if teams rush to try and get themselves Bo Horvat as their top-six centre target and feel they won’t be able to acquire him this spring, teams will quickly turn to the Canadiens for Sean Monahan for example and that will create a subsequent bidding war.
It’s a similar situation to last Trade Deadline, which saw many big fish like Ben Chiarot or Hampus Lindholm get traded earlier than the deadline, leaving teams to scramble to try and find suitable alternatives.
It’s what allowed the Montreal Canadiens to extract maximum value on assets like Brett Kulak and Artturi Lehkonen at the last second, and that patience, coupled with the options above put Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton in an advantageous position to make some noise this spring.