With 17 clubs using LTIR and one of the tighter playoff races in recent memory, the leadup to the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline could be unique and an advantageous opportunity for the Montreal Canadiens.
In the past, NHL clubs would wait until the last possible second before pulling the trigger on trades prior to the NHL’s yearly deadline due to the NHL salary cap.
Some teams would wait to get a clearer idea of their position in the standings, while a grand majority, especially since the inclusion of salary retention, waited to the last moment to accrue the most amount of cap space possible.
Since cap space is usually accrued on a daily basis, any savings made during the season would be worth almost double at the deadline. For example, a club with $2.86M in cap space right now would have the equivalent of $6.5M at the Trade Deadline because player salaries are prorated.
To give you a visual, we’ve prepared the grid below
|Team Name||Current Cap Space||Deadline Cap Space|
|Montreal Canadiens||$1.7M (LTIR)||1.7M$ (LTIR)|
This means that, if a team is acquiring a player with a cap hit of $6M at the trade deadline, a team with $2.86M of projected cap space would be able to fit the player under the cap.
But, with Long Term Injury Reserve LTIR), all that goes right out the window.
Unique Salary Cap Situation
As of right now, there are 17 clubs and counting that are currently using LTIR to stay cap compliant. It’s an unprecedented situation exacerbated by the stagnant salary cap and rising player salaries that has forced teams to get creative about their salary structure during the season.
On the one hand, it makes trades that much more complicated, as deals between buyers and sellers, especially for rental players, must have some kind of salary retention involved or a player going back the other way to offset the incoming player.
Although it may restrict teams from moving during the season, it may also impact the NHL Trade Deadline, as sellers are actively looking to sell off pieces to get in on the Connor Bedard lottery.
10 of the 16 teams currently positioned in a playoff spot are using LTIR at the moment, with another four Wild Card contenders also ell over the salary cap.
It’s created a situation where, especially the more successful teams through the first half of this season, don’t have to wait until the NHL Trade Deadline to make a move, as there isn’t a benefit for them to wait anymore.
Teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Boston Bruins, and Toronto Maple Leafs, among others, are very well positioned in the standings and are using LTIR. Their odds of making the playoffs are sky high and they could, as they have in the past, get the ball rolling early (be it shortly before or immediately after the All-Star break) to improve their team and give them the right momentum going into the playoffs.
Montreal Hockey Now has been informed by a trusted NHL source that the lack of dependence on salary cap accrual for the league’s top teams could put serious pressure on a sellers’ market, as it won’t be a question of maximizing cap space, but rather which team could help them make the money work.
“You’re going to see teams in Wild Card situations likely jump the gun to get ahead of it all,” said the source when asked how this year’s NHL Trade Deadline differs from others. “Right now, we know teams want to move, and the lack of consensus about when deals should start happening could create an interesting seller’s market, but also a cap broker market.”
Among those teams are the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers, who are in and out of the Wild Card picture and in danger of falling out of the race. That’s where Montreal comes in.
Montreal Canadiens’ Reality
The Montreal Canadiens don’t look like they could be players at the NHL Trade Deadline at face value, but looks can be deceiving.
At the moment, they’re currently listed as only having $1.76M in LTIR relief space, but looks can be deceiving.
The Canadiens have 23 players on their roster at the moment, with Monahan, Kaiden Guhle and Mike Matheson all on Injured Reserve. Once Monahan and Matheson return in two weeks or so, the Canadiens will have to send down two players to the Laval Rocket, meaning they’ll gain up to $2.2M in cap space (depending on who is sent down).
The other interesting tidbit is, even with potentially $4M in available space come NHL Trade Deadline, the Canadiens’ have the flexibility to retain on all their potential unrestricted free agents like Monahan ($6.375M), Jonathan Drouin ($5.5M), Evgenii Dadonov ($5M).
With Monahan being the likeliest of the three to generate interest, retaining 50% of Monahan’s salary and trading him would, by proxy, liberate $3.18M in space for the Canadiens, who could then turn around and weaponize it.
The Montreal Canadiens, who will clearly be sellers at this point, thus have the assets to move, an underrated amount of cap space to play with and their three retention slots available to take advantage of what could be a very unique NHL Trade Deadline.
“With Kent Hughes, I think anything is possible in Montreal,” said the NHL source. “There’s a lot of chatter picking up now and teams are starting to feel the pressure to move. They have some big pieces that teams like, but Montreal likely wins out by being patient here.”