The Montreal Canadiens have had interesting players available on waivers, but have chosen against making a claim for a few important reasons.
Despite starting the season with top priority in the waiver wire process, and maintaining said priority all the way to November 1, the Canadiens only claimed one player on waivers during that time: defenceman Johnathan Kovacevic.
Kovacevic played a position of need, and, at the time, the Canadiens had just been handed some unfortunate injury news regarding Joel Edmundson; making the pick-up very timely and logical.
However, even after November 1, many interesting players were passed up and allowed to be picked by teams lower in the waiver priority order, despite the club having a need for talent and secondary scoring.
Although it may be frustrating, especially when you see the likes of Eeli Tolvanen performing well in Seattle, the Canadiens had a couple of reasons they decided to stand pat.
Up until mid-January, the Canadiens were playing with a dangerously tight roster.
The team started the year with 15 healthy forwards and was forced to waive Rem Pitlick just to reintegrate Mike Matheson into the lineup.
Thus, the logjam of veterans on the roster made it impossible for the Canadiens to ever get the necessary flexibility under the 23-man roster limit.
That being said, when the injuries started mounting in December, strategic waiver claims became more possible for the Canadiens; who still had other concerns inhibiting them from making a move.
In taking on players recently put on waivers, like Tolvanen or Vinnie Hinostroza, the Canadiens would have put themselves at a disadvantage in terms of their salary cap structure.
Both players would count toward the Canadiens’ LTIR amount, which the Canadiens were looking to keep as unencumbered as possible to give them the most flexibility prior to the NHL Trade Deadline.
The risk of either player not working out and eventually being put back on waivers for reassignment to the Laval Rocket was not the Canadiens didn’t want to take on.
The reason for that is that a player who earns more than $1.1M in cap space would still count against an NHL club’s salary cap, as team’s only save a maximum of $1.1M when a player is demoted.
With Tolvanen and Hinostroza, just as examples, earning $1.45M and $1.7M respectively, the Canadiens would have been on the hook for $350,000 and $600,000 on their cap structure if things didn’t work out.
The Canadiens will want to maximize all the cap space they can muster prior to the NHL Trade Deadline to allow them to make the most valuable trades possible with contending teams with their own cap troubles.
Lastly, taking on a player on waivers would occupy one of the Montreal Canadiens’ 50 contract slots.
The Canadiens have currently used up 46 of their 50 available contract slots, but want to leave themselves the flexibility to take on more contracts come the NHL Trade Deadline.
As we’ve seen in the past, other teams are also close to their contract limits, and are often trading picks and prospects for veterans at this time; which means every contract counts for contending teams.
Last year, the Canadiens completed four trades near the NHL Trade Deadline, all of which saw the Canadiens receive an NHL player in return for theirs to retain the buying team’s contract flexibility.
However, like last season, the Canadiens also need to leave themselves a few slots available for potential signings out of the NCAA.
Last April saw Jordan Harris make the jump out of the NCAA to the NHL once his season with the Northeastern Huskies came to an end. The Canadiens needed to leave a roster slot open in order to sign him, as they would have been ineligible to do so with 50 contract slots already taken up.
This spring, the Canadiens may be signing upwards of two players out of the NCAA after their season ends, with Jayden Struble and Sean Farrell looking likely to make the jump to pro once their season ends.