The Montreal Canadiens have many injuries on their hands, but they could turn that negative into a positive come NHL Trade Deadline.
With the health statuses of Sean Monahan, Joel Edmundson, Arber Xhekaj and Kirby Dach up in the air, some clarity in their health for the rest of the season could provide general manager Kent Hughes with some assets to make a move.
That asset is cap space.
The Habs currently have roughly 3.78M in LTIR space with Monahan still on Long-Term Injury reserve, but could quickly have more in the right situation.
Having cap space could allow them to take on short-term contracts for picks, or act as the third team in a trade requiring double salary retention.
A clear example of this was three-way trade between the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild, where the Capitals were able to maximize their return for Dimitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway by taking on Craig Smith’s $3.1M contract from the Bruins.
Meanwhile, the Wild joined in as the third team in this trade for the purposes of salary retention, retaining 50% of Orlov’s contract after Washington had initially retained 50% of it, meaning Boston was only now on the hook for 25% of Orlov’s $5.1M cap hit.
In this one trade, there are two examples of how the Canadiens could weaponize their cap space at the NHL Trade Deadline,
There have been calls to see the Canadiens get involved in these sorts of trades; as their list of attractive trade assets has dwindled down due to countless injuries.
However, with only $3.7M in cap space for now, the Montreal Canadiens will need more clarity on the health of a few players and the availability of others before being able to get in on the fun.
The Canadiens’ injury situation has been historically bad this year, with 11 players currently missing from their opening-day roster.
For the Canadiens, the number of players on Injured Reserve, not Long-Term Injury Reserve, poses a problem, as the cap hit of the injured player remains, on top of the additional cap hit brought on by recalling a player from the Laval Rocket.
Sean Monahan‘s health is the biggest issue at the moment, as the Canadiens’ cap structure is being maintained by the veteran being on LTIR.
Should Monahan be ruled out for the season, then the Canadiens could use their current cap space as they see fit.
But, if there’s a chance Monahan can return, then the Canadiens would need to shed $2.59M in salary just to fit Monahan’s $6.375M cap hit back on the roster.
Arber Xhekaj‘s situation is also up in the air, as the Canadiens is set to meet with a specialist for his shoulder injury in the coming days.
Should the injury keep Xhekaj out for the season, the Canadiens could place him on LTIR as well, gaining $828,,333 in cap space.
He’s currently on the Canadiens’ Injured Reserve list as they await news on the youngster’s status.
The Canadiens expect to know more in the coming days.
Kirby Dach‘s situation is worrisome, as the 22-year-old centre has gone from having an illness to a lower-body injury.
It’s a shocking and concerning turn of events for the Canadiens, prompting them to snatch up Chris Tierney off waivers from the Florida Panthers.
If Dach is expected to miss significant time as he recovers from this lower-body injury, it could be a huge blow to the Canadiens’ roster.
It would be surprising that his season is in jeopardy at this point, but, in the event that it is, the Canadiens could utilize his $3.36M cap hit to their advantage down the stretch.
They could place Brendan Gallagher, who has not skated with the team in over a month, on LTIR, thereby liberating $6.5M in space, but there’s a catch.
Gallagher was expected back by the beginning of March, but hasn’t started skating yet.
The veteran winger is expected to return at some point this season though, meaning the Canadiens cannot count on his LTIR relief space for the rest of the season.
Outside of aggravating his injury or suffering a serious setback, putting Gallagher on LTIR would only be a temporary means to increasing the Canadiens’ cap space.
In the event where the Canadiens can trade some of their high-priced, pending free agents, the Canadiens could liberate some cap space to become more aggressive in other trades.
Evgenii Dadonov ($5M) and Jonathan Drouin ($5.5) are currently playing some of their best hockey and at least one of them could be moved prior to the NHL Trade Deadline.
If the Montreal Canadiens were able to retain 50% of their contracts and move either of them, it could free up $2.5M or $2.75M respectively, for the Canadiens to spend elsewhere.