The Montreal Canadiens are in the midst of acquiring young talent and overhauling the organization, but one impediment to their rebuild remains.
Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes has done quite well with the very little wiggle room he’s inherited since taking over.
Although the Montreal Canadiens had a strong base of youngsters coming up through the pipeline, like Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, they were also saddled with one of the worst salary cap structures in the NHL.
Having the likes of Shea Weber ($7.8M), Carey Price ($10.5M), Brendan Gallagher ($6.5M), Jeff Petry ($6.25M), Mike Hoffman ($4.5M), Joel Armia ($3.4M) and Christian Dvorak ($4.45M) all on the books for years to come made it extremely difficult to orchestrate moves.
Nonetheless, the Montreal Canadiens have slowly but surely been able to rid themselves of some of these contracts over the last year.
But, for the club to take the next step in its rebuild and utilize its fiscal power to its full capacity, they’re going to need to overhaul their salary cap structure.
It’s extremely unlikely that any team is willing to take on the contracts of Price of Gallagher, leaving Hoffman, Armia, Dvorak and even Joel Edmundson as potential cap casualties to finally offer the Canadiens the excess flexibility they require moving forward.
Other rebuilding clubs have been able to use their cap space to their advantage with the NHL’s salary cap remaining flat for the last few seasons; including the Canadiens last summer with Sean Monahan.
Unlike other clubs around the league, club owner Geoff Molson isn’t shy about maximizing his spend in order to help the rebuild along; meaning that, if the Canadiens had cap space to burn, there could be more Monahan-like deals on the horizon.
Unfortunately, their cap situation this summer would be tentative at best if they don’t move out one or two of the contracts above.
They currently have roughly $650,00 after Cole Caufield’s recent extension and still have youngsters like Rafaël Harvey-Pinard left to sign; meaning they’ll likely be using up their LTIR space again this season with Carey Price’s $10.5M cap hit offering them some manoeuvrability.
By moving out an extra $3-$6M in trades over the next few months, it would not only open cap space for the club to take on more cap casualties from their rivals in exchange for additional draft picks and prospects, it would also open up spots for their prospects.
The Canadiens currently have 11 forwards signed to NHL deals after having recently signed Michael Pezzetta to a two-year extension.
They also have Harvey-Pinard, Jesse Ylönen and more left to sign, which will bring the number closer to 14; and that doesn’t include a potential extension for Alex Belzile either.
The Canadiens’ current projection would leave little room for any surprises at camp or any potential addition via trade; unless a move is made.
The same can be said on defence, as the club currently has nine NHL defencemen on their roster, with five of them playing on the left side.
It’s clear that, to take the next step in their rebuild, the club will want to bring in their youngsters in waves; and not a tidal wave like last season where they played eight rookies for more than 20 games.
But to give these youngsters the chance they deserve, the gradual selling off of older talent is necessary; creating a “two-birds-one-stone” scenario.
Kent Hughes strategically retained one of his retention slots, leaving himself some trade flexibility heading into the 2023 NHL Draft, and it would be surprising if he didn’t utilize it to help move his process along.