The Montreal Canadiens have some maneuverability when it comes to their salary cap situation.
Of course, if the Canadiens manage to trade Carey Price’s contract rather than placing it on the long-term injured reserve, they will start to accrue salary cap space, which is a better situation for a team looking to absorb an expiring contract in exchange for a high-end asset, much like the Habs did when they acquired Sean Monahan.
Even if the Canadiens do not manage to move Price’s contract, there’s still a possibility that general manager Kent Hughes could trade one of the remaining overpriced veterans in the lineup.
But if history is any indication, it will be a rather difficult proposal.
Thankfully, the Canadiens have a perfect example, or rather, a nice reminder of the importance of avoiding paying veterans for their past accomplishments.
2023-24 marks the final year in which the Canadiens will be on the hook for Karl Alzner’s buyout. The $833,333 owed to Alzner is not a significant portion of the allotted salary cap.
In fact, it’s less than one percent.
But it stands out like a sore thumb among the Canadiens’ salary cap expenditures and offers us an opportunity to look back at the situation before Alzner arrived in Montreal.
The Canadiens were fresh off an excellent season in 2016-17 that saw them finish as the dominant team in the Atlantic Division, earning 103 points along the way. They were quickly eliminated from the playoffs, a first-round loss to the Rangers that left the team wondering what they needed to do to take the next step toward Stanley Cup contention.
They decided that signing a free agent such as Alzner, who was known as a stay-at-home defenceman with limited upside, was the right way forward.
But they didn’t just offer him a very rich contract that accounted for over six percent of the salary cap. The team gave the 28-year-old defenceman a guided helicopter tour of the city in a desperate attempt to solidify their bid, which was already far and away the biggest offer Alzner had received.
The goal here isn’t to denigrate Alzner. He is one of the nicest, most genuine people you will ever meet in the hockey world.
Rather, it’s important to note that at the time, there were clear warning signs that offering Alzner a big contract had a high chance of backfiring.
Unsurprisingly, Alzner quickly signed the five-year, $23.125 million contract offer, and even less surprisingly, the Canadiens had no choice but to buy out the deal just a few years later.
As we sit and wonder how Hughes will manage to alleviate salary cap space, the issue of overpaid veterans once again comes to the forefront.
Players like Joel Armia, Christian Dvorak, and Mike Hoffman are clearly the odd-men out when it comes to constructing a viable, cap-compliant roster that can contender in the modern NHL.
The same can be said about Brendan Gallagher’s contract, which served as a reward for a player who had shed blood, sweat, and tears for the franchise.
But that reward will soon turn into an anchor if Gallagher continues to produce declining numbers.
And it reminds us that in the future, despite how tempting it may be, bolstering the lineup with players that are soon to be on the wrong side of 30 doesn’t just limit the ice time available for prospects that will play a big part in the rebuild, it almost always leads to albatross contracts, the type of contracts that limit a team’s ability to push forward.
Those are the type of contracts the Montreal Canadiens can no longer afford to offer if they hope to one day become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
All Montreal Canadiens Salary Cap Information Via CapFriendly