The Montreal Canadiens are still using LTIR this season to ice their roster, but they’re in a much better place than a year ago.
A year ago, the Canadiens needed to put Carey Price on Long-Term Injury Reserve (LTIR) prior to the start of the season after the acquisition of Sean Monahan.
The positive was that the Canadiens were able to extract a 1st-round pick from the Calgary Flames, but the negative was that the club was right up against the limit of their salary cap (including Price’s LTIR space).
It meant the Canadiens had little room to maneuver when it came to trades throughout the season, and it showed; as the club had a far more active summer than NHL Trade Deadline in 2023, despite clearly being in a seller’s role as a bottom-10 club.
Although they’ve collected three of a possible four points to start the season, many NHL betting sites available to players in Montreal believe the Canadiens will be in a similar situation come the 2024 Trade Deadline, but they’ll be better equipped to take advantage of it.
This season, the Canadiens were able to wait until the regular season began in order to put Carey Price on LTIR. The long rehabilitation process of Christian Dvorak ($4.45M) certainly helped the club in that regard.
With Dvorak out, the Canadiens not only knew they could put the centre on in-season LTIR without issue, as he is slated to return in the next few weeks. That knowledge allowed general manager Kent Hughes to weaponize his cap space by acquiring a 2024 3rd-round pick along with veteran Tanner Pearson and his $3.25M cap hit from the Vancouver Canucks.
The acquisition of Pearson put the Canadiens over the salary cap by $4M, which means that, even when Dvorak’s $4.45M salary comes off LTIR, Montreal will only be over the cap by about $3-4M- depending on injuries.
With Carey Price’s $10.5M contract still on LTIR, that would give the Montreal Canadiens between $6.5-7.5M to work with this season; rather than the meager $1-2M from last season.
That means that they could take on short-term salary to extract a better price for trades, or be open to an even bigger trade that would benefit the long-term; should the opportunity arise.
If the betting odds are to be believed, that kind of flexibility will help as we move closer into the hockey season; a far better set up for success as the club continues to try and unload salary in the future.
Assets to Move
Last season, the Montreal Canadiens’ two biggest trade chips, Sean Monahan and Joel Edmundson, both succumbed to injuries that would see them miss significant time and virtually destroy their trade value.
Kent Hughes was able to utilize a retention slot on Evgeny Dadonov in order to take a gamble on Denis Gurianov; which was already a tight fit for both clubs due to Gurianov’s near $3M salary.
This season, the Canadiens have the likes of Sean Monahan and Tanner Pearson as pending free agents that are likely to attract attention, but, with only one retention slot remaining for this season, the Canadiens will have to get creative on where to use it.
Thankfully, this season, Monahan’s cap hit will only be about $2M, which will make him a valuable trade chip, given his talent, come March when clubs aggressively seek to bolster their centre line.
The Canadiens might also have the luxury of moving a veteran defenceman like David Savard, who the Canadiens received calls on last season, if the offer is right. His contract, worth $3.5M for another two seasons, could be seen as a value deal with the contracts bottom-pair defencemen are signing these days.
And, if Kent Hughes isn’t able to come to terms with goaltender Sam Montembeault before the Trade Deadline, it would be a very wise move to capitalize on the 26-year-old’s momentum. At just $1M in salary, Montembeault could be a valuable trade piece for a contender that is close to the cap limit and looking for a 1-2 punch in goal for a lengthy playoff run.
The players, not the odds, will dictate how things play out, but, it’s clear Montreal won’t be lacking options this year.
What If They Beat The Odds?
Should the Montreal Canadiens rise above the set odds for their success this season, it would be shocking for the club to not consider moving out their free agents and not make any significant acquisitions for shot-term success.
Sticking to the plan and growing with their youth is the mantra that Hughes and the Canadiens have preached from the get-go and it is unlikely that they will use any of their cap flexibility to improve the team for a small run this year.
Given their situations, it would also be highly likely that players like Sean Monahan and Tanner Pearson are moved prior to Trade Deadline, unless they’re firmly in a playoff spot; which, given the state of the Atlantic Division right now, might be a very tall task for such a young team.
Nevertheless, regardless of their position in the standings, the flexibility this season will not only allow the club to get creative on the trade front, but will offer them the flexibility to play with their roster should youngsters like Joshua Roy or Mattias Norlinder continue to improve with the Laval Rocket.
For the first time in years, the Canadiens can finally breathe.