The Montreal Canadiens made two decisions related to the Laval Rocket on Sunday morning.
The first was recalling forward Lucas Condotta, who was re-assigned to the Rocket at the start of the All-Star break.
The second was signing the Rocket’s leading scorer, Brandon Gignac, to a two-year, two-way contract. Gignac, 26, was rewarded for three years of service to the organization in which he scored 37 goals and 64 assists in 140 games.
In addition to leading the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate in scoring, the centre is currently tied for fifth overall in AHL scoring thanks to his 14 goals and 28 assists this season.
Simply put, Gignac has become Rocket head coach Jean-Francois Houle’s most trusted forward, providing the type of timely scoring and intense work rate that enabled the team to go on an impressive winning streak in January, powering their quick push up the North Division standings.
At 26 years old he’s not to be considered a prospect, making his recent signing a decision that aligns with running a meritocracy throughout the organization. Gignac had been the Rocket’s best player by a significant margin this season. Still, a lack of an NHL contract created a frustrating situation in which he was consistently ignored when the Canadiens needed AHL reinforcements.
Impact Of Gignac Contract With The Montreal Canadiens
The signature comes on the heels of the trade that sent centre Sean Monahan to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a 2024 first-round pick.
This means the Canadiens will still have five contract spots available going forward, enabling them to acquire a few warm bodies at the NHL Trade Deadline in exchange for assets that can help the team during their rebuild. It also leaves a few contract spots for players who are expected to sign their entry-level deals late this season, such as phenom Lane Hutson.
Gignac’s contract carries a very reasonable cap hit with $400,000 in guaranteed salary next year in the AHL, which should act as a safeguard if the Canadiens were ever in a situation where they want to place Gignac on waivers.
Signing a mid-season contract means Gignac will be automatically added to the Canadiens’ NHL roster. He will, however, require waivers to return to the Rocket.
Gignac profiles as a speedy forward with a nose for the net, one who has the ability to outwork his competitors during net front and board battles. He has the skill necessary to drive up the ice with possession of the puck while maintaining his speed, which tends to lead to odd-man rushes for himself and his teammates.
He can play in every situation, as evidenced by his two shorthanded and three powerplay goals this year. It would be surprising if he makes his way to the man advantage, but he could feature as an important player when the Canadiens are shorthanded.
With both Condotta and Gignac in the NHL lineup, the Canadiens have quickly added important and necessary reinforcements down the middle of the ice.
The Habs own one of the most difficult strengths of schedule from here to the end of the season, and given that Nick Suzuki’s plate is already overflowing, the two players hailing from the AHL should mitigate some of the concerns regarding the captain’s usage.
The decision to sign Gignac also sets a good example on the farm, one that younger players can look to as a motivator when the doldrums take over.
Laval Rocket Situation
Unfortunately, the contract also means the Laval Rocket will now be without two of their best forwards while they attempt to qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs.
The Rocket are currently sixth in the North Division, but they’re just two points back of the Toronto Marlies, who are in third place. Earning a playoff berth will be difficult without players like Condotta and Gignac, not to mention Jayden Struble or Arber Xhekaj.
It’s not fair, but such is life in the AHL.
Gignac’s contract also means he’s unlikely to participate in the Rocket’s playoff run if they somehow manage to qualify, unless the team decides to send him down so he can be papered in early March.
The bulk of the offensive production will now have to come from rookie Joshua Roy, who has just one goal and one assist in five games since his successful NHL audition with the Montreal Canadiens.