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Canadiens Considerations In Arber Xhekaj Contract Negotiations

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Montreal Canadiens defenceman Arber Xhekaj

Few players have enjoyed a more eventful entry to the NHL than Montreal Canadiens defenceman Arber Xhekaj, who is set to become a restricted free agent this summer.

His physical prowess has certainly added a certain level of entertainment to the mix, a crucial aspect of keeping fans engaged during seasons in which the Canadiens struggle to reach 30 wins.

Arber Xhekaj’s Value

Of course, the 23-year-old Hamilton native contributes more than big hits and heavyweight tilts.

While the Habs have an overabundance of young defencemen in the organization, most have struggled to maintain decent underlying numbers in the NHL. That’s perfectly normal for a team going through a rebuild. However, when one particular defenceman manages to produce above-replacement possession numbers in a sea of mediocrity, it’s worth paying close attention.

We don’t need to go over the numbers again as we’ve already delved into the issue ad nauseam but suffice it to say Xhekaj has improved his play to the point where he could be considered a core member of the defensive group.

That may sound silly, especially since there’s a tendency in the NHL to write off third-line defencemen as easily replaceable assets, but there’s value to a player producing very encouraging numbers, even if it’s in a situation that’s conducive to playing well.

Many defencemen spend most of their time on the third pairing, but little to none bring as much to the table as Xhekaj.

Montreal Canadiens – Arber Xhekaj Contract Comparables

Beyond Xhekaj, the only players who will be considered for extensions are defenceman Justin Barron and forward Jesse Ylonen, both set to become restricted free agents.

The Canadiens will have ample cap space, though they have players such as Kaiden Guhle and Juraj Slafkovsky on the contract extension docket the following season, which means they’ll have to be careful about their expenditures going forward.

MUST READ: Canadiens Salary Cap Situation Gives Team Plenty Of Exciting Options

Xhekaj is a unique defenceman, but there are a few players who could give us insight as to the possible price range of an extension.

Fellow Hab Jordan Harris recently signed a two-year contract extension that carries a $1.4 million annual average value (AAV). Both Harris and Xhekaj have maintained the same production rate at 5v5 and are severely underrated by fans and the media alike.

Statistically speaking, Xhekaj was a little better in 2023-24, but not enough to suggest he deserves significantly more than his fellow blueliner.

We can also look to the deal signed by Jeremy Lauzon in 2022-23, which pays him $2 million per season. Lauzon is a hard-hitting defenceman who took a little more time than Xhekaj to break into the NHL, and he doesn’t come close to matching Xhekaj’s offensive aptitude.

Former Hab Brett Kulak was given a three-year, $1.85 million AAV contract by Marc Bergevin in 2019-20, a deal that proved to be quite valuable for the Canadiens, especially when you consider the draft pick acquired in the trade-deadline deal that sent Kulak to the Oilers turned out to be phenom Lane Hutson.

Arber Xhekaj Extension Considerations

Xhekaj is a good player in a somewhat limited role, but like any other member of the NHLPA, there are a few considerations to weigh before Kent Hughes and Co. engage in serious contract negotiations.

The first thing that comes to mind is his health.

Playing an intensely physical brand of hockey comes with a cost.

Xhekaj has had to endure back-to-back season-ending surgeries.

It’s probably not fair to suggest his health status could be taken into serious consideration. One of the main reasons fans fell in love with Xhekaj in the first place is because he put his body on the line to defend his team.

But such is life in professional sports.

The next important factor will be maintaining a balanced budget as the team continues to build toward the future. The Canadiens are one of the league’s youngest teams, which suggests most of their players are yet to hit their statistical primes and will be looking for raises in the near future.

On the flip side of the coin, Hughes is aware of what Xhekaj represents to the organization.

Xhekaj is the player who has solved many of the longstanding insecurities held by Habs fans, which were born from watching their favourite team get pushed around for years, perhaps even decades.

He’s the new Lyle Odelein, wrapped in a Chris Nilan veneer, though I’d also suggest he’s similar to John Ferguson Junior, in the sense that he’s one of the toughest players in the NHL, but does not necessarily need to fight to prove his worth.

And though his fists are weapons of mass destruction, he’s more valuable to the team on the ice than in the penalty box.

Canadiens Long-Term Strategies

Most defencemen in Xhekaj’s situation will be handed a bridge deal, as was the case for both Lauzon and Kulak.

But there is merit in locking down players who provide an underrated value to the franchise.

Xhekaj probably isn’t going to win a Norris Trophy next season, but given his underlying numbers, unique profile, and penchant for spicing up otherwise tedious hockey games, the Canadiens should probably explore long-term contract extension options.

Again, health is a legitimate issue, as is the overall budget throughout the rebuild, but by offering Xhekaj slightly more than he would have gotten in a bridge deal, the Canadiens could end up saving important salary cap space down the road.

It would not only reward Xhekaj and confirm his importance to the organization, but it would also provide him with stability, something he was not afforded when every NHL team including the Canadiens ignored him at the draft.

Of course, Xhekaj’s camp may not want to negotiate a long-term deal, and that would be perfectly understandable. Many teams around the NHL would be glad to add a play of his ilk to the mix. If he were to hit free agency, he’d have a laundry list of top teams bidding for his services.

But it’s difficult to picture Arber Xhekaj in another uniform.

The Canadiens provided him with an opportunity to prove his worth, while Xhekaj has provided the team with literal blood, sweat, and tears.

It’s a perfectly symbiotic relationship.

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Dana

One of my favourite players. He’s Shea Weber lite, big intimidating presence with a huge shot, good decision maker ( particularly under pressure) and excellent first passer. His passes are crisp and accurate. He gets shots through from the point, and will intentionally shoot wide so it doesn’t get blocked, especially up high. He’s still learning but he has established a floor that is very solid.

I don’t see him maintaining pp minutes as the young core make the team but his value goes well beyond scoring stats. Net front, board battles, puck support, blocks, shots, hits- lot of important contributions. He is the Sheriff, the keeper and enforcer of order. Xhekaj can do a lot of things to help you win games as he’s a good hockey player with the Liam Neesons “ special set of skills “ lol. As we add more high end skilled players, the need for an influencer becomes more important, particularly one that can impact the game in multiple ways. Teams don’t want to use a roster spot for a fighter, they want a good player that’s a really good fighter. Look what Tampa paid for Jeannot- a prospect plus a 1/2/3/4/5 round picks.

Anyway, I think we have a gem here, and I’m also pleased we added his brother, the Deputy Everyone is tradable, and rest assured that Hughes will win the trade if Xhekaj gets moved. I think he’s worth signing at 2-2.5million aav for 5-7 years. If he continues to improve we have a tremendous value and even if he stays as is with minor improvements that contract will age very well. I’m not overly concerned about the injury issues but it’s a factor. A lot if other teams would be willing to take that risk according to all the trade rumors, so…

John Smith

All good points Dana. George Laraque, whom I usually take with a grain of salt, recently said that players like Xhekaj make life a whole lot easier for their teammates. Cole Caufield said that he and his fellow teammates feel taller with the Sherrif on the roster. Cheap shot artists take far less liberties knowing that the Sheriff is around. He also mentioned how Xhekaj is not liked by Martin St Louis. He pointed out incidents where the coach shook his head in frustration or publicly embarrassed him when he made Xhekaj publicly apologize. He also said something snippy about the players’s hamburger commercial. Arber Xhekaj’s ice time has been reduced. All of these things may be getting into his head and hurting his play.

Greg

In my view, Arber got sent down because he was getting perhaps a bit cocky about his role on the team, too confident. From what I recall,his numbers pre and post demotion aren’t much different. I think MSL was jealous that another undrafted player seemed to be getting a bit too easy of a ride to the NHL compared to himself, and he set out to teach him some humility. Petty, but given the depth on defence they could afford to send him down, they thought.
Pretty sure the team’s worst stretch of games was played without him.

Dana

Hughes drafted his brother and had reputedly turned down significant offers. Marty established the pecking order ( unnecessarily) and Xhekaj understands his place. I expect the compliance he showed will strengthen the relationship. Hughes won’t watch the kid get destroyed. I, like you, thought he played more conservatively after the recall. I expect a big season from him.
Ps I don’t like laraque. He watched lucic destroy Komiserek career and did nothing about it. He was a selfish fighter and more concerned about his reputation than providing for his teammates. The sheriff will defend his teammates

Greg

You make very good points about Arber and his value to the team. That said, you’re showing a lot of confidence in Hughes trade acumen. I don’t share your confidence there, not just because Hughes has lost trades already, but more because I really believe Arber to be better than a 3rd pair d. I can see him maturing into a pillar of our defence, 2nd pairing is where I see him eventually.
Also, there’s no way in Hell his agent would let him sign anywhere for that money at that term. The longer it is the more it will cost. I predict a bridge deal here, 3 years at 2.5 mil might do it, and perhaps even less. No way he’d take that for 5-7 though.

Dana

Every GM loses some trades but he has won the bigger ones and lost the lesser, in my eyes. Ideally I want him paired with Hutson but neither would work well on their off side so I think he’s destined to anchor the third pairing and 16-18 minutes but he is capable of more so it’ll be interesting to see it unfold.

Dana

To address why I proposed those numbers for a contract, which you thought was very light.
1. He was sent to the minors this past season for an extended period
2. He has less than 100 career games of experience.
3. Plus he’s had injury issues regarding multiple surgeries.
4. He was undrafted
5. Comp contracts for “ fighters” or guys with less than 100 games that spent time in the minors in the past year.

10-15 million sets a guy up pretty well( not talking from experience lol) He would be a ufa at the end of the contract and could potentially sign a massive contract or he may be out of the game by then, there is uncertainty and risk for both parties. Team will also need user friendly contracts so they have financial flexibility to have the best roster possible. Finally, he will supplement his income if needed either by endorsement deals, doing ads, personal appearances or bagging groceries at Costco , lol

Mahovlich1971

He only had 3 fights this past season and was 7th in points among Montreal defencemen.I would rate Guhle, Matheson far ahead of him and the wild card is how well Hutson will play come fall as his audition was impressive.

Greg

His contributions go far beyond his point totals. I saw a team that had no push back, that didn’t engage. That NEVER was the case when Arber was in the lineup. I don’t care how many fights he gets into because enforcers barely exist anymore, because teams don’t need a full time thug like George Parros, as 1 example.
Points aren’t the only metric to base opinions on where defenders are concerned. In any case, I believe Arber has more to give points wise, considerably more, and if he stays healthy and gets the ice time, he will.

habbernack

IMO the Habs have to think 2 yrs down the road when Matheson could be traded . so that would be Guhle, Arber, and Hutson. Trudeau is playing well in Laval. Engstrom is in the pipeline.

Dana

No Reinbacher or Mailloux or Strubble, Harris, Barron or Kovacevic? The Konyushkov kid could push for a spot in 2 or 3 years. No shortage of options as that is 12 guys for 7 spots. Plus what did we get for Savard and Matheson? What did we do with our 2 2025 first round picks or the 2 this year? Did we sign any free agents or make any other trades? So much will happen over the next 16 months until the 2025-26 season kicks off throughout the roster