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Montreal Canadiens UFA Primer— Salary Cap and Trade Targets

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Montreal Canadiens Hughes

The NHL’s free agency period will open on Monday at 12:00 pm ET, giving the Montreal Canadiens very little time to pivot from their successful 2024 NHL Entry Draft.

Adding players such as Ivan Demidov and Michael Hage to the prospect pool ensures the Habs have talent and depth at every position. Now they will attempt to navigate the choppy waters of free agency, a situation that’s not as cut and clear as you may think. While there’s no doubt the Canadiens could stand to improve their lineup, they have to keep the team’s long-term rebuild plans in mind.

“We’ve gone through the scenarios, of what kind of players we might be looking at,” explained Jeff Gorton. “We’ll see on Monday whether or not those people think the same way we do. I think we have the ability to be better, and we’re going to try to do that. We have a lot of young players that are developing. I wouldn’t want to stunt someone’s growth with a long term deal for an older player.”


Montreal Canadiens Salary Cap Situation

There are still a few contracts left to sign, with restricted free agents Arber Xhekaj and Justin Barron set for modest raises. Jesse Ylonen and Mattias Norlinder, on the other hand, will head to free agency as they were not tendered a qualifying offer by the Canadiens.

The only significant considerations that need to be kept in mind from a salary cap point of view are the contract extensions that will eventually be offered to young standouts Juraj Slafkovsky and Kaiden Guhle. As of Monday at noon, the Canadiens can officially sign both players, and there’s word that they’re interested in getting them under contract relatively soon, which would help the team gauge how much salary cap space they’ll have to work with moving forward.

But as of now, the Canadiens have ample cap space. Depending on some minor upcoming decisions regarding depth players, general manager Kent Hughes will have roughly $17 million in available funds. That includes placing Carey Price’s contract on the long-term injured reserve, which means he actually has closer to $7 million in available funds, with an option to liberate over $10 million in additional LTIR salary cap space.

Don’t be surprised if some trade talk regarding Carey Price’s contract surfaces in the near future. The Canadiens will pay Price’s signing bonus on Monday, which means there’s only one signing bonus left to pay before his contract ends, which should make trading Price‘s deal a little easier.

MUST READ: 2024-25 Montreal Canadiens Salary Cap Situation: An Summer Of Opportunity

Montreal Canadiens Reported Interest – Trades And Free Agency

The Canadiens have a lot of irons in the fire. In recent weeks, they’ve been linked with essentially every high profile trade target and unrestricted free agent. We have to keep in mind that the Kent Hughes management group puts an onus on due diligence. This means they’re likely to reach out to investigate price tags when it comes to most available players, but it does not necessarily mean they’re actively trying to acquire the players in question. They’re simply doing their homework, as is expected from any proactive management group in sports.

It’s also worth to remember there have been few, if any leaks coming from the Canadiens front office in the last year. If there is any pertinent information regarding the Habs out there, it’s likely to come from the other party involved in the discussion.

As for the team’s intentions, Gorton did confirm the Canadiens are quite active in various different negotiations.

“We are armed with a lot to trade, to make trades happen,” he said. “We’re in a lot of conversations that we wouldn’t be in if we weren’t [armed with a lot to trade]. I know it’s redundant, but we’ll look at anything. We’re trying to win. We’re trying to move this thing forward.”

Montreal Canadiens-Related Reports

There were some whispers the Habs have shown interest in unrestricted free agent Patrick Kane, but seeing as he doesn’t fit the preferred age group of the rebuild, and is clearly on the decline despite still bringing some value to the table, the odds Montreal would head down that road are quite low.

Rutger McGroarty, on the other hand, does fit the age group, which means his best years are ahead of him, and thus, he is a legitimate trade target. The Habs have held discussions with the Winnipeg Jets as to the price tag for the disgruntled forward, but they have not progressed to the point that anyone could suggest a deal is imminent.


Some Canadiens fans are holding out hope Steven Stamkos could be on the team’s radar, a dream that holds a little more water now that the Tampa Bay Lightning have traded for Jake Guentzel’s rights. All signs point to Stamkos hitting free agency, where, by all logic, he should have his pick of the litter. He’s no longer a dominant player, but he still has the ability to improve most NHL lineups. On that note, unless Hughes and Co. convince Stamkos that he should not maximize his value on the free market and sign a reasonable contract with the Habs, I have a hard time seeing a situation in which he’d decide Montreal is the right time at this point in his career. He only has so many years left to enjoy success, and the Canadiens are still a few years out from becoming considered Cup contenders.

The Canadiens have also inquired as to Martin Necas’ price tag. The restricted free agent is coming off a steal of a deal for the Carolina Hurricanes that paid him just $3 million per season, which means the name of the game for his camp is finding a rich, long-term deal. Again, that’s not the ideal framework for a contract when it comes to the Habs, but at 25-years-old, he does fit inside the projected window in which the Canadiens will become highly competitive.

And finally, we also have to remember the Canadiens touched base with the Anaheim Ducks as to the availability of Trevor Zegras. He’s available, but much like Necas, it would cost an arm and a leg to acquire him, and that’s before you enter contract negotiations and come to an agreement on a rich extension.

MUST READ: Canadiens Analysis – Pros And Cons Of A Potential Trevor Zegras Trade

Montreal Canadiens Brass Tacks

While much has been made about the Canadiens taking the next step, there are very few unrestricted free agent targets that make sense, both for the team and the players in question. That’s why we’re seeing more reports as to potential trades.

The top UFA targets are better suited for teams that are in win now mode, and that includes Jonathan Marchessault, as well as former Canadiens Tyler Toffoli and Sean Monahan. That doesn’t mean the Canadiens will be inactive one free agency opens, but they’ll be in a much better position to turn to free agency next summer, or once they’ll establish the cap hits needed to extend both Slafkovsky and Guhle to long-term deals.

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morrisk

Sure, maybe an arm and a leg for Zegras – because he’s still under contract for one more season.

For Necas, a 1st, a 2nd, and a 3rd in the 2025 draft is what it would take. He’s an RA as of today. At 25 yrs old, he fits the age to sign to a multi-year deal…I’m thinking at about $7M something per. Habs have an extra 1st in 2025, plus if they trade Matheson, there’s another 1st to make up for losing one for Necas. They also have an extra 2nd, and two extra 3rds.

This seams like the best and only FA signing the Habs should do this offseason.

Dana

It’s interesting to consider all the strategies being weighed have merit and it appears Hughes is flexible depending on which opportunities present themselves. In other words he’s not automatically taking Kikuchi out after 5 innings…short term or long term, both are viable.

First,he can choose to add an older established high end performer, albeit past his prime, but still effective. Kane , who reupped in Detroit and Stamkos are the primary targets and marchasault and Tofoli secondary. Former superstars with rings to demonstrate and teach the next wave is preferred and we have cap space. There are a few other targets but it appears that path might be better explored next year. Or similarly, he can try to trade for that type of player. Doing this allows Hughes time to come up with the best long term solution while investing in leadership development through example, plus the team improves faster.

Or he can attempt to stay the course and try to trade or draft the long term solution. At this point I think we need a left winger to play top 6 likely alongside Demidov and Dach. It may be the weakest prospected position on the roster. There are 3 high quality, highly ranked left wingers in next years draft. If this ends up the strategy, then a stop gap 2 or 3 year veteran becomes more likely. However there is the whole growing together as a group benefit which has been successful historically, more pre salary cap than post. If he trades for a young player with nhl experience then he eliminates the hardest part of the learning curve. Drafting likely allows for a better spread of cap resources so there are lots of considerations.

My preference would be stay the course. Edmunson and Savard won Cups and imparted that knowledge as has coach MSL. If we are just outside the playoffs then we are in the lottery and have a better drafting chance and improved tools should Hughes decide to explore alternatives, which he always does, but both paths will take us to the same destination in a few years.

Tyrone

With Nashville seemingly going all in with guys like Stamkos, they’re going to be looking for guys to help them win or to clear salary to sign more guys. We should be going all in to get Askarov from them. Savard would fit the bill for Nashville’s needs. Package him with either a young player or even a high pick and get that star goalie if the future (who also happens to fit our age group perfectly btw).

Dana

Excellent idea

Tyrone

The other benefit is that teams usually have an “older” Russian guy on the team to help a young one coming in transition to life in North America. Askarov could do that for Demidov as early as the end of next season.

wayne m

should have offered ylonen

Tyrone

Will Carrier? Former Hughes client. LW (probably our thinnest spot). Big. Stanley Cup champ. Cheap. French. Seems like a fit. Although I’m perfectly fine signing no one. I’d like our big move of the day to be trading for Askarov. Nashville is going all in. Maybe they’ll be interested in Savard, Armia, Dvorak, picks?

Dana

Could Hayton be converted from Center? Big guy, 5th overall in 2018 so he fits the profile we want plus he had 43 points 2 years ago when healthy in his second season where he almost doubled his points from his first full year. He isn’t afraid to fire the puck but he’s not selfish. Not as gritty as I’d like but he’s a free agent and could be similar addition like Newhook and Dach.

Tyrone

I’m just not sure we need anyone. I’m comfortable letting the kids we have get the most opportunities to play and grow organically. Hayton is a RFA so we’d have to trade assets to acquire him. I’d rather save those to acquire something that we need or moves the needle.

Dana

I’m not sure I see anyone in the system that has excellent 2LW potential. Who do you see with ppg + potential? I don’t see Newhook having that upside despite the improvement in production in his first season with us which was a 50 point pace He played a lot more minutes and mostly in better situations than with the Avs so while he is still far from his potential, I don’t see his ceiling being that high.

Hayton would be cheap to aquire as he was non tendered and he would be easy on the cap. I’m not sure he’s the solution but he’s already produced a 43 point season. Thought he might be like Dach or Newhook but maybe not a great fit but the risk is low and reward potential is high.

Regardless, I think a very talented gritty left winger is the missing piece.

Tyrone

Our best LW is Caufield on his off side. 😁

Dana

Well played😊.
But….we’re still at 5 excellent top 6 forwards

Dana

And when I be say gritty, I don’t mean the Flyers mascot 😆

morrisk

Speaking of free agency, I see Reinhart just signed a huge extension with FL at north of $8.5M per. With Lundell expiring his rookie contract and likely getting about $3-4M per going forward, that leaves only about $5-6M of cap space to add 6 more roster players to get to 23.

Seeing that their prospect pool ranks in the bottom of the NHL, and that they have had zero 1st rd picks for three straight seasons, I can’t see how a bunch of minors players who are clearly not good enough will take these spots on the cheap. That means they will need FA signings, or waiver pickups, etc. Either way, how do they sign 6 more players without needing to trade at least two or three integral parts to their Cup run???

Long story short, don’t be surprised if they barely squeak into the playoffs next season and don’t go far. Bob will be 36 and too many cap issues. Good for Habs if they finish around pick #18 (see Monahan deal terms)…

Dana

Good point on the pick, I think the Flames is top 10 protected and it appears Conroy intends to ensure he keeps it. I think that means we get Florida’s first, top 10 protected, which won’t be a factor. They will still have a good club but definitely a step back from this year’s version. 18 seems a tad low but time will tell.

Mr Lafleur

Man it’s going to be the better part of a decade before this team really has anything to get excited about, let’s be honest. And now I’m noticing more players putting Montreal on their no trade list. It’s concerning and I’ve lost faith.