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The long-term thinking of acquiring aging defencemen

The Montreal Canadiens have recently acquired two old defencemen on expiring contracts. The deals make sense when looking at next summer and the seasons that follow.

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When looking the recent acquisitions of Sergei Gonchar and Bryan Allen, there may be some very sound reasoning beyond "you can never have too many defencemen." There is the negative that the Montreal Canadiens' defence now has an older average age than every other team in the league. When factoring in next year's salary cap and the price of defencemen around the trade deadline, Marc Bergevin may have made the niftiest set of moves he could, working with two bad contracts that were seen as unmovable as recently as the minute before he moved them. The real payoff from the moves will not be seen until the trade deadline on March 2 and the offseason.

In the interim, the Montreal Canadiens have to live with the moves that have been made.

The Salary Cap

There have been loud whispers that the salary cap will not rise as rapidly as once thought because of the sagging Canadian dollar. The mega Rogers TV deal has already been factored in at 50% of the available amount for this year’s cap. This means that the cap is higher than it would have been if the deal was not factored in at all. If the NHLPA had agreed to factor in the full deal a year earlier, the cap would have been set this year at about $70 million.

Suffice it to say, the NHL could be a very interesting league this summer. Teams will need to offload contracts as the cap rises at a slower rate than many anticipated. A team like the Chicago Blackhawks could be ripe for the picking. The strength in acquiring Allen and Gonchar is not that the Habs D is now roughly 100 years old on average, it is that both players are on expiring contracts, meaning the Montreal Canadiens have shed $5.15 million in salary for next season, space that could prove very valuable in the near future.

Trade Deadline

Bergevin cleverly shed two bad contracts with term for two bad expiring contracts. Add this to Mike Weaver’s extremely small contract, and the Montreal Canadiens are in a position to sell off veteran defencemen and improve their own defence in one fell swoop. If two of the three defencemen get traded, that opens up two spots on the blue line. Enter Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, both superior players to the ones who would be leaving.

Not only would the Canadiens' defence improve with the additions of Tinordi and Beaulieu, but a player like Sergei Gonchar could bring back a nice return. Remember, Marc Bergevin traded Travis Moen for Gonchar, turning a non-asset into an asset. The key is to flip the asset again at the deadline. The same could be said for Bryan Allen. He may not be a very good player, but defence is in short supply sometimes and if the price is right there is probably a team that would be willing to trade for him. Mike Weaver is probably in the same boat, but with a more tradable contract than Allen. It would not surprise me if any or all of these defencemen are traded at some point this year.

Beaulieu and Tinordi

Photo credit: Getty Images

Of course, this situation is not ideal for Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi. Both are ready to learn at the NHL level and the Montreal Canadiens are not taking advantage of their entry-level contracts. Luckily for the Canadiens, both players will come cheap this summer. They are also in their last season of waiver exemption, meaning they have to be up with the team full-time next year. Ideally, the Montreal Canadiens would know them better as NHL players by this time next year, but both have shown the ability to adapt well to difficult situations. Beaulieu in particular did exceptionally well when Michel Therrien gambled on him in the playoffs and inserted him into the line-up for Douglas Murray following a loss in Game 5 and with the Canadiens staring down elimination. Beaulieu handled himself incredibly well, picking up an assist on Max Pacioretty’s game winning goal.

If Beaulieu was good enough to be inserted into a line-up when the Canadiens have their backs against the wall last year, why does Therrien not trust him when the team is leading the NHL in wins? Jarred Tinordi was used in the playoff series that never happened against the Ottawa Senators in 2013 and although he struggled alongside Francis Boullion, Tinordi has improved a lot since that time and is now a rare combination of size, skating and skill. Both players deserved ice-time in Montreal.

Short-term pain, long-term gain

These series of early season trades from Marc Bergevin mean there is some short-term pain for the Canadiens as they skate out an old group. In the long-term though, Marc Bergevin has managed to acquire valuable cap space, which could become useful when teams are scrambling to remain under a salary cap that is not rising at the projected rate it was last year. The old defence for the time being is something that the team has to live with if it means that next year they are set up to gain a good player versus feeling cap-strapped due to RFA contracts the team will have to hand out this coming off-season.

Short-term, ice time is being taken away from Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi. The best roster is not being iced every night. In a nutshell, it looks really bad. It is not ideal, but it is hardly the worst thing a team has done. Instead, the short-term pain may pay off handsomely next year when there are teams who need to trade a good player because their two star players have new contracts and the cap is not rising as quickly as once assumed. The Montreal Canadiens appear to be ready for this scenario. As long as the short-term pain pays off when everyone else is desperate for some defenceman or needs cap space.

An aside about skill

Until the acquisition of Bryan Allen, Marc Bergevin had been acquiring skilled blueliners. Even though Sergei Gonchar is not the player he once was, he is still a skilled player. Tom Gilbert is skilled, as is Nathan Beaulieu. Jarred Tinordi also harbours some skill in his massive frame. Bergevin is betting on skill now. He is not betting on grit or toughness. It seems as though the acquisition of Bryan Allen has more to do with an expiring contract than with getting a good player back. Finally, the GM seems to be betting on the right things.

All salary cap numbers curtesy of