At the recent meeting of the NHL’s general managers, Gary Bettman revealed that the 2019-20 salary cap is currently projected to be $83 million. That is a jump of $3.5 million from the $79.5 teams have to work with this year, and should only go up in the coming seasons as a 32nd team enters the league in a few years’ time.
The Montreal Canadiens currently have the majority of a 23-man roster set for next season. Carey Price will be in the second year of his eight-year deal. He will need a backup, and while Antti Niemi’s contract expires at the end of this season, Charlie Lindgren is signed for next year, and could be the one to take the role, for just $750,000 against the cap.
The team’s top five scorers at the forward position are all locked up for at least one more year. Currently the NHL’s 12th-best offensive club, the Canadiens’ largest commitment up front is Jonathan Drouin’s $5.5-million deal that runs for four more seasons.
The forward ranking sixth, Artturi Lehkonen, will be the top restricted free agent to get under contract for 2019-20. Other pending RFA forwards in the organization are Joel Armia, Charles Hudon, and Michael McCarron, all of whom have arbitration rights. None should command a dollar figure higher than a few million.
As a result, the Canadiens should fill out their forward corps for a very reasonable total, especially if the dynamic Nick Suzuki makes the team on his entry-level deal, which is looking like a good possibility.
Defence is a different story. The $4.625 million deal for Karl Alzner, currently reduced as he plays in the minors, is the biggest issue. Unable to crack the lineup even with a few injuries on the blue line, his contract is the most glaring flaw in the team’s current construction, and one the Canadiens would be very happy to remove before the season comes to an end.
The right side is looking strong, with Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, and Noah Juulsen all projected to come back, and Cale Fleury and Josh Brook waiting in the wings. The left side is the area of greatest concern, with two underforming veterans and an unestablished young puck-mover as the top signed options. Brett Kulak and Mikey Reilly are likely more desirable players to have on the roster, but will need both a spot and a new contract to make that happen.
As it stands, even with Alzner’s full amount on the books, Montreal is projected to have $17.8 million to work with to sign or promote five players. That would be great for taking into free agency this summer — if there were any free agents to sign. Jake Gardiner is perhaps the top left-side defenceman available on the list of unrestricted free agents, so Montreal may need to get more creative with their excess cap space to prise a top-four blue-liner from another club.
We’ve now seen Marc Bergevin carry a surplus into each of the last two seasons, and will have an even more substantial portion of the upper limit available next year. The general manager will have to find ways to turn that credit into assets over the next 10 months.