There are not many big free agents looming in Montreal this summer. In fact, the free agents for the Canadiens should be re-signed without much to do. Joel Armia is one of those players. And while a new deal is likely imminent, the actual cost will be quite interesting.
Armia, for all his strengths, is not a major point producer. But a solid defensive winger who can chip in 10+ goals a year is a great piece to have in your bottom six. He was an excellent safety blanket for rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi who was learning how to handle the NHL game. Even when moved up and down the lineup, he played a solid role last year. However, with Kotkaniemi slowly turning into an offensive-minded player (who plays solid defence) the Canadiens are going to need someone with more finish on his wing (no pun intended). Armia can contribute goals, not enough for the role the team may be looking to deploy Kotkaniemi, but if placed on the fourth line with Jordan Weal they can become a force in their own right.
Both Weal and Armia have the chops to eat up heavy defensive minutes while contributing on the scoresheet with decent regularity. And in the modern NHL, you need players of that type on your fourth line to find success. Given his prominent role this past season, Armia is clearly someone Claude Julien and his staff rely on, so bringing him back is a foregone conclusion at this point. But, the cost is up in the air.
Last year, on a one-year contract, Armia made $1.85 million. Almost nothing for a versatile, reliable forward of his nature. Now the restricted free agent comes to the negotiating table after setting a new career high in goals, and did so in just 59 games. His play on every line speaks for itself, and with all this factored in, he is more than likely going to get a solid raise this summer. The folks at Evolving Wild have their best estimation for Armia’s next deal based at around $3.4 million a year, which would be an absolutely massive pay raise for the Finn. They also estimate the likely term to be around three years, which seems about right for both sides involved. However, it would be fairly unlikely to drop such an amount on a forward who has not cracked 30 points over his career.
While he is valuable to the team, it would go against much of what Marc Bergevin has already done this off-season to drop that kind of deal on Armia. He will likely get a raise, but it might be closer to a little over $2 million as opposed to three. With Armia’s role potentially being changed, depending on summer workouts and training camp, it would be unwise to spend so much on someone who might be playing primarily fourth-line minutes this year.
The cap will likely not be of any major consequence in Armia’s deal. The Canadiens currently sit at just over $8 million and the cap is expected to rise this summer. Even with that, spending wisely is still a crucial step to take, especially with the team looking to add a big piece or two in the free-agent market.
Giving Armia a raise and an extension that lasts a few seasons is smart business and the most probable outcome for the team, but the Canadiens need to make sure they’re doing this contract properly. Armia is valuable, but not so valuable that he should cost the team a chance at bigger name free agents. But based on Bergevin’s off-season thus far, a solid deal should be coming down the pipeline in the future.