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The Montreal Canadiens’ salary cap situation ahead of free agency

The announced salary cap upper limit of $81.5 million limits the ability to spend, but could increase the number of trade options.

Justin Blades/EOTP

In late 2018, an initial estimate of the 2019-20 salary cap was revealed to be about $83 million. The actual figure is usually revealed well ahead of the draft, but this year the general managers were hamstrung in using their draft picks as assets in trades because the actual financial limit hadn’t been released. Instead, the amount was announced after the final pick was made: an upper limit of $81.5 million.

That is just $2 million more than last season, which is much lower than the growth anticipated when the newest collective bargaining agreement was ratified. With contract values steadily rising over the last few years, the relatively low cap amount will be catching some GMs off-guard. Indeed, David Poile has already had to accept a return of lesser value for P.K. Subban and his $9 million contract, and the former Montreal Canadiens defenceman may not be the last player forced to move for financial reasons.

Justin Blades/EOTP

Salary cap data via CapFriendly

The Canadiens aren’t in such a dire situation after carrying a significant portion of cap space in previous seasons, but they also no longer have the substantial wiggle room they did midway through the season. They currently have $10.2 million in space — less than is allotted to Carey Price next year — with several restricted free agents to address. The visualization does include a full 23-man roster, so any additions will have subsequent deletions, and those in-house decisions will mostly be among the lower-salaried players.

With the majority of contracts signed beyond this year, the situation won’t be changing much in the future either, needing trades or buyouts to free up space. At that point, purchasing two years of Karl Alzner’s deal may be more palatable than it currently is with three seasons remaining.

Dale Weise and Matthew Peca will be candidates for such a decision leading up to July 1, neither expected to have a role on the NHL club next season. At the very least, a little more than $1 million can be scrubbed off their contracts by assigning them to the AHL, so there are ways to mitigate the financial effects of those deals.

Marc Bergevin’s top concern, outside of trying to clear space, is to deal with current outstanding free agents Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia. They probably aren’t going to chew up a major portion of the available cap space, and will supplant a player on the books if/when they do sign.

Keeping in mind that Max Domi will also need a new contract one year from now, there will still be money available to make a small splash on the market in one week’s time — or perhaps a big splash if other teams get desperate to move contracts to comply with the cap.