The NHL announced a 2020-21 salary cap projections between $84.0 million and $88.2 million at the recent GM meetings in Florida. At minimum, that would mean a $2.5-million increase over the $81.5 million teams had to spend on player contracts this year.
Early projections last year had the 2019-20 number at $83-million for the current season, before ultimately dropping a bit lower. Given that there’s still some uncertainty in the overall funds available, and a new coronavirus threat that is already set to impact revenue in the league by forcing some games to be played with no fans in attendance, it’s probably best for GMs to focus more on the lower end, and now, quite possibly, even a bit lower than that.
For now, we will assume a salary cap upper limit of $84 million, and see what effect that will have on the Montreal Canadiens’ off-season plans.
At that amount, the Canadiens still have nearly a quarter of the upper limit to work with. Already under contract for next year are two goaltenders, six defencemen, and 10 forwards, with the vast majority of this year’s top-nine attackers included. There are a net five more additions needed to get up to a 23-man squad.
Two notable players from the 2019-20 roster missing in the graphic above are Max Domi and Victor Mete, currently slated to become restricted free agents on July 1. They will need new deals to play with the team next year, and we’ll see how those situations play out in the coming months.
One thing that is clear from the graphic above is how few players are signed long-term. Outside of major deals for Carey Price and Shea Weber, only six of the remaining 16 players are signed beyond the 2020-21 season.
Quite a few of those players on expiring deals will receive extensions before it reaches that point. Jeff Petry provides a one-two punch on the right side, Phillip Danault has become a Selke Trophy-calibre centre for the team, Joel Armia brings important element to the team that they’d miss were he to depart, and Brendan Gallagher won’t be going anywhere. There are also a few restricted free agents to get signed, with Jesperi Kotkaniemi leading the way.
There is another wrinkle in this situation for the 2020-21 season. Before any of those contracts reach their expiry date, the new NHL team in Seattle will have pored over the options and perhaps snatched one of these players away. The general manager will get to protect about half of his roster, but there will be a quality player or two left outside his grasp.
Navigating the strategy for the expansion draft is one element of the off-season work, but more pressing is getting a roster that can contend for a playoff spot. The three most critical aspects of the team to be mindful of are the backup goaltender role (whether Charlie Lindgren can stake a claim to that the rest of this season or not), a scoring winger to complement the strong playmaking depth the team now has at centre, and, most critically, finding a top-quality option on the left side of the defence.
With no one in the system ready to step into the top-four role on the blue line, that upgrade will have to come via free agency or trade (or offer sheet if the organization attempts that route again). There is a bit of depth in the forward group and plenty of prospects and high draft picks to work with to make a deal with another team to address that area. Instead of selecting the next Kotkaniemi or Cole Caufield this year, the first-round pick could be used in the package to make that happen, and cap space won’t be a limiting factor.
Contract information via CapFriendly