Two things were made clear in the NHL’s return to play after nearly five months away: Carey Price can still be one of the best goaltenders in the league when he’s healthy and rested, and tandem goaltending offers a significant advantage.
Especially with this summer’s compressed playoff schedule, many teams have felt the need to use multiple goaltenders, or have had that forced upon them by injuries. Of the eight teams that made the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, only the Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t had at least two different goaltenders start games.
Giving the starter a day off wasn’t a luxury the Montreal Canadiens had in their playoff run. They were going to run with Price no matter how far the Habs went, or how many back-to-backs were on the schedule. That was the same situation during the regular season as well, with Price once again being one of the most-used goaltenders in the NHL
Marc Bergevin realized he needed to do something to ensure he saw this version of Price in future playoff years, and decided for the first time in his tenure to acquire a big-name — and relatively big-money — backup netminder: former St. Louis Blues starter Jake Allen.
Adding an additional $4.35 million to the department that already employs the NHL’s most expensive goalie does put a burden on the salary-cap flexibility, and would be impossible for many of the NHL’s teams to manage. The Canadiens, however, have carried a sizable chunk of cap space with them for several seasons now, and could afford to make such a move, especially for just the single year remaining on Allen’s contract.
The main reason for Montreal having so much flexibility is how little money is spent on the forwards. Of the highest-paid forwards on each of the 31 teams, Jonathan Drouin’s salary ranks the lowest at just $5.5 million.
That won’t last much longer, as seven of the 10 players currently on the roster for 2020-21 are entering the final year of their contracts. If Jesperi Kotkaniemi picks up in the new season where he left off in the playoffs, he will be in line for a big payday, taking over the top-earner’s spot from Drouin. Brendan Gallagher, who was paid well below his value over the duration of his latest deal, could beat the centreman to the punch.
Or the title could be claimed by a different forward altogether. Even with nearly 20% of the cap devoted to goaltending, there is $13 million of space to work with, and only four forward positions that need to be filled.
Some of those could be filled from within. Jake Evans, who played a fourth-line role toward the end of the playoffs, can be re-signed to complete the NHL centre rotation. The biggest name on the board is Max Domi, whose two-year bridge deal signed upon his arrival in Montreal is now up. Bergevin is currently weighing Domi’s value to the team, and how much cap space he’s prepared to give a player who one year ago looked like a key part of the core, but may now be an auxiliary piece.
It’s a big decision, because there is enough space to land a proper star winger for the young complement of centres the team now has. With a trade of some existing contracts, the club could manage to add a big fish and get Domi re-signed, if that is the decision.
Victor Mete is also an RFA, and would most likely force Karl Alzner off the roster if he were re-signed. Sending Alzner to the minors saves about $1 million on the cap, so Mete’s new deal would essentially take up that much less space than the actual figure. The addition of Alexander Romanov to the organization will factor into the plan for Mete.
Another option — one Bergevin didn’t shy away from a year ago — is an offer-sheet. Critically, in the Allen acquisition, the GM parted with a pick obtained from the Washington Capitals, and not the Canadiens’ own assigned pick. That ensured that they remained compliant for all offer-sheet compensation scenarios, able to extend any offer to a restricted free agent this off-season. If the trade route is closed off to Bergevin, he could very well go down the hostile takeover road once again.