Given the complexity of the subject and the relevance to the Canadiens I thought it would help to explain how the cap works and what the team will do this year to maximize their cap space.
First up there are some terms and concepts that you will need to know to make sense of this.
Cap hit: This is a players’ share of the team cap should he spend every day in the NHL
Buried Cap hit: This is a players cap hit that still counts against the team cap hit should they be sent down (ie the AHL or this year the taxi squad). Any contract over $1,025,000 will have the remaining portion count towards the cap. For example Weal makes 1.4 million against the cap. In the minors he would still count $325,000 against the cap.
Taxi Squad: With COVID restrictions this function essentially as a AHL team that is within the Habs quarantine bubble. All waiver rules are the same as sending a player to the AHL.
Waivers: Once a player meets certain years and/or games played requirements they have to pass through waivers before being sent down. When placed on waivers other teams can claim those players and have them play for their NHL team. If a player is waiver exempt they may go directly from the NHL team to the AHL/Taxisquad. Notable Exempt players of note for the Habs are Evans, Poehling, Romanov, Suzuki, Kotkaniemi.
Days: The cap in the NHL is not calculated based on games played. It is calculated by the days players are assigned to the NHL club. This season from beginning to end will have 116 days. This means that every day a player is up they count as 1/116 of their cap hit against the cap.
Now that we have the terms down lets establish what the roster will look like. Making assumptions based on early camp lines we can put together the 22 man roster.
Forwards: Anderson, Armia, Byron, Danault, Drouin, Evans, Gallagher, Kotkaniemi, Lehkonen, Perry, Suzuki, Tatar, Toffoli
Defense: Chiarot, Edmundson, Kulak, Mete, Petry, Romanov, Weber
Goalie: Allen, Price
This would mean that Weal and Frolik would be waived for the forwards and Oullette and Juulsen for the defense. This would create the following team.
One thing that likely stands out is the -41,309 in cap space. We will address that shortly.
To show how the cap works I will use last years cap as an example.
As you can see every player from last year is in these charts. Roster players above and non roster players below.
At the top there are the columns for designating each day for a player
NHL: on the main roster taking up one of the 23 available spots
IR: Injured. Cap hit still counts but opens up a roster spot. Used for shorter term injuries.
LTIR and SOIR: Injured long term. There is some math shenanigans that can happen here but for simplicity sake it frees up the roster spot and the cap space.
Conditioning Loan: being lent to the minors for short term after recovering from a injury. Theres a fair bit more there thats not needed for this piece.
Emergency loan: Recalling a player when you cant meet the minimum player requirement for a game. Counts as being up for the cap.
Suspended: counts as both cap and roster spot.
WNR: not relevent
Minors: being sent down. You dont take up a roster spot and only your buried cap hit counts against the team cap. This is where the habs will nickel and dime some cap space
Now after all this you may be thinking "great but why does any of this matter" well in order for the habs to maximize the cap they will need to do some creative shuffling with certain players (hint: its the waiver exempt ones) By moving them between the NHL and minors/taxisquad they can save cap space
Lets use Jake Evans as an Example:
There are 116 days in the NHL season this year but there are only 56 games. That means that 60/116 days do not have a game. Jake Evans has a $750000 cap hit for the year. If we demote Evans to the minors/taxisquad for every day he isnt playing that will save $387, 931 against the cap for the year.
(60/116)x $750000 = $387931
As you can see that alone will make us cap compliant without evans missing games. There also is a second part to this as well.
The NHL trade deadline occurs on April 12th (day 90) this season. That means theres only 26 days left or 22.4 percent of the season. Naturally that means players would only accumulate 22.4 percent of their annual cap hit if acquired at the deadline. For the habs:
Assuming Evans is in the minors every day he doesnt play then at the deadline we can afford to add $1,547,419 without losing any roster players
($387931-$41309) / .224 = $1547419
So as you can see with some simple cap moves the habs can go from not being compliant to being able to add more people at the deadline with some simple on paper moves. How much MB does this with the other 3 (Kotkaniemi, Suzuki, Romanov) may be limited as to not upset core players of the future but the option is there should Bergevin want more cap space at the deadline.