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The Montreal Canadiens’ decision on Juraj Slafkovský is both easier and more complex than it appears

With his 10th game approaching, the organization seems to have to shown their cards.

NHL: NOV 05 Golden Knights at Canadiens Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Juraj Slafkovský’s next game will be his 10th NHL regular season game of the season. That game comes with some implications, and unlike players who would head to the Canadian Hockey League, any decision the Montreal Canadiens choose to make would not be final.

The benefit to keeping Slafkovský under 10 games is that it would slide his entry-level contract one year, even while he plays in the American Hockey League. This means that his entry-level contract would essentially become a four-year deal and expire after the 2026-27 season.

On the surface, this seems like a slam dunk decision, without even considering the fact that the Canadiens risked putting a forward on waivers due to Josh Anderson’s suspension and Evgenii Dadonov’s pending return from the injured list. Slafkovský has three goals this season, but has averaged 11:05 of ice time. The last few games, he has had some power play time but has largely been on the fourth line.

The fact that the team is expected to place Rem Pitlick on waivers on Monday afternoon seems to indicate that Slafkovský will remain and break the 10 game mark.

There are some benefits to not having Slafkovský’s contract slide, however. As it stands now, his entry-level contract will expire after his age-21 season. If the Canadiens choose to lock him in then, it may be at a cheaper price point than doing so after his age-22 season when he has one additional year under his belt. While the cap hit for the first year of that contract, 2026-27 would be higher than if he were on his entry-level contract, beyond that it is possible the Canadiens would benefit.

The Canadiens currently only have six non entry-level contracts — including Carey Price — signed for the 2026-27 season. Obviously that number will change between now and that season, but there are not a lot of players locked in, and the cap is expected to increase as well.

Anderson’s two-game suspension also provides a pretty easy way to get Slafkovský additional ice time, ensuring it is not a waste to burn a year of his contract this season. Even if the Canadiens were to send Slafkovský to the Laval Rocket, they would be able to call him back up, making any decision made before Tuesday’s game moot. If Slafkovský were sent to the Canadian Hockey League, he wouldn’t be eligible to be called up.

The more important number to keep in mind is 40 games. If Slafkovský spends 40 games on the active NHL roster, he will get an accrued season. This means that he will be a year closer to unrestricted free agency, which occurs once the player turns 27 or has seven accrued seasons. This has big implications down the road. As an example, Kirby Dach’s four-year extension that he signed this year sees him as a restricted free agent at the conclusion. Had he accrued a third season (even though his entry-level contract did not slide), he would have been an unrestricted free agent after his seventh season. Instead, Dach doesn’t become one until his eighth season at the earliest because he was on the 2020-21 active roster for fewer than 40 games.

What is important to note is that for the 40 game number, healthy scratches and games injured and not on injured reserve count, so Slafkovský is at 12 games right now (when he was out injured, he was still on the 23-man roster).

It is unlikely that Slafkovský will not be signed long-term at the end of his entry-level contract, but keeping him under 40 games means that they can be flexible and sign him to a four-year bridge deal and still have him as a restricted free agent at the conclusion. It also means any contract over four years would buy out one less unrestricted free agent year, meaning that the cap hit would be lower as well.

Because Slafkovský does not need waivers, they can be creative and split his time between Laval and the NHL without getting to 40 games should they choose to go this route.

The decision regarding Slafkovský and 10 games appears to be set, but it isn’t the final one the team will have to make regarding their 2022 first overall pick. The team has said that they won’t place contract or roster status above his development, but it is still something they will have to consider.