Now that the season is over for the Montreal Canadiens, Kent Hughes can get down to the business of reshaping a roster in which Marc Bergevin attempted to patch some holes to keep competitive into one more in line with the current plan to build around existing, emerging, and soon-to-be-drafted young talent.
Hughes had been working just to get some bodies signed for the NHL team, inking Chris Wideman to an extension and bringing Otto Leskinen back into the fold after he had gone as an unsigned restricted free agent on the reserve list for the entirety of 2021-22.
On Thursday, the GM made a more substantial move, shipping off the contract of an unofficially retired Shea Weber to a Vegas Golden Knights team desperate for the nearly $8 million of long-term injured reserve funds, getting NHL forward Evgenii Dadonov in return, a player signed for one more season who could be a 2023 trade deadline asset for Montreal.
Various reports state that the general manager is still hard at work trying to make other moves. This is the salary-cap situation that he’s dealing with in those conversations.
One important factor to keep in mind is a bonus overage penalty the Canadiens carry into the 2022-23 season. It’s the result of performance bonuses being hit on several players’ entry-level contracts. Having some of the talent you’re trying to build around hit milestones in their early 20s is far from a bad thing, especially given the reality of the team’s competitive standing. But it does shave a bit more than $1 million off the space Hughes has to work with, and there are sure to be plenty more such performances bonuses hit next year.
As it stands, the graphic includes two goaltenders, seven defencemen, and 13 forwards, one player short of the maximum 23-man roster with not enough space to add even a league-minimum contract. There are other players in the system at certain spots, but dollar-wise this is about the best the Habs can piece together from their current options.
They can get some relief by placing Carey Price on LTIR to start the season if he’s not ready to go, but like last year, they can’t commit to spending that money elsewhere (other than on a temporary replacement goaltender) if there’s a chance Price will be able to play at some point.
One thing that stands out from charts from previous years of the Bergevin tenure is how much of the cap is currently assigned to forwards; the previous GM usually had only about 50% allotted to those positions, though he was the one to sign Nick Suzuki to the eight-year extension that kicks in in a few weeks. Whether the proportions remain the same depend on what Hughes’s moves are over the summer.
A couple of the 13 forwards shown have been mentioned more often in trade rumours since they had good performances in the recent IIHF World Hockey Championship. Joel Armia didn’t have much an NHL campaign, but his international showing helped restore his reputation as a big-game performer, which will draw interest from teams expecting to contend next year. Hughes’s comments on Josh Anderson, a player he says he holds in high regard and doesn’t want to trade, is starting to sound a lot like his praise of Artturi Lehkonen ahead of the last trade deadline as the GM dug in his heels until he got the package he wanted.
Then there’s also the matter of Jeff Petry — another player Hughes doesn’t want to trade but is listening to offers on — who could be dealt before the deadline for a significant return. That would be the two largest contracts among defencemen dealt in a matter of weeks, leaving Joel Edmundson and David Savard as the highest earners with their $3.5-million deals, barring another acquisition.
It’s likely that this will be an off-season more of subtraction than addition, finding out what some of the young players the team has built up over the past few years can provide at the top level. The goal will be making a roster that is strong enough to at least keep the team in games next season to let that talent shine while ensuring it’s the future core of the team that gets the top assignments, and the three transactions Hughes has made fit with that philosophy. We should expect similar strategies with the moves he’s set to make over the next month.