In the salary cap world, big money contracts are always in the back of fans' minds. P.K. Subban was subject to even more fierce criticism in the 2014-15 season because of his enormous salary. What fans often miss though, are the steal-of-a-deal contracts that allow teams to push out those big salaries without getting into salary cap trouble.
Max Pacioretty's contract is one of those steals, as is Carey Price's when you look at his relative value to the team, and now Nathan Beaulieu joins those ranks.
Beaulieu's newly signed two-year extension with the Montreal Canadiens will pay him just $1M per year, and there is a very real possibility that Beaulieu could be the Canadiens' third best defenseman over those years. Not only that, but Beaulieu is possibly the perfect defense partner for Subban going forward; someone who can match the pace he plays with, and has the skating speed to recover from high-risk, high-reward plays that go wrong. Small sample size though it may be, Beaulieu and Subban together have an extremely impressive 56.8% Corsi.
Beaulieu's contract will likely see him get a very sizeable raise in 2017, the same year that Andrei Markov's contract comes off the books, at the age of 38.
This is masterful cap management by Marc Bergevin and John Sedgwick, which has allowed the Canadiens to not only field the best defensive core they've had in years, but to do it while remaining flexible.
There is still likely a trade to be made, because the Canadiens simply have too many NHL ready defensemen, and it's beyond clear by now that all of Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi, and Greg Pateryn deserve shots in the NHL. Alexei Emelin would be the preferable contract to move out, as he's likely a third-pairing defenseman on the depth chart and making big money for three more seasons, but Tom Gilbert on an expiring, reasonable contract may be the one the Habs part with.