Montreal Canadiens’ off-season calendar

Key dates for Marc Bergevin and his staff this summer.

May 1: KHL/European Free Agency

The first scheduled item on Marc Bergevin’s calendar this summer will be KHL/European free agency as these contracts expire on April 30. Some players of interest may be available and perhaps looking for an opportunity in North America.

We think first of forward Vladimir Bryukvin, who has been linked with the Montreal Canadiens organization in the past through his tryout at development camp last summer. He is rumoured to be headed to North America, perhaps on a minor-league deal with the Laval Rocket.

Bergevin has shown a willingness to explore European options for adding depth to the organization. Other, more prominent, names such as Stéphane da Costa, Alexander Yelesin, and Nail Yakupov would be a few low-risk options to bring over from Europe.

Then there’s the case of Andrei Markov, and whether the Canadiens would entertain giving him a curtain call to finish off his career where it started.

Implications and impact of a potential Markov return to Montreal

May 10-26: IIHF World Championship (Slovakia)

A lot of the Canadiens players have turned down opportunities to play for their country at the upcoming International Ice Hockey Federal World Championships. Most notably, Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher for Canada and Jeff Petry for the Americans. Jesperi Kotkaniemi has an open invitation to play for the Finnish team.

The tournament serves as a good opportunity to scout European players at the highest level of competition. Last season, the Canadiens were impressed enough with Czech defenders David Sklenicka and Michal Moravcik to offer them entry-level contracts. It’s a low-risk move that might still pan out in the case of Sklenicka.

Kirk Muller will be front and centre during the tournament, helping to coach the Canadian team to the gold medal, so he will have a bird’s eye view to offer tips to Bergevin and the Euro scouts.

May 27-June 1: NHL Scouting Combine (Buffalo)

This is the final chance to interview and evaluate draft-eligible prospects in a controlled environment will all 31 teams. But, sometimes these NHL-devised performance tests are not enough. Last season the Canadiens ran their own private combine in Montreal less than a week after the NHL combine, and in Stockholm Sweden a few days after that. It’s not confirmed that they will do the same again this year, but from the initial impressions from last season the initiative was seen as a success.

The goal is to gather more data on certain fringe players that may not have been present in Buffalo, or who are not draft eligible, but do have the Canadiens interest for a minor-league contract. Such was the case for Bryukvin in 2018. The Canadiens have a lot of late-round picks, so particular attention to these later-round players is expected.

June 1: Deadline to sign CHL draft picks

Two draft picks remain unsigned at the moment, whose rights expire on June 1st: defencemen Jarret Tyszka and Scott Walford. Both were drafted in 2017 along with Cale Fleury and Josh Brook. Whereas the latter have contracts already, the former still await their fate with the organization.

June 21-22: NHL Entry Draft (Vancouver)

Now that the draft lottery is over, and the the Canadiens know that they are drafting 15th overall, they can start to strategize. They have 10 draft picks again this year, with two in the second round and three in the fifth. The key to a successful draft will be to capitalize on those late-round picks. The combine testing and their own scouting incentives will be critical for achieving the best possible results at a point in the draft where the odds of becoming an NHL regular are remote. Plucking one roster player out of the five late picks (three picks in the fifth, one in the sixth, and one in the seventh) is very important.

June 25: RFA Qualifying Offers are due by 5 p.m

Decisions regarding whether to continue investing in players who are on expiring entry-level or bridge contracts happen at this time. Complicating matters is that some of these players will have arbitration rights, which generally Bergevin tends to avoid. Roster players under such conditions include Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen, Charles Hudon, Mike Reilly, and Brett Kulak. There are also many players in Laval that will require new contracts: Michael McCarron, Daniel Audette, Hunter Shinkaruk, Gustav Olofsson, Xavier Ouellet, and Brett Lernout. Their futures with the Canadiens are much more precarious.

June 27-30 (unconfirmed): Canadiens Development Camp (Brossard)

The development camp is the first chance where we get to see the latest draft class as well as the only time we get to see NCAA-eligible prospects. Forty-plus players take part in the four-day camp that includes on-ice and off-ice exercises, physical and nutritional education, as well as scrimmages.

Last year, Kotkaniemi’s first appearance underwhelmed a bit, and to his own admission. He did also make a point to say that he intends to improve every day. And that he did.

Interesting names to expect this year: Nick Suzuki, Joni Ikonen, Jesse Ylonen, Cayden Primeau, and Joel Teasdale.

June 30: Last day to exclusive rights to pending unrestricted free agents

Jordan Weal, Nate Thompson, Jordie Benn, and Christian Folin all become unrestricted free agents on July 1, but until then, Bergevin has exclusive negotiating rights with those players. Does he see them as part of the solution going forward?

July 1, 12 p.m. EDT: NHL Free Agency

Bergevin is not a big spender on July 1, but has been known to make a shrewd move or two to add to his depth. For instance, he signed Al Montoya to back up Price as one of the first moves of the day in 2017. This year, there is obviously a lot of speculation as to whether the Canadiens will give the backup reigns to Charlie Lindgren, or opt for more of a veteran presence behind Price. The answer could be answered early on on July 1.

August 15: Deadline to sign NCAA draft picks

The Canadiens have one draft pick who went through the college system to sign, and that’s defenceman Nikolas Koberstein. He’s a fifth round pick in 2014, and was always forecast as a long-term project, but even then four years in the NCAA may have proved too underwhelming to be worth investing in. Koberstein is currently playing with the Kansas City Mavericks of the ECHL, and it would be a safe bet that the Canadiens might just let his rights expire.

September 6-9: Rookie Showcase (Belleville)

The Canadiens will match their young prospects against those of the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets at the CAA Arena in Belleville.

It’s a popular annual event that showcases the young talent in each organization, but last year was marred by a couple of terrible injuries to Jake Evans and Jarret Tyszka. Hopefully, there is no repeat to those scary moments in this year’s edition.

Still, the rookie tournament represents the official launch of the new season, and a gauge for the competitive health of the junior-aged players in the organization.

Other Items of Note

  • Will the Canadiens secure an ECHL affiliation for 2019-20, or were they generally happy having players spread out in important roles on multiple teams? Depth issues once again plagued the Rocket this season, so perhaps a new strategy regarding AA-level depth is needed.
  • New AHL collective bargaining agreement needs to be negotiated as the current deal expires. What impact will that have on the ability to stock farm teams with minor league contracts?
  • Bergevin had 10 players on AHL deals in Laval. Do any of them re-sign for next season? Who will be the veterans to guide the crop of young players entering their first or second professional seasons? Alex Belzile did an amazing job for Laval this season, but at 27 years old, does this journeyman have another career year in him?
  • Trades, trades, trades. These can happen at any time and come from anywhere. Does Bergevin have something up his sleeve?
  • Contract extension for Max Domi./

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