When the NHL released their official season-opening rosters for all 32 teams, Arber Xhekaj was nowhere to be seen on the Montreal Canadiens’ roster. To make matters more confusing, Joel Armia, one day after being put on waivers, was.
The reason why is essentially the salary cap and allowing for as much flexibility going forward as possible.
The Canadiens open the season officially with one player on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), and no it’s not Carey Price. It’s Christian Dvorak, expected to miss the first month or so of the season. Because the Canadiens expect Dvorak back, they don’t need to try to maximize the relief on his contract. If they did, they would have to make moves to get back under the cap when he is ready to return.
The team had Carey Price and Chris Wideman on injured reserve to start the season. This means they do not count towards the 23-player limit, but they do count on the salary cap. The reason it was so important for Price to start the season off of LTIR is simple. When a player is placed on LTIR, the relief the team gets is the player’s salary minus the available cap space when they are placed on LTIR.
That is why Armia and Xhekaj were where they were to start the season. Kent Hughes and John Sedgwick’s goal was to get as close to the $83.5 million salary cap as possible on Monday at 5:00 p.m. to then maximize Price’s LTIR and the amount they can exceed the salary cap.
Armia’s cap hit of $3.4 million is a lot more helpful to get to the cap than Xhekaj’s. Of the players who could be sent to the Laval Rocket on a “paper” transaction (basically a move made on paper), Xhekaj had the lowest cap hit. The result was the Canadiens getting to within $110,417 of the upper limit of the salary cap. That means the team will be able to exceed the cap by $10,389,583 of Carey Price’s $10.5 million cap hit.
When the Canadiens open the season Wednesday in Toronto, Arber Xhekaj will be on the roster, and likely even in the lineup. Joel Armia will be with the Laval Rocket on Friday when they open their season at home. History, however, will look back at the season-opening roster a little differently and the reason is because of salary cap management.