Habs to Make At Least One More Move

Lower salary cap and the league going with younger players are two of the reasons making this year’s last few days prior to hockey season more interesting than ever. Is it because teams are asking too much for their assets in trades? Or is it that they know that several teams are in a bit of a bind, being either over the cap or having too many players still at camp, having to place some on waivers? One thing is for sure: it’s neither the quantity nor the quality of players on waivers that’s lacking.

As for the Canadiens, there you have it folks! As predicted by many of us, and contrary to what some Habs’ fans believed, both Charles Hudon and Charlie Lindgren have cleared waivers and the team announced that they are sending them back to Laval. It’s a huge personal disappointment for Hudon I’m sure, while the Lindgren situation will be interesting to watch as he seems to be the odd-man out in Laval. That said, Marc Bergevin and his team still have some work to do, some difficult decisions to make. But before we get into that, let’s have a look at the Canadiens’ picture here.

According to Capfriendly.com, Montreal has around $4 million of cap space available, but that’s with a 25 men roster including Noah Juulsen who is injured. Juulsen is waiver exempt so he will likely be sent to Laval when healthy since he didn’t have a chance to earn a spot yet. This leaves the team with 24 players with someone in the neighbourhood of $5 million of cap space. As teams cannot carry more than 23 players, this means the Julien and Bergevin duo will have to cut one more player off the roster before the season starts on Thursday in Carolina.

Charles Hudon

Further, the Canadiens have a total of 48 players with professional contracts. The NHL limit is 50 so they have to tread carefully, particularly with players on waivers. There are a few ways to “unload” contracts, like trading contract for contract (let’s say two players for one) or players for draft picks or prospects yet under contract. So that’s not the end of the world.

When A.J. Greer was placed on waivers by Colorado yesterday, I was thinking that he would be a good pick up on waivers for Bergevin and his team. A former 2nd round pick (39th overall), the Joliette, Quebec native is only 22 years old and stands at 6’3″ and 210 lbs. Greer has great size and strength, and was projected to become a true power forward at the NHL level. He displays both a quality level of skating and a nasty disposition. Can rile up opponents, too, making him a focal point for teams that line up against him (which helps his own teammates). He is not a natural goal-scorer and the jury is still out on his long-range upside but he can and will drop the gloves if or when need be, something few Canadiens’ players can do. But he wasn’t claimed.

One of my Twitter followers, Daniel Labrecque, brings up a good point when it comes to the number of contracts so it remains possible that a Hudon or Lindgren trade for Greer could still be consumed by both teams. In a one for one trade, the Habs would remain at 48 contracts instead of 49 if they claimed him.

Another interesting player who was placed on waivers today by the Anaheim Ducks is Daniel Sprong, a 22 year old right-winger who had 14 goals in 47 games last year with the Ducks. The question is if other teams who finished lower than Montreal will put a claim in, which would kill the Canadiens’ chances of getting Sprong. But then again if he clears, the Ducks might be willing to trade contract for contract. That said, I have a feeling that they would like to keep him as a quality depth player so my gut tells me that if he clears, he will not be traded.

Who stays, who goes?

As it stands at the time of writing this, here’s how I personally see the team composition. Please note that the lines are for the sake of seeing how many players the Canadiens have and who has earned a spot. Claude Julien certainly can and will have different line combinations, and they are going to change from game to game.

Drouin – Domi – Suzuki

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher

Byron – Kotkaniemi – Weal

Lehkonen – Thompson/Poehling – Armia

Extra: Cousins and one of Thompson/Poehling

Mete – Weber

Chiarot – Petry

Kulak – Fleury

Extra: Folin

Price – Kinkaid

This lineup means that the odd-man out would be Mike Reilly… or if the Habs decided to go with eight defensemen and 13 forwards, it’s Cousins that I would remove as in my humble opinion, Nick Suzuki, Ryan Poehling and Cale Fleury all earned a spot with the big club. Note that it is possible that they send one or two of them down to Laval temporarily to give Bergevin time to make room for them at the NHL level. But all three have clearly showed that not only they are NHL ready, but they can have an impact. For those reasons, I think that Bergevin is not done and he will complete a trade in the next few hours or days.

As I’m heading out hunting with no internet connection and/or cell service, a lot can and will happen by the time I come back. And that’s exciting folks. Are you ready for Thursday? Go Habs Go!

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Habs Patiently Waiting to Pounce

We’re closing in on the end of the month of July and many Montreal Canadiens’ fans are getting fidgety about what they consider the lack of action surrounding their team. After all, not every hole in the line-up has been filled and some will make a strong argument that the team hasn’t improved from last year, or not enough to push them over the hump to make the playoffs… let alone become Stanley Cup contenders.

Heading into the off-season, the Canadiens had three big needs:

  • A top-4 left handed defenseman to play big minutes against the opposition’s top lines.
  • A scoring winger, preferably right handed, or a quality offensive centre.
  • A backup goalie worthy of being in the NHL.
Ben Chiarot

Team General Manager Marc Bergevin, so far, has signed two unrestricted free agents: Ben Chiarot and Keith Kinkaid. The jury is out if Chiarot is the solution as a top-4 defenseman but he is, without a doubt, an improvement over departing Jordie Benn. Kinkaid had a horrible season last year, with numbers comparable to what Antti Niemi put up with the Habs… although on a weaker team. If he can return to form, he should be good for 20-25 games this season if Carey Price stays healthy.

Salary Cap Crunch

With the news that the salary cap is not going up as high as teams expected, there are a few teams finding themselves in a tight spot, too tight for comfort. According to CapFriendly.com, there are currently three teams “in the red”, with no cap space at all:

  • Vegas Golden Knights
  • New York Rangers
  • Pittsburgh Penguins

Three other teams are within a million dollar to the salary cap ceiling:

  • Arizona Coyotes ($178,099)
  • Washington Capitals ($935,706)
  • Dallas Stars ($970,001)

Then you have the Florida Panthers, the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes, all within $2.5 million of the cap, followed by the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs – who have yet to sign RFA Mitch Marner – with less than $4 million available.

Where does Montreal sit? They are listed with just over $4 million of cap space but Cap Friendly has them with a 25 men roster. Most teams carry 22 or 23 players at any given time. Assuming that they can’t find takers for Karl Alzner ($4.625M) and Dale Weise ($2.35M) and they send them down to the AHL, the maximum they can save by doing so is $1.075 million each. So this would add $2.15 million to the existing $4 million cap space, meaning that Bergevin would have about $6 million to play with, and that’s not counting any salary going the other way if he completes a trade.

Waiting to pounce

Whether you want to admit it or not, Bergevin is a wise man and he knows what he’s doing. When he takes a risk, it is usually a low risk, as attested by the signings of Alexander Semin (who the Hurricanes are still paying by the way), Mark Streit and Ales Hemsky. Alexander Radulov was a bit more of a risk but very much a calculated one. He only signed him for one year so had he not panned out, he wasn’t tied long term with a troubled son.

There is no doubt that Bergevin isn’t done his shopping and that he’s waiting in the weeds for the right time to pounce. Like a feline, he is in hiding, patiently outwaiting his prey to come out and when it does, he will pounce into action. Like a predator, it is possible that he misses but as time goes on, teams will get more desperate to make their move. The waiting game is in Montreal’s favour, believe it or not.

Who, on the Golden Knights, Rangers and Penguins will be made available and at what price? What are the Coyotes (who aren’t usually near the top), Capitals and Stars willing to part with? With only 37 players under contract, how will the Hurricanes and Tom Dundon be willing to spend on their cap after the matched offer sheet to Sebastian Aho? How are the Maple Leafs going to squeeze Marner under their cap? Some will come knocking and that’s when Bergevin will try to make the most of it. As a hunter, the first two things you learn is patience and putting the odds on your side. The Canadiens have done that and they’re on the prowl. Be patient, Habs’ fans, and stay tuned. Go Habs Go!