The Montreal Canadiens had a busy offseason, trading Daniel Briere for P.A. Parenteau, sending Josh Gorges to the Buffalo Sabres, signing Tom Gilbert, Jiri Sekac and Manny Malhotra, re-signing Lars Eller and of course, locking up P.K. Subban for 72 million over the next eight seasons.
With the dust settled on the offseason, the Canadiens find themselves with the 11th most cap money spent according to capgeek.com. They currently have just over 2.6 million dollars left to spend under the 69 million dollar cap limit.
If the Canadiens decide to keep Dustin Tokarski and his miniscule $565,500 cap hit as their backup goaltender, they will save even more by dumping Peter Budaj’s 1.4 million dollar salary to the minors. If they can find a trade partner for Budaj, they will be looking at nearly 3.5 million in cap space entering next season.
So what should the Montreal Canadiens do with their precious available cap room?
3.5 million may not sound like a lot of wiggle room, but there are 12 other teams with less space, and four (Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks) who are actually over the cap.
Well, the four aforementioned teams are technically over the cap, but that is a little misleading as three of them can put players on long term injured reserve and their salaries basically come off the books.
The Flyers can do this with Chris Pronger’s $4,941,429 cap hit and squeak in just under the upper limit. The Bruins can do the same with Marc Savard’s $4,027,143 yearly earnings and will be temporarily under the cap, at least until they sign Torey Krug and Reilly Smith. The Lightning are barely over the cap, and can place Mattias Ohlund on LTIR when the season starts to save $3,607,143 and fall comfortably under the 69 million dollar threshold.
This leaves the Blackhawks as the only team that is currently over the cap limit entering next season. They are $2,216,795 over the cap ceiling, and under the newest collective bargaining agreement, have a limited number of ways to cut costs.
In previous years when a team was over the cap they could send anyone down to the minors and their entire cap hit would come off the books. If Chicago were to do that next season, no matter how much the player that is demoted makes, the team would only save $900,000 off the cap.
The Blackhawks have no choice here, they have to make a trade, and deal a significant salary as well.
After the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and faced an enormous cap problem entering the 2010-11 season, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman dealt Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel and Akim Aliu to the Atlanta Thrashers, where his former assistant Rick Dudley, had been appointed the new GM of the Thrashers.
Since Dale Tallon was hired away from Chicago by the Florida Panthers, a flurry of trades have occurred between the Blackhawks and his current team. The Panthers acquired Brian Campbell, Brandon Pirri, Marty Reasoner and Tomas Kopecky from Chicago in separate deals, and also sent Kris Versteeg back to the Hawks this past season.
Kevin Cheveldayoff, another former assistant GM in Chicago, was hired by the Winnipeg Jets, and since has acquired Michael Frolik from Chicago and sent Johnny Oduya to the Hawks in a separate trade deadline deal. Frolik and Oduya may not be superstar names, but they are the two biggest trades Cheveldayoff has made since being named GM in Winnipeg, and both were with his former colleague.
Obviously Stan Bowman likes to make deals with people he has a good relationship with and is comfortable dealing with. There is another former member of the Blackhawks management team who is at the helm of an NHL team, and that just so happens to be the Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin.
Bergevin cut his managerial chops in the Hawks organization, and like Tallon, Dudley and Cheveldayoff is a former assistant general manager of the Blackhawks where they worked alongside, or for current Hawks GM, Bowman. In fact, Dudley is now the assistant to Bergevin in Montreal.
The Blackhawks have no choice but to make a trade before the season begins, and must shave almost 2.25 million off their payroll in the process. Bowman has shown he likes making deals with his former co-workers, and it is time Marc Bergevin steps in and makes a deal with his former boss.
The Hawks have to shed payroll, so they will be looking to move an NHL roster player, while only taking back prospects, draft picks or both. Obviously Chicago won’t be moving Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews who both just signed eight year deals at 10.5 million per year.
It also wouldn’t make sense for the Hawks to deal anyone who makes less than the 2.3 million dollars they are over the cap. Marian Hossa won’t be going anywhere either as teams will be weary of taking on a contract that will have the two way winger earn 5.275 million until he is 41 years old. Not to mention the ridiculous cap recapture penalties that the Blackhawks would potentially face after trading Hossa.
Though the Hawks could decide to move one of their defencemen, I find they are much deeper at forward, and could move on more easily from trading away a forward rather than a blue liner.
With all of those factors considered, there are two players who I can reasonably see the Blackhawks moving to get under the salary cap. Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell.
Both are left wingers, though Sharp can basically play any forward position and Bickell has played both wings in the past.
The Canadiens most glaring need happens to be on left wing. If Alex Galchenyuk moves to center at any point this season, the Canadiens depth chart on left wing is pathetic at best behind Max Pacioretty.
Let’s just say hypothetically that David Desharnais is injured early next season, or goes through a one point in 19 game stretch like he did last season and is sent to the press box. Due to this the Habs move Galchenyuk to center and have him, Lars Eller and Tomas Plekanec down the middle. This would force Rene Bourque to play on the second line left wing, another player who found himself in the press box due to poor performance last season.
So the Blackhawks are being forced to move a left winger, the Montreal Canadiens need some depth on the left side and the Hawks general manager likes to make his deals with former colleagues such as Marc Bergevin.
I am not saying anything is for certain, or that a trade is imminent, but there are many signs that point to a possible trade coming together between Montreal and Chicago in the coming weeks.
Patrick Sharp is coming off a career season at the age of 32. He would cost a ton to receive via trade and has three years left on a contract that comes with a 5.9 million dollar cap hit. Sure he is a great two way player, but you could not reasonably expect him to match his 78 points next season in Montreal.
If Montreal were to trade for Sharp, they would be paying for a nearly 80 point player who is an excellent penalty killer, but would not get 80 points out of him. It is a strange time in his career for his best season, so anyone who buys him now would be overpaying in my opinion.
It is almost a guarantee that Montreal would have to give up a good young defenceman in Nathan Beaulieu or Jarred Tinordi, and a good prospect and a draft pick to get Sharp in a deal.
Bickell however had a down season, and would come extremely cheap right now. Forget having to move a top prospect or a good young NHL player, the Hawks might be happy just to get rid of Bickell’s 4 million dollar cap hit and comfortably be under the cap ceiling once again.
Bickell is a big, physical winger who is quickly earning a reputation as a clutch playoff performer. His regular season career highs came in 2010-11 when he scored 17 goals and 37 points, but the past two playoff seasons Bickell has stepped up his game for the Hawks.
On their way to a Stanley Cup victory in 2013, Bickell scored nine goals and 17 points in 23 games, and followed that up with seven goals and ten points in 19 postseason games this past spring.
Bickell is also 6’4” and 225 pounds and is not afraid to use his large frame to his advantage.
The problem is, Bickell scored just 11 goals and 15 points in 59 games last season. Though he stepped up in the playoffs, a 15 point regular season player is overpaid at 4 million dollars for the next three years.
Bergevin has often been quoted as saying there are players that get you into the playoffs and players that get you through the playoffs. He acquired Daniel Briere last summer with that in mind, and in my opinion should do the same with Bryan Bickell this summer.
Bickell could be a good fit on what would immediately become a huge third line on the Habs with Lars Eller and Rene Bourque. Even if their offensive contributions have been extremely inconsistent in the past, a trio of players weighing in at over 650 pounds would be difficult for opponents to contain.
Acquiring Bickell and finding another taker for Budaj would put the Canadiens just over the salary cap for next season, but having Jiri Sekac start the year in Hamilton would solve that issue.
I can’t claim to have any inside information, or that anything is in the works between Chicago and Montreal. However, Chicago has to make a move to get under the cap, does not want to move a core piece like Patrick Sharp, and Stan Bowman prefers to deal with a GM that he trusts.
The Canadiens have a need to improve their depth on left wing, can take on some cap space, still need to get bigger and would like to add a playoff veteran.
Bryan Bickell would solve all of these problems for each team, and would come cheap for the Montreal Canadiens.