Montreal Canadiens: Next Year’s Salary Cap Increase Is Bad News For Habs

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 18: Joel Armia #40 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on February 18, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 18: Joel Armia #40 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on February 18, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens have not spent up to the salary cap for the past three years. They might have been able to take advantage of other teams in cap trouble this summer, but the salary cap increase makes that less likely.

The Montreal Canadiens have not been using their salary cap space like most fans would like to see. We are at a time when the Toronto Maple Leafs are finding ways to spend nearly $100 million on players by stashing several on injured reserve and even the Arizona Coyotes are among the highest spenders in hockey.

For the third straight season, the Canadiens have not flexed their financial muscle. Two years ago, the Habs spent the sixth least amount of money on players in the league. Last season that went up to eighth least and this year it is on pace to end up at sixth least once again. For a team that is among the highest revenue teams in the sport, not spending every penny to make the team better is inexcusable, though it is becoming habit.

Is it a coincidence that the Habs allowed Andrei Markov and Alex Radulov to walk as free agents in 2017, never spent the money they were offering to those two players and then missed the playoffs for three straight years?

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Likely not that much of a coincidence. This is one of the reasons that the recent announcement about an increased salary cap next season is not likely to benefit the Habs. They aren’t going to spend to the cap when it is set at $81.5 million, why would the do it when the cap increases?

It looks like the cap could be going up a substantial amount. According to Bill Daly, who is the NHL’s Deputy Commissioner (basically Gary Bettman’s right hand man) the cap is going to be between $84 and $88.2 million next year. That is a jump of somewhere between $2.5 million and $6.7 million.

The upper echelon of that increase is basically making enough room for every team to add a star player. In actuality, it will just drive up the price of the lower end and mediocre guys, but if a general manager plays his cards right, he could add an impact player without really changing the cap structure of his team this summer.

Will Bergevin do that? He is rumoured to be looking to do something large and with the NHL Draft in Montreal this June, I wouldn’t be shocked if he pulled off a major June trade. He has already swapped P.K. Subban, Alex Galchenyuk and Andrew Shaw (twice) in the month of June. Who is going to be next?

That remains to be seen, but if recent history tells us anything, it is to not hold out breath on a big name player signing a free agent contract with the Montreal Canadiens this summer. Bergevin has been reluctant to spend cap dollars for three straight years, so this increased cap doesn’t provide any relief for the Habs.

What it does is provides relief for the teams that were already close to the cap. This is also bad news for the Canadiens. We saw Bergevin pull off a smart trade to acquire Joel Armia from the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets wanted to move out the final year of Steve Mason’s contract, so Bergevin traded a menial prospect for Mason, but also acquired promising winger Armia and a few depth draft picks in the deal. He essentially paid Mason’s contract in exchange for Armia.

Bergevin did try to spend salary cap dollars last summer when he signed Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet. The Carolina Hurricanes centre was a restricted free agent, but the Hurricanes matched the offer and retained their star centre.

I thought it would be possible to see Bergevin pull off one of those types of moves this summer as well. With a team pushing up against the cap, we could have seen Bergevin take on the final year of a bad contract as long as there was an intriguing prospect attached.

Another avenue the has could have gone down would be to sign another offer sheet. One team that is still going to be in trouble this summer is the Tampa Bay Lightning. They have to somehow find a way to sign restricted free agents Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. Sergachev, you may recall was drafted by the Canadiens before being dealt for Jonathan Drouin. An offer sheet to the young Russian defender could have been tough for the Lightning to manage.

Now? With the cap possible going up as much as $6.7 million? They will still have some hoops to jump through to make everything work, but it will be a lot easier than a cap increase of $1 million. Maybe they trade Tyler Johnson or Yanni Gourde, but they are able to match any offer sheets that come their way.

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It is definitely still possible that Bergevin will try to acquire a decent prospect by taking on bad money. Or, he could go down the offer sheet path once again. It is just far less likely that he can find a team desperate enough to move money, or too cash strapped to match an offer sheet now. This salary cap increase is great news for NHL teams that actually spend money. But it is not good news for the Montreal Canadiens.