It was only a matter of time before the Montreal Canadiens, and Alexander Romanov came together on a deal. The question now is: when will he play?
The 2019-20 season was a year for redemption in the eyes of the Montreal Canadiens. A year to shake off the disappointment of the season before and compete. It was also a year of anticipation as 2018 second-round pick Alexander Romanov was entering the final year of his KHL deal with CSKA Moscow, meaning an entry-level was possible as early as May.
The Habs ended the anticipation after weeks of teasing and got the defenceman signed to a three-year entry-level contract. The entire fan base took a collective sigh, knowing Romanov was coming to help secure the left side of the team’s blue line. But there is still a single question mark yet to be answered.
The days leading up to Romanov’s signing, insiders like Eric Engels said his deal was not a matter of ‘if’ but instead ‘when.’ Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed.
If you take a gander at the Montreal Canadiens’ Capfriendly page, Alexander Romanov’s name is still not there. All the breaking news articles had similar information on the signing, but no date. The Habs’ own NHL site set the record straight that because of the NHL pause, the start date of the contract hasn’t been determined yet.
One aspect of this is already clear, and it’s been something Engels and Dan Milstein (Romanov’s agent) have spoken of already. The Habs are trying to determine whether Romanov can play for the team when the season resumes.
Things are already complicated, so much so that it doesn’t look as if the NHL will complete the 2019-20 regular season and instead jump right into the playoffs. Would Romanov be eligible to play even though he wasn’t on the roster before the Trade Deadline?
There is evidence of prospects making their NHL debuts in the playoffs. Charlie McAvoy and Cale Makar did that for their respective clubs. However, those two came out of college while Romanov is coming from Europe, which will likely factor into his ability to play.
Those are the technicalities of it, another aspect is the logic of the situation.
Say the league cancels the regular season and jump right into a 24-team playoff. All discussions of this format have included automatic advancements for the top teams in each conference/division while the remaining teams play a best-of-three series to determine the 16 teams that move on.
If Romanov is eligible to play in the playoffs, does it make sense to burn a year of his entry-level for a worst-case scenario of two games? Is it helpful for his development to play him in high-stakes hockey against other teams fighting for their lives at a championship?
Sure the magic number is 40 games rather than looking at years on an entry-level deal as that determines when a player hits unrestricted free agency, but it’s still something to consider.
I trust the Montreal Canadiens are having these ongoing conversations with the league and amongst themselves. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Romanov’s entry-level contract not kick in until the 2020-21 season, similar to Jesse Ylonen and Arsen Khisamutdinov.
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That would mean more waiting for Romanov to make his NHL debut with the Montreal Canadiens, but it could be for the best long-term.