Montreal Canadiens: Flat Salary Cap Will Help Habs, But They Can’t Afford to be Careless

The Montreal Canadiens are not going to be affected as much as other teams by a flat salary cap. But they can’t afford to go wild in free agency either.

The Montreal Canadiens have not come close to spending to the salary cap ceiling in the past three years. Perhaps not so coincidentally, they were not good enough to qualify for the postseason in any of those seasons. Well, at least not the old fashioned way.

Due to the global pandemic, the league pressing the pause button and teams gearing up to return to action in late July to finish off the 2019-20 campaign, the Canadiens could sneak into the playoffs anyway. They are the 24th ranked team in the NHL this season, but if they can defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Best-Of-Five play-in series, they will qualify for the 2020 playoffs.

Having said that, there is no debating the team did not have the depth and talent to be one of the top eight teams in the eastern conference over a full 82 game schedule. You can say that is because of the team’s lack of interest in spending to the cap, or you can say spending to the cap just to spend money doesn’t make sense either.

Spending the Habs remaining cap dollars on a player like Ryan Dzingel or Gustav Nyquist would have made the Habs a better team, but would it have made them a playoff team? Possibly, as the team wasn’t all that far back from the Toronto Maple Leafs for the third and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division at many points in the season. But it is impossible to say how a player would fit with a different organization and if he would boost the team’s record, or just never gel with the team.

It does stand to reason that signing a player or trading for someone to use the cap space makes the team better than just not spending the money. Many fans have questioned why a wealthy organization like the Montreal Canadiens. declines using all of its assigned cap space.

The Habs will head into the upcoming offseason, whenever that’ll be, with plenty of cap space for the fourth straight year. Right now, they have about $18 million in open cap space and only have to re-sign Max Domi and Victor Mete. It is hard to say what those two players will earn next season, but it will be quite a bit less than $18 million.

With rumours spreading that the NHL’s salary cap could be set at $81.5 million for the next three seasons, many teams will be scrambling to find the space to keep their restricted free agents and fill holes on their roster. This puts the Canadiens at a significant advantage in the upcoming offseason, but they need to be careful when taking on future salary.

It might be enticing to be one of the few teams capable of giving top free agents like Alex Pietrangelo and Torey Krug a strong offer. However, it would come at the cost of losing a couple of key players off the current roster in a year.

Let’s say the Habs can get Domi and Mete signed for a combined $8 million. That will give them about $10 million to use to improve their roster for next season. It would seem like the perfect time to try and land a Norris caliber defenceman like Pietrangelo.

However, fast forward a year later to the conclusion of the 2020-21 season. The Canadiens will have to find the cash to give out new contract to their entire top line of Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. Jeff Petry, Joel Armia, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Arthur Lehkonen will be free agents at the same time. That septet currently makes just over $23 million combined right now and through next season. With huge raises due to each player on the top forward line, the knowledge that top four defenders like Petry rarely take pay cuts as UFAs and Kotkaniemi’s next contract up in the air depending on how well he plays last season, $23 million won’t be enough to keep everyone.

In fact, Tatar, Danault and Gallagher could eat up most of that themselves with the way they play together. That means the team would have to find money out of nowhere to keep Petry, Kotkaniemi, Lehkonen and Armia. Buying out the final year of Karl Alzner’s deal at that point is possible, but it won’t save the team enough to sign the entire Finnish Line.

So, the Habs could finally use their cap space and spend to the ceiling next season. They have the space to easily add a big contract and improve their team for the 2020-21 season. However, it could have a negative impact on the 2021-22 roster. Of course, with their solid and deep crop of prospects on the way, maybe the Habs are okay with moving on from Petry and Tatar or other players who make decent money.

We will have to wait and see as the offseason, which is usually heating up right now, won’t begin for a few more months. But this flat salary cap will hit other teams much harder than the Habs. So much that great players may be available and not have the usual bidding war for their services like we normally see.

Want your voice heard? Join the A Winning Habit team!

Write for us!

That might make it easier for the Habs to add an impact player. However, they have to have a long term plan in place so they aren’t the desperate team feeling the salary cap squeeze at this time next year.