Montreal Canadiens: Alexander Romanov Being Ineligible Is Best For Habs Long Term

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 23: Alexander Romanov. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 23: Alexander Romanov. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens will be returning for training camp next week. It sounds like Alexander Romanov won’t be eligible to play.

The Montreal Canadiens will be heading to the arena in just over a week to begin their training camp for the 2020 play-in series. It seems wild that the players and the owners are yet to come to a full agreement on the return to play plan with eight days to go until training camp is set to begin, but here we are.

We still aren’t 100% sure where the teams will play, though it sounds like Edmonton and Toronto will be the two host cities. We don’t know when the first games will be played either, but we do know teams will begin training camp in their home city next Friday.

What we do know is whenever the puck is dropped, the Canadiens will be facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Best-of-5 play-in series to determine which team qualifies for the postseason.

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While both sides inch closer to a firm deal, another thing that sounds certain is that player’s who signed contracts after the NHL went on pause on March 13 are not eligible to play in the play-in series or 2020 postseason.

This only affects a handful of players, mostly Russians who signed their entry-level deals after the KHL season concluded, but it does affect the Habs. Russian defender Alexander Romanov was one of the few players who signed their deals during the NHL’s hiatus and thus, he will not be allowed to face the Penguins when the 2020 play-in series begins.

Romanov was drafted by the Canadiens in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft. He was ranked to go much later by everyone who put prospects rankings together for that draft, so it was a surprise when the Habs announced his name.

Since then, he has made the Habs management team look quite intelligent for using such an early pick on him.

Romanov would surprise many hockey pundits when he made the KHL’s CSKA Moscow roster just a few months after being drafted. Still just 18, he was the youngest player in Russia’s best league and one of the youngest defenders to ever play in the KHL.

Though his offensive numbers were not enormous in his two seasons with one of the KHL’s best teams, the young defender sharpened his defensive skills and proved to be among the best teenaged defencemen in the world at the past two World Juniors.

As as 18 year old, Romanov led all defencemen in scoring, taking home the Top Defenceman honours at the tournament while helping Russia earn a bronze medal. This year, he was just as good, once again being trusted in all situations and playing heavy minutes. He played a punishing, physical defensive style, while putting up 14 points in 14 games over his two years at the event.

Due to his incredible performance at the World Juniors, and lower ice time in the KHL, Romanov is an intriguing player. He outplayed players like Noah Dobson, Evan Bouchard, Phillip Broberg and Erik Brannstrom at the World Juniors but wasn’t given a big role in the KHL. So what exactly is Romanov? Is he ready for NHL action?

This summer training camp would have been an excellent time to get a much better look at him. Romanov would have been skating with the Habs entire roster and a handful of AHL players who will act as a “taxi squad” for the Canadiens this summer. It would have been great to see him in practice taking on Max Domi and Brendan Gallagher in battle drills to see how he can handle them physically.

However, it isn’t going to happen. Though we all would have liked to see Romanov in a Habs sweater sooner than later, in the long run it will be much better for the Canadiens if he doesn’t play.

First of all, even if he is already the Habs best defenceman, do the Canadiens even really want to win this play-in series? I mean, from the management and ownership perspective. Long term, isn’t it better if they lose? Winning this series ensures the Habs will pick 16th in the NHL Draft. Losing the play-in series ensure they pick 9th at worst and have a 12.5% chance of landing the first overall pick.

The Habs win more long term by losing this play-in series.

Also, if Romanov did play in this series, he would burn a year off his contract and would then have just two more years until he was a restricted free agent. Imagine him playing one game, struggling and being a healthy scratch for Brett Kulak, and then the Habs only get him for cheap for two years instead of three.

Completely not worth it from an organizational point of view. I’m sure Romanov would love to get rid of that first year of his contract. He would make more money playing in Russia than he would on an entry-level deal in the NHL. So if he could make his entry level deal expire in 2022 instead of 2023, I’m sure he’d be delighted.

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However, this means the Habs get their top defensive prospect at a small cap hit that will come in less than a million dollars for three years. This is far better for the team than having Romanov for two seasons and a play-in series they are not likely to win, and might not even want to win.