Montreal Canadiens: If NHL Teams Get Two Compliance Buyouts, Would Carey Price Be Gone?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 03: Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 03: Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens are in a good salary cap situation right now, but they aren’t without bad contracts.

The Montreal Canadiens are in a pretty good spot when it comes to the NHL’s salary cap lately. They have not spent close to the cap ceiling in the past three seasons, and they don’t look like they will be forced to approach in next year.

With news coming out during the talks between the NHL and the Player’s Association over the past few days and weeks, it sounds like several teams may be in cap trouble soon. Typically, the NHL salary cap increases every offseason. It has gone up every year since it was initiated in 2005-06, except for the lockout shortened 2013 season.

It doesn’t sound like that will be the case in the near future. The owners and the players appear to have agreed to keep the salary cap at $81.5 million for the next three seasons and then will only allow it to go up by a small margin. This is a huge change from the past, when we have seen the cap climb by as much as $4.5 million just two summer ago.

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With revenues greatly affected by the global pandemic, that won’t be the case in the next few years. None of this is official or set in stone just yet, so it is all just conjecture at this point until an actual agreement is reached between the NHL and the NHLPA.

Another tidbit that was floated around for a while before mostly being shutdown was the notion of compliance buyouts. When the salary cap was decreased following the 2013 lockout, teams were given two compliance buyouts, which was basically a magic eraser on the team’s salary cap. Each team in the league was allowed to wipe out two contracts. Though you still had to pay a portion of the money to the player, they were no longer on the team and they no longer had a cap hit at all.

The Canadiens would exercise this option on Scott Gomez and Tomas Kaberle back in 2013. Gomez had two years remaining with a ridiculous cap hit of over $7 million per year and Kaberle had one year left on his contract that paid him $4.25 million. Just like that, the team had an additional $11.5 million in cap space for the 2013-14 season.

With the idea of compliance buyouts floating around again, it got me thinking about who the Habs would use their buyouts on if they were to be granted two of them again this offseason. Now, it doesn’t sound like buyouts are likely to happen, but anything is possible until a deal is hammered out. So let’s say teams are allowed two more compliance buyouts, would the Habs use them both and if so, on who?

It is obvious that the first buyout would be used on Karl Alzner so we won’t dwell on that one for too long. He has two years left on his contract at $4.625 million per year and he spent most of the past two seasons in the minors with the Laval Rocket.

But if the Habs have the chance to wipe out two contracts, who else would they take off the books?

They only have a few players on the team making more than $5 million against the cap, so they don’t have a plethora of huge contracts. Jonathan Drouin is the only forward making more than $5 million per year and though he hasn’t reached the heights that were expected of him when he arrived from Tampa Bay, his $5.5 million cap hit for three more seasons after the current one are not onerous. Considering he is only 25 years old, I think the Habs are happy to see what he can do between now and his 28th birthday on that contract.

The only other forward that could possibly be described as overpaid is Paul Byron. He was woefully underpaid when he was taking home a $1.16 million salary for the past three years, but that changed when he signed his latest contract extension. Byron now earns $3.4 million per year and in the first year of that four-year deal, he took a step back. Injuries played a significant role in that, but he had just ten points in 29 games this season. Still, he brings blazing speed, great penalty killing and solid two-way play from the bottom six. He might be a tad overpaid, but not enough to consider wiping out his contract.

On defence the big moneymakers, aside from Alzner, are Shea Weber and Jeff Petry. Petry is entering the last year of his contract so he wouldn’t be a candidate for a buyout, but Weber might be. He is the backbone of the Canadiens defence and is the captain of the team, but he will carry a significant cap hit well into his forties.

Weber turns 35 this summer and has six seasons left on his monster contract with a cap hit of just under $7.9 million. It sounds like a terrible contract to be stuck with, but looking at the actual salary makes it more palatable. The Sicamous native has a $6 million salary for the next two years, but only makes a total of $6 million over the final four years of the contract. Even if he isn’t very effective anymore, a team like the Arizona Coyotes or Ottawa Senators have a tendency to take on such a contract because it counts toward the salary cap floor as $7.9 million per year, but would only cost them an actual average of $1.5 million per year.

So, the Habs might eventually want to get rid of the Shea Weber contract, but they probably can fairly easily with the structure of the final four years of the deal.

That leaves one more big moneymaker and it is Carey Price. If the Habs had the option, would they tear up his enormous contract?

Price is scheduled to earn $10.5 million for each of the next six seasons. The goaltender turns 33 this summer so he will be pushing 40 by the time the contract expires. It is extraordinarily unlikely that Price will be worth $10.5 million when he is 39. The question is starting to become, is he worth that much money right now?

He sure was in 2014-15 when he carried the team to a division title and won just about every trophy he could at the NHL Awards. He took home the Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Jennings Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award that night. His 1.96 GAA and .933 SV% were proof he was worth every penny he earned that season.

However, he signed an eight-year extension on July 2, 2017 that would start with the 2018-19 season. During the first two seasons of his new monster contract, his statistics aren’t quite as sparkling. He had a 2.49 GAA with a .918 SV% as the Habs narrowly missed the playoffs last year. This season, Price’s numbers were far from his best days, with him putting up a 2.79 GAA and a .909 SV%.

Blame the defence or the coach or the global pandemic if you want, but when the highest paid goaltender in the league ranks outside the top 30 in save percentage, he isn’t earning his contract. I mean, the Detroit Red Wings were sending out a peewee defence in front of Jonathan Bernier, and he was just behind Price with a .907 save percentage. So blaming the team in front of Price doesn’t make a lot of sense in this case.

Either that or Jonathan Bernier’s deserves about $9.75 million on his next deal.

Goaltenders that recently signed for much cheaper, like James Reimer, Joonas Korpisalo, Semyon Varlamov and Jaroslav Halak simply had better seasons than Price. Not many goaltenders are earning close to the $10.5 million that Price is taking home.

On the open market this offseason, you will see Robin Lehner, Jacob Markstrom, Tristan Jarry and Thomas Greiss sign for a fraction of the price that Price costs. Every one of them had better numbers than the Habs goaltender this season.

Price is being paid like a 27 year old Hart Trophy candidate. The problem is, he hasn’t played like an MVP candidate for three consecutive seasons now. With six more seasons left on the biggest goaltending contract in the league, I think the Habs would be wise to tear up Price’s contract if given the opportunity with another compliance buyout.

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They are paying for what he used to be, when no one in the league can replicate what he did five years ago. The Canadiens could get a goaltender like Lehner or Markstrom at half the price, and get better results.