Montreal Canadiens Should Delay Extensions For Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault

VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 17: Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 17: Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens have a lot of free agents in the summer of 2021. Here is why they shouldn’t rush to extend them.

The Montreal Canadiens do not have a lot of players to get under contract in the 2020 offseason, whenever that will take place. Normally, the first week of July is when all the big free agent signings are completed, a couple of blockbuster trades usually go down and a few players who have one year left on their contract ink extensions.

When a play has one year left on his deal, he is eligible to sign an extension with his current team on July 1, the year before his current deal expires. So, most players who could be free agents on July 1, 2021, can sign extensions on July 1, 2020.

While the Habs don’t have many players contracts ending this offseason, they have a handful of top players with just one more year left on their contract. These players would usually be able to sign an extension already, but they will have to wait until the NHL can finish up the current season.

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The Habs have several top players who could be free agents on July 1, 2021. That list includes Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, Jeff Petry and Joel Armia who can all be unrestricted free agents in one year. Also, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Artturi Lehkonen and Ryan Poehling will be restricted free agents on the same day.

Under normal circumstances, I would be pining for the Habs to start re-signing players as soon as possible. However, we are far from normal circumstances with global pandemics going on that have thrown the 2019-20 season into chaos. Even ignoring that enormous problem, I still think the Habs need to put the brakes on handing out contract extensions when they are allowed to do so.

The reason for that has nothing to do with Covid-19, but has everything to do with the Seattle expansion draft.

The 2020 offseason will be odd enough, considering it will take place in October and November instead of the summer. The 2021 offseason has a chance to be a little off schedule too with the season likely to begin very late and the league desperately wanting to get a full 82 game scheduled played.

The biggest wrinkle in the 2021 offseason will be the expansion draft. Existing teams are allowed to protect 7 forwards, 3 defencemen and 1 goaltender. Or, they can protect 8 skaters and 1 goaltender. Players that have only played one or two pro seasons are not eligible to be taken and do not need to be protected.

That means the Habs don’t have to protect prospects like Cole Caufield, Jesse Ylonen, Alexander Romanov or Ryan Poehling and Cayden Primeau who already played a year with the Laval Rocket or even Nick Suzuki who was a rookie this year.

Looking at the Habs roster, they will have some tough decisions to make, especially on the blue line. They have to make the decision to protect three of Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, Victor Mete, Cale Fleury, Noah Juulsen and Jeff Petry. They can leave Petry unprotected if he is not re-signed, because he will become a UFA just days after the expansion draft anyway.

That is where things get interesting up front. The Habs have four UFAs in 2021, and every one of them they re-sign before the expansion draft, they will then need to protect from Seattle. It’s a delicate catch-22.

If they were to just re-sign everyone, they would then protect Tatar, Danault, Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Armia. This would leave Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen unprotected and eligible for Seattle to select.

Well, let’s just say the Habs don’t want to lose their forward depth and like having Byron and Lehkonen around to play a bottom six role, chip in some offence and kill penalties. The Habs could then negotiate an extension with Gallagher and Danault (or Tatar or any UFA) but not actually sign it before the expansion draft.

Then, instead of protecting Gallagher and Danault, they leave them unsigned and unprotected and keep Byron and Lehkonen instead. Then, if Seattle is foolish enough to select Danault anyway, he would become a UFA a few days later and just officially sign his extension with the Habs when free agency opened.

This way, the Habs could effectively “protect” as many as 11 forwards from Seattle. They can officially protect seven guys and then have a handshake agreement with Gallagher, Tatar, Danault and Armia on contracts that either get signed the day after the expansion draft, or for whoever is selected, they can sign the contract when free agency opens.

This would make certain that the Seattle expansion team would be taking a defenceman from the Habs. The Canadiens could pull the same trick with Petry, but that still leaves them just three D they can keep out of Weber, Chiarot, Mete, Juulsen and Fleury. With one year left on his deal, Chiarot is likely not getting protected, but do the Habs want to lose a young D like Mete, Fleury or Juulsen for nothing? Would they want to get rid of Weber’s cap hit and lose his veteran presence from the lineup?

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It is going to be a tough decision no matter how the Habs decide to protect their players. Even if they have a few contracts written up and tucked away in a desk drawer with the date after the expansion draft on it.