Montreal Canadiens: Can They Clear Out Overpaid Wingers To Make Room For Deserving Youngsters?

Jan 1, 2022; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Montreal Canadiens right wing Jesse Ylonen. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2022; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Montreal Canadiens right wing Jesse Ylonen. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports /

The Montreal Canadiens new managerial staff is going to have a lot of work to do this offseason.

With the team sitting 32nd in the standings, status quo isn’t really an option this summer. Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton jumpstarted a rebuilding process at the trade deadline by adding a couple of first round picks as well as prospects Justin Barron, Ty Smilanic and Emil Heineman.

While Barron may be ready for NHL action next season, the forwards probably will not be. That is fine, but other young players are ready for the next step. The problem is, they are blocked by veteran players who are not performing well, and are overpaid.

It is hard to get rid of bad contracts in the NHL these days. Cap space seems to be at a premium more than ever with the unpredictable flat cap over the past three seasons. A lot of teams committed big money to players and have more RFAs up for raises, but they don’t have as much room for them as expected because the salary cap has barely moved since the 2018-19 season.

So, no one wants someone else’s bad contracts. And that is bad news for the Canadiens because they suddenly have a ton of money committed to bottom six wingers.

The four best wingers on the Habs right now are Cole Caufield, Rem Pitlick, Jonathan Drouin and Josh Anderson. That means Brendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, Paul Byron and Mike Hoffman are the team’s wingers for the bottom two lines. Those four veterans combine to earn $17.8 million.

The problem is, they are blocking the path for a couple of young wingers who are ready to take the next step to NHL regulars next season.

Rafael Harvey-Pinard has been the Laval Rocket’s best player for the past few months. He has been piling up points at the AHL level and plays a gritty, scrappy two-way style that allows him to win battles against bigger opponents and get to pucks that he wasn’t expected to take possession of.

He has earned the moniker Lavallagher, due to his similarities to Brendan Gallagher while playing for the Laval Rocket. Harvey-Pinard has scored 27 points in his last 24 games and at the age of 22 is ready to take on an NHL role.

Jesse Ylonen is in a similar situation. The smart, skilled, two-way player has become a top performer for the Laval Rocket. Also 22, the Finnish winger plays the game like a veteran, always in the right spot defensively and never taking a risk that puts his team in a bad place.

He has 35 points in 51 AHL games this season and has earned a couple of callups already. He is due to be called up for good next season, but there is no guarantee there will be room.

Finding takers for Hoffman and Armia will not be easy because of their big contracts. Hoffman has two more seasons with a cap hit of $4.5 million and Armia has three seasons left with a $3.4 million ticket.

If the Canadiens can trade them for late draft picks they would save a ton of cap space, but also make their team better just by making room for Harvey-Pinard and Ylonen.

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