The Montreal Canadiens season has wound down, and management has to look ahead to next season. They will be very busy with free agency, the draft, and trying to make cap room to sign free agents. An excellent way to relieve some cap space is getting rid of bad contracts or moving players that have pricey contracts. The Habs have a few of those players, and we will look at five who should get traded in the offseason.
This one is a no-brainer, primarily because everyone already knows Jeff Petry will get traded in the offseason. Petry has had one of the worst seasons of his career, and it is widely publicized that he and general manager Kent Hughes have an agreement that if the right trade comes along, they will make the deal. Where he will go or what will be the return all remains to be seen. Either way, it will be good for the Canadiens to move him because it would free up over $6 million and allow them to re-sign restricted free agents (RFA) like Alexander Romanov.
The Canadiens have Petry signed for the next three seasons at $6.25 million. He did deserve a good contract due to five straight seasons with 40 or more points as a defenceman. The issue is he’s now 34 years old, and his contract takes him to age 38, so he will decrease in value every year from now on. The hope is that most teams will see this as just an off-year for Petry because of his family living in the states while he was in Montreal, which was a huge reason he struggled. If convinced he can return to his old form and be a 40-point man again, the Habs could get an excellent return for him. Any Petry deal will probably be a draft-day move or sometime after when most teams see what they have and know what holes they need to fill.
The Canadiens signed Mike Hoffman to provide offence and help with their struggling power play (PP). He provided very little offence this season and didn’t help the PP. He amassed 15 goals and 35 points in 64 games, but only four of those were PP points, and they were all goals. Four points for a guy who is supposed to help the PP improve is dismal, and a huge reason the team struggled on the PP is due to Hoffman’s bad passes and poor decision-making in the offensive zone.
Hoffman signed with the Canadiens for three years at $4.5 million, scored roughly half a point per game, and was nowhere near his average goal total of 20 or more. Granted, the Habs struggled as a team, which could be why his numbers were low. He also battled injuries to start the season and had only 17 points in his first 38 games. He did have a resurgence in the final two months of the season, scoring 18 points in 29 games with six goals, but his last two months do not make up for a lacklustre debut in Montreal, and the Habs need to make cap room if they want to improve ahead of next season. Hoffman could be easily moved if other teams believe he can get back to scoring 20-plus goals a season and not be relied upon to be one of the top offensive players. He is better suited to being a secondary scorer without pressure to lead the team.
Joel Armia was another signing by Bergevin that helped clog cap space for the Canadiens. Armia is making $3.4 million a season to play a fourth-line role but performed very poorly this season. He had 14 points in 60 games, and going back before last season, he only had 28 points over his previous two seasons. As a fourth-line player, that is acceptable, but not one getting paid as much as Armia, who has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer if he could be more consistent and stay healthy.
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An added problem with Armia and his contract is that Paul Byron is getting paid almost the same amount to do the same job as Armia. Play on the fourth line, fill in on the third line and kill penalties are things both players do pretty well, but you can find a cheaper replacement to do the same. Armia is very good at killing penalties, but it’s not enough to keep him or his salary on the team. The biggest roadblock for Hughes is whether he can move Armia without taking a bad contract back or at all. With the terrible season he has had and his injury issues, he may be unmovable, and he has three seasons left.
Brendan Gallagher has been the heart and soul of the Canadiens since he started playing. To say he needs to be moved is a point of contention for many fans. He’s had multiple 30-goal seasons, gives 110 percent when on the ice, and isn’t afraid to do the dirty work or get in the rugged areas. Many fans even see him as the next captain of the Canadiens, even though it looks like it will be Nick Suzuki. Why the need to move his contract? He is getting paid $6.5 million for the next six seasons, and playing the way he does, that contract will only depreciate as time goes on.
Gallagher is already dealing with injuries that forced him to miss several games this season. These injuries also took their toll the last couple of seasons, as well as the playoffs last season, and his numbers have diminished because of these ailments. The 2021-22 campaign was one of the worst for Gallagher offensively, as he finished the season with seven goals and 24 points in 53 games, far from the 33 goals and 54-point pace he had last season.
This again goes back to injury issues nagging him for almost two seasons. He has yet to play over 60 games since the 2018-19 season, and he even missed 18 games in the shortened 56-game 2020-21 campaign. Bergevin signed Gallagher with pure emotion. It was easy to see he loved him as a player and a leader, and rightfully so, but the contract is just too high and long for a player of his calibre. Gallagher still has some good years left if he resolves his injury issues, and there could be a team out there who wants his grit and leadership, but it might cost Hughes to move him.
Carey Price has been the face of the franchise for 15 seasons and has been the main reason the Canadiens have been somewhat competitive in the past 10 seasons. There is no denying that he was the main reason they made it to the Stanley Cup Final last season and gave them a chance every other year. Price deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as every other Habs legend like Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy or even the immortal Guy Lafleur. He’s also battling severe injuries that could end his career, and the team is in limbo as they figure out what Price’s future may be. He says he wants to play but isn’t sure if he can. This is handcuffing Canadiens management and making it hard to know what direction they need to take the team.
If Price can get healthy and wants to stay in Montreal, then a rebuild is out of the question because the Canadiens always have a chance to win with Price. If he is too injured to continue, then the team can rebuild and take their time in order to get it right. If Price is still unsure, then president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton and Hughes need to find out how long he will be out and what to do in the meantime.
Price isn’t getting any younger, and the Canadiens will need to have a good team for when or if he returns. They can avoid all of this, however, if they trade him in the offseason. Of course, they would need Price to agree to it. But put a move to a west-coast team that has the cap space to acquire him on the table, and he could be willing to let it happen. This would allow the Habs to shed $10.5 million off their books and take them out of the “whether he plays or won’t” sweepstakes. This will all be up to Price and what he would be willing to do, but it could end up being the best thing for the near future of the franchise.
Most of these moves would be to free up cap space so the Canadiens can prepare to give good contracts to young players like Romanov and Cole Caufield, plus sign some FAs to help guide the young roster. Whether it’s feasible to move any of these players is a crapshoot; the only one who is probably gone for sure is Petry, but the Habs could be in cap trouble for a couple more seasons if they don’t shed some salary.