The Montreal Canadiens have a chance to take advantage of a massive blockbuster trade made this week. The Florida Panthers traded leading scorer Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt and a 2025 first-round pick to the Calgary Flames for Matthew Tkachuk. Huberdeau and Weegar are both in the final year of their contracts and will be unrestricted free agents (UFA) at the end of the season, and the Canadiens have a chance to try and sign Huberdeau in the offseason to improve the team for 2023-24.
Huberdeau Unhappy With Trade to Flames
Huberdeau wanted to become a lifelong player for the Panthers, but that was not meant to be as talks about a contract extension never resulted in an offer from Florida. Reports indicated that he wasn’t happy with how the trade panned out and, like the rest of the hockey world, was shocked when he found out that he was traded up north. Tkachuk recently signed an eight-year, $76 million contract through 2029-30, securing the Panthers a long-term contract with a younger player that had 42 goals and 104 points last season.
Although Huberdeau might not have been happy with how the trade transpired, he is open to signing long-term with the Flames. He is in the final year of his current deal and wants one that will pay him for the rest of his career, seeming uninterested in short-term contracts. His last one paid him $5.9 million, and he will want a considerable raise considering he both scored a career-high 115 points and broke the record for the most assists by a left winger last season.
“It’s something I’m open about … They’re the one that traded for me. That means they want me. Obviously, the situation was different with Tkachuk wanting to leave Calgary (but) they still went out and got us. You want to play for a team that wants you, that’s all I want.”Jonathan Huberdeau
It will be interesting to see what the Flames will offer Huberdeau to stay in Calgary, as they just had a very volatile offseason with one of their star players, Jonathan Gaudreau, opting not to re-sign with the organization and going to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and their other star player, Tkachuk, requesting a trade. Within a couple of weeks, the team lost their top two scorers, following a tremendous regular season that led to a very disappointing playoff where they were eliminated in the second round by the Edmonton Oilers.
Canadiens Looking For Long-Term Success
The Canadiens are in a situation where they are in the midst of an organizational change, as new management is in place and focused on turning the franchise around for long-term success and eventually a Stanley Cup. To get that success, they need to rebuild by drafting, trading and signing players that will improve the team and be available for the long haul. Usually, this entails signing and trading for younger players; Huberdeau on the other hand is in his prime and will be 30 when he is a UFA.
The Canadiens will use young players as their core foundations, such as Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Kaiden Ghule and new draftee Juraj Slafkovsky. Adding Huberdeau at 30 could seem like it would go against trying to build a young team, but you need veterans to help guide young players along. Huberdeau is one of the best playmakers in the league; put him on a line with sniper Caufield and two-way center Suzuki, and the Canadiens have the makings of an elite NHL line for years to come.
Canadiens Will Have Cap Space
The Canadiens enter this season with cap issues; they have a little over $200,000 in cap space and a need to move a few more contracts to sign restricted free agents (RFA) Kirby Dach and Cayden Primeau. For them to sign these two players, they will need to move someone. Primeau should come at a low price of $1 million or less, however, Dach will be more expensive and need to sign for $2.5 – $3.5 million. This means they will have to free up over $4.5 million to get both comfortably under the cap.
Related: Montreal Canadiens: Kirby Dach’s Contract Comparables
The Canadiens will continue to have issues this season even if they free up the cash to sign their RFAs. Next season, however, they will have enough cap space to sign Huberdeau and more. At the end of the 2022-23 season, they will have seven players becoming UFAs and of those seven, they will lose the contracts of Jonathan Drouin, Evgeni Dadonov, Jake Allen and Paul Byron. Along with the other three minor UFAs, Montreal will have over $21 million in cap space for the 2023-24 season. This will give them enough room to sign Huberdeau to a long-term contract and be able to add a high-end winger to replace at least one of the three they could lose to free agency.
If the Canadiens do sign Huberdeau to a contract, it will probably be in the range of $8 to $10 million. With $21 million available next season, they could still sign Caufield to a long-term contract in the $7 to $8 million range and have some money left over. For the other empty spots, they should have some prospects ready to graduate to the NHL.
The Canadiens will be in a good spot cap-wise in the 2023-24 season, and if they can land Huberdeau, it will expedite their rebuild and have them in an excellent position to succeed sooner rather than later.