One contract can make all the difference between salary-cap hell and safety, like that of Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price. Think of the difference several can make, especially with Price likely headed to long-term injured reserve (LTIR). His $10.5 million cap hit going on LTIR suddenly means the Habs have that much excess space to use instead.
All on its own, Price’s contract isn’t a good one for the Canadiens. In fact, it still represents one of the Habs’ worst for the upcoming 2022-23 season. However the development has given them the opportunity to take on other teams’ bad contracts, which is where this list of the Habs’ best begins:
5. Sean Monahan ($6.375 million cap hit)
The recently acquired Sean Monahan is the perfect example, with the Canadiens acquiring his $6.375 million hit at no cost (future considerations). In fact, the Calgary Flames effectively paid the Habs (a conditional first-round pick) to take on the contract.
For the Flames, Monahan’s deal was a burden, preventing them from signing Nazem Kadri. However, with the Canadiens firmly in rebuilding mode following a last-place finish in 2021-22, the Monahan deal suits their needs perfectly. In effect, it’s all about context, when assessing the value of each of these deals.
Were Monahan not a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA), the deal likely wouldn’t come close to making this list, due to the uncertainty surrounding his health. After all, Monahan’s scored just 99 points over the last three seasons after hitting a career-high 82 in 2018-19, largely due to hip problems. However, following separate hip surgeries in each of the last two offseasons, there’s at least the potential the 28-year-old bounces back to a degree.
If Monahan does, the Canadiens will be able to theoretically flip him at the next trade deadline for additional futures (relative to the first-round pick they already got). So, Monahan as an expendable one-time top-two (if not No. 1) center with the Flames, takes the No. 5 spot (instead of other pending UFAs like Jonathan Drouin) because of his high ceiling.
There will be doubters that Monahan belongs on this list, because at face value the contract is a bad one, but look at it like this: The Habs are taking on minimal risk with the trade (with the potential for a high reward). Ultimately, that’s all the contracts on this list represent, i.e., deals likely to give them the best bang for their buck this coming season. The Monahan trade and contract fit that description to a tee.
4. Nick Suzuki ($7.875 million cap hit)
As further proof a good deal doesn’t necessarily need a small cap hit, consider Nick Suzuki’s eight-year, $63 million extension, which kicks in this coming season.
In the interest of full disclosure, Suzuki’s deal actually made a list of the NHL’s 10 worst contracts (from ‘NHL’s 10 worst contracts, 2022 edition: Tyler Seguin, Seth Jones and others,’ The Athletic, July 26, 2022). However, writer Dom Luszczyszyn did acknowledge Suzuki’s potential on Twitter.
Especially with Price out, Suzuki is likely the Canadiens’ best player. The fact he scored a career-high 61 points last season on a last-place team, leading it by 18, hints at him being a rare breed. That he’s only 23 hints at him having far higher to go before he hits his potential, with the deal expiring in 2030.
So, in a nutshell, ex-general manager Marc Bergevin locked up his best player through the prime production years of his career, all at a comparable hit to the same one they took on with Shea Weber’s deal back in 2016 ($7.875 million compared to $7,857,143, even with inflation acting as an undeniable factor). Now, Weber’s deal was a bad one, but, for what he brought to the Canadiens, he was generally celebrated as the Canadiens’ eventual captain.
The difference between the two is Suzuki’s ends when Weber’s tenure with the Habs began, at Age 30 going on 31. As a result, there’s also a good chance the Canadiens don’t have to trade Suzuki’s away by the end of his deal like they did Weber’s.
3. Christian Dvorak ($4.45 million cap hit)
While the Suzuki trade was a win for Bergevin, he was (obviously) hardly infallible. The whole Jesperi Kotkaniemi saga showed his capacity to improperly assess the situation, as he gave two early-round draft picks to get Christian Dvorak, rushing to replace Kotkaniemi at center when the Habs were always going to be in tough making the playoffs last season anyway.
However, while the picks the Canadiens gave up to acquire him probably would have served them better, Dvorak has come largely as (rationally) anticipated. No, not a player poised to break out and suddenly score 60 points as a Hab. Despite some expecting that to happen, nothing in Dvorak’s career up to that point suggested he would. Still, what the Habs did get was a reliable middle-six center capable of putting up in excess of 0.5 points per game, which is generally in line with his $4.45 million cap hit.
With three years left under contract, Dvorak gives the Canadiens a veteran presence down the middle to help bring along the likes of Kirby Dach, their projected No. 2 pivot of the future. What Dvorak doesn’t give them is unnecessary exposure to risk that they’ll be left holding the bag as he exits his prime, seeing as he’ll be just 29 when the contract expires. So, please hate on the trade, but not the player… and definitely not the player’s contract.
2. Chris Wideman ($762,500 cap hit)
Defenseman Chris Wideman is a bit of a different animal in that he’s little more than a depth defenseman, with whom few should be enamored. However, he did co-lead all Canadiens defensemen with 27 points last season (Jeff Petry). With Petry on his way out (and having since been traded away), the Canadiens would have been without a (quasi-) veteran offensive presence on the right side if they had let Wideman hit free agency.
So, in a way, the Canadiens had to re-sign Wideman. They didn’t have to keep his cap hit at a paltry $762,500, though. Nevertheless, it was a wise move that benefits both sides. Wideman continues to get a regular shift in the NHL, while the Canadiens get someone to help fill out their roster, with their defense in especially bad shape.
To be fair, the projected defense in a few seasons looks good based on the prospects in the pipeline (Justin Barron, Jordan Harris, Kaiden Guhle, etc.). However, a defense headlined by the likes of shutdown-defensemen Joel Edmundson and David Savard in the interim is hardly what contenders are made of, even with the critically acclaimed acquisition of Mike Matheson (for Petry), who’s more of a second-pairing defenseman on a contender.
Meanwhile, no one should be under any illusions as to what Wideman is. He’s a third-pairing one at best, but he’s also a Hab, and one very much deserving of his latest deal, which he earned (and probably then some) last season.
1. Rem Pitlick ($1.1 million cap hit)
Ditto for Rem Pitlick. The forward put up 26 points in 46 games with the Canadiens (37 in 66 overall), which may not be incredibly impressive, unless you take into consideration how it was as a waiver-wire pick-up.
Not to be outdone, general manager Kent Hughes worked a little magic to re-sign Pitlick, who initially could have become a Group VI unrestricted free agent due to a lack of NHL games played. However, he forced his way into the lineup down the stretch to become restricted instead… only for the Habs not to qualify him, making him a UFA after all.
In so doing, the Canadiens avoided arbitration and potentially an unpalatable contract to a player with still a lot to prove in his young career. Truth be told, based on the depth the Canadiens have on the wings, it’s entirely possible Pitlick, who played up and down the lineup, could find himself more down and eventually regress from a production standpoint.
Such is life, though. It makes the $1.1 million hit so digestible in that it doesn’t really matter if Pitlick matches his success as a rookie or not. Ideally he will, and, with a stacked lineup from an offensive perspective, he’ll conceivably get decent linemates regardless of where he’s played.
However his sophomore season turns out, Pitlick makes for an interesting story and at the very least someone for whom Habs fans can easily cheer. As he’s an underdog on a cheap deal, you can’t help but hope he earns a raise with his next one. At just $1.1 million per, it’s very possible.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.