The Stanley Cup Final has not gone as planned for the Montreal Canadiens as they look to avoid a four-game sweep against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night. Habs fans are understandably licking their wounds right now, but their struggles against the defending champions should not tarnish all the good things that have happened during this magical playoff run.
One of those good things has been the stellar play of Phillip Danault. The pending unrestricted free agent is giving general manager Marc Bergevin no choice but to re-sign him in the offseason.
Perfecting the Shutdown Role
After struggling at times during the regular season, especially offensively, the 28-year-old centreman has been key to the Canadiens’ success in the postseason.
Despite finishing the 2020-21 campaign with just five goals and 24 points in 53 games, Danault still finished sixth in voting for the Selke trophy and his ability to shut down the opposition’s best forwards has been so crucial in the postseason. In the first three rounds, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Kyle Connor, Nikloaj Ehlers, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty were all non-factors going up against Danault’s line.
In the final, Tampa head coach Jon Cooper has done a great job of keeping his top guns away from Danault as much as possible which is a big reason the series has been one-sided so far.
In addition to winning a ton of key faceoffs, he’s also been an instrumental part of Montreal’s penalty kill which has been dominant in the playoffs. He scored a big goal in Game 3 against the Lightning on Friday to get the Habs back in the game after a tough start and no one deserved it more. His celebration proved that he’s living his best life right now. Not to mention the now-famous press conference pizza parties after a series victory.
“We’re proud. We worked extremely hard. Everybody is playing their best hockey at the same time. It’s great to see. We’re happy, but we aren’t satisfied. We want to keep winning. We’re having the time of our lives right now,” Danault said.
An Offseason Priority
There was much speculation during the regular season about whether Danault would be back with the Canadiens next year especially after learning that he has already turned down a contract offer from Bergevin.
Earlier this year, my THW colleague made a compelling case to explain why Montreal should move on from Danault while another argued that the Habs will have to choose between bringing back Danault or Tomas Tatar. It appears that Tatar’s on his way out after being a healthy scratch during most of the playoffs so perhaps the choice has already been made.
Regardless of Tatar’s fate or any of Montreal’s other pending UFAs for that matter, Danault needs to be back in a Canadiens uniform next season. He is the perfect complement to Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi down the middle if he’s willing to be the team’s third-line defensive specialist permanently. With Jake Evans and Ryan Poehling ready to battle for the fourth centre spot, locking up Danault long-term would keep the Habs in the contender’s conversation for many years to come following their improbable run in 2020-21.
Projecting Danault’s Next Contract
Last week in The Athletic, Pierre LeBrun speculated what Danault’s next contract might look like and polled a few front-office executives around the NHL to find out what a top shutdown centre with limited offensive abilities is worth in a post-pandemic market.
LeBrun provided several interesting contract comparables to help paint a picture including Jordan Staal, Adam Lowry, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who recently signed a new eight-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers. There’s also Joel Eriksson Ek who just inked an eight-year contract with the Minnesota Wild. The consensus seems to be that Danault will probably get somewhere between $4.5 and $5 million per year.
“So perhaps he hits the market to see what’s what. And I am honestly so intrigued to see how other teams value him if he’s there on July 28,” (from ‘LeBrun: Cale Makar an offer sheet target; Seth Jones trade interest from Avs, Flyers, Blackhawks’, The AthleticNHL – 6/30/21).
If the Canadiens can get a multi-year deal done with Danault with an average annual value under $5 million even if he explores the market at some point, that would be a significant win for the franchise.
But before we get down to offseason business, the Habs still have a lot of fight left in them as they try and stave off elimination. If they are going to make the Stanley Cup Final competitive, Danault is going to be a big reason the Canadiens will make the impossible seem possible.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media Community Manager and a co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.