Getting to Know Canadiens’ Offseason Addition Evgenii Dadonov

Montreal Canadiens general manager (GM) Kent Hughes started his offseason of change with a mountain-sized decision, trading “the man-mountain” himself, team captain Shea Weber in exchange for Evgenii Dadonov of the Vegas Golden Knights.

This was an unexpected trade, not that Weber’s contract was going to be moved, but that the expectation was that it would cost the Canadiens additional assets to offload his $7.857 million cap hit. Hughes was able to leverage Vegas’ need to create cap space and move Dadonov out, and he was able to make the trade as a one-for-one deal. Now that Evgenii Dadonov is with the Canadiens organization, what role could he fill in the lineup and will he provide value for a rebuilding franchise in the future?

Canadiens’ Salary Cap Implications

For this season, Dadonov, a 33-year-old winger who will be 34 at the end of the 2022-23 season, will arrive in Montreal to play out the final year of his three-year contract signed with the Ottawa Senators before the 2020-21 season. He holds a cap hit of $5 million, however, his salary for this final season is $6.5 million.

Evgenii Dadonov Vegas Golden Knights
Evgenii Dadonov, Vegas Golden Knights (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This trade was purely for salary cap reasons as it provides both teams with some form of cap relief. This gives Vegas some cap space, but for the Canadiens, it provides an opportunity to not be in a long-term injury reserve (LTIR) situation, being over the cap, which would create a cap overage for salary bonuses, especially considering that the first-overall pick this year will have a bonus laden contract.

Kent Hughes spoke to the media following the trade and confirmed it was all about the cap space.

For us, it gives us flexibility in the future if we need it. We also add a player that can help us offensively, I expect that we’ll need to find more flexibility under the salary cap in the next few years, so we’ll see, but I think he can help us next year.

– Kent Hughes

While Hughes spoke of the salary cap being a major consideration, he confirmed two other items. First, there will be more to come in the terms of trades to make cap space and two, Dadonov will be used to help the young lineup to start the season.

What Dadonov Provides the Canadiens

As Hughes stated at his press conference, he is expected to help the Canadiens offensively this season. With a team in transition due to a rebuild, a veteran to play on a line with a young player, be it Nick Suzuki or whoever is drafted at first overall in 2022, either Logan Cooley or Shane Wright should be beneficial.

Offensively, Dadonov is a great option for a team like the Canadiens who rely on a transition game. He still has good speed, a strong and accurate shot and some playmaking skills. This makes him a solid complementary offensive player for a top-six line. Defensively, he isn’t an option for a checking line, as his defensive positioning is suspect, and due to his size, he tends to lose one-on-one battles along the boards. All of this makes him a poor option if you are in search of a two-way player.

Related: 3 Canadiens Story Lines to Pay Attention to in 2022 Offseason

When he signed with Ottawa, GM Pierre Dorion stated that “He’s an elite offensive talent and a very consistent scorer as demonstrated by his point totals over the last three seasons. This is a key signing for us as it adds a player who will help us produce offensively and one with a proven track record on the power-play.” While Dadonov’s output is no longer a 25-plus goal scorer, he has been able to bounce back from the 15 goals he scored as a Senator to 20 goals as a Golden Knight, which included five goals on the power play (PP).

If Montreal wants the best production out of Dadonov, they will need to avoid the pitfalls Vegas had in his usage. In Vegas, when placed in a third-line role, he had difficulty producing offensively while also not being a good defensive option. Dadonov needs to have offensively capable players to be able to play with, such as Suzuki, as a complementary player to take advantage of their skills. After the 2022 Trade Deadline saw him block a trade to the Anaheim Ducks, Dadonov was placed in a top-six role where he began to produce, scoring 16 points in the last 16 games of the season as Vegas tried desperately, but failed, to earn a playoff berth, however, it was not for a lack of effort on Dadonov’s part in that final stretch run.

Evgenii Dadonov Ottawa Senators
Evgenii Dadonov, pictured with the Ottawa Senators (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The analytics community like Dadonov as he can generate scoring chances at five-on-five (5v5), and is also able to convert as well. By the end of the 2021-22 season, he was the third-most used forward with Vegas at 5v5 all season. His possession statistics were positive, with a Corsi-for percentage of 53.33, and expected goals for percentage of 53.22. He was able to help generate offence, and keep the puck away from his zone, by generating 211 high-danger chances, which would place him first among forwards with the Canadiens, passing Jake Evans who was the top forward with 183. With the right usage, he could be on pace to score 20 goals next season.  

On the PP, he scored five goals. While he won’t be the wizard that will solve a woeful Canadiens PP that finished 31st in the NHL at only 13.7 percent, he could be a useful option to play in a shooting role on a second-wave PP, which might add a percentage point or two. Not a major improvement, but still an improvement.

Dadonov could also provide assistance in another intangible way, culturally. Being Russian, he could help Alexander Romanov integrate himself more comfortably, as he can speak to him in his native Russian as well as provide invaluable experience for a player who was able to integrate himself into the North American game and culture.

Becoming a Canadiens Trade Chip

As stated above, the 33-year-old winger is in the final year of his contract with a $5 million salary-cap hit. Now that he has been added to the Canadiens roster, he becomes a possible trade chip for Hughes to use this season. In the post-Weber trade press conference, Hughes was asked about his plans for Dadonov this season.

“We think that Dadonov can bring an offensive element to our team, we obviously need to improve our offensive side, he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, it will depend on what happens at the end of the year, but I would rather bring in a player that could help us than to trade a draft pick that could help us in the future.”

Kent Hughes

These comments point to the plan for Dadonov to begin the season with the Canadiens. However, at no point did he dismiss the possibility of trading him at next season’s trade deadline. If he can retain his production levels from last season, which shouldn’t be a leap of faith as he spent much of his time on a line centered by Chandler Stephenson. While he may be an underrated center, he doesn’t have the offensive potential of a Suzuki. With a productive Dadonov and a possibility that the Habs could retain up to 50 percent of his salary, his trade value could be as high as a second-round pick.

Dadonov’s arrival will help Hughes in his rebuild plans, as he can complement the younger offensive players, and help on the PP, which is in desperate need of it, and he can add some cultural familiarity for Romanov. Most of all, he added him to provide cap flexibility as well as to become a trade option at the trade deadline to add more assets for the ongoing rebuild.

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