Canadiens News & Rumors: Romanov, Caufield, Hall, Domi & More

In today’s Montreal Canadiens news and rumors rundown, there is news on Alexander Romanov’s contract situation. An ECHL expansion franchise decides to call the province of Quebec home. 

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Will the Big 10 Conference have a full season? Will it affect Cole Caufield’s decision to stay in school? Will Taylor Hall go to free agency and entertain playing in Montreal? Will Max Domi be able to play in the playoffs this year?

Romanov Can’t Play

Alexander Romanov signed his entry-level contract (ELC) with Montreal as soon as he was able. His stated goal was to fulfill a dream of playing in the NHL, but that dream will be put on hold for the time being. The Montreal Gazette reports:

The Canadiens had hoped Romanov would be cleared to play, but when a memorandum of understanding between the NHL and the players’ association was reached on Monday (07 July) it was decided no players signed after play was halted on March 12 because of COVID-19 would be allowed to play when the league resumes action.

Alexander Romanov can’t play for Canadiens during postseason, Montreal Gazette, 07 July, 2020  

It is still possible for Romanov to join the Canadiens for training camp, and it is still unclear if they could bring him into the bubble, allowing him to practice with the team. One thing is for certain, this makes it vital for the Canadiens to find Romanov a place to play meaningful hockey as soon as possible as he will be unable to play in the NHL until next season, which is to begin around Jan. 1, 2021.

Alexander Romanov Montreal Canadiens
Alexander Romanov, Montreal Canadiens, 2018 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That would be nine months without a game. Perhaps he can be loaned to a European club to play while he waits for the next training camp.

Big 10 Conference Facing Pandemic Problems

The Big 10, a conference in the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) has made a decision on its sports programs, one that may affect how or if hockey is to be played this season. Big 10 Conference Commissioner Kevin Warren released a statement:

…the Big Ten Conference announced today that if the Conference is able to participate in fall sports (men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball) based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports.

One member school of the Big 10 is Wisconsin University, the home of the Badgers Hockey program and the Big 10 freshman of the year, 2019 first-round pick of the Canadiens, Cole Caufield. However, the current announcement doesn’t name hockey as one of the sports that will be limited or possibly cancelled. For anyone who doesn’t follow the NCAA, if they are willing to entertain cancelling college football — the most profitable program in the NCAA — then they would be willing to limit or cancel hockey as well.

Montreal Canadians Cole Caufield NHL draft
Montreal Canadians select Cole Caufield during the first round NHL draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Friday, June, 21, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

If the worst case scenario occurs and the NCAA cancels the hockey season, there may be a possibility Cole Caufield chooses to go to the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) — if the CHL reopens — to continue his development. Currently Caufield’s CHL rights are with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Taylor Hall to the Habs?

Hall and the Arizona Coyotes are entering the Edmonton bubble in preparation for the Western Conference play-ins. The former Hart Trophy winner is also an upcoming unrestricted free agent (UFA) coming off of a seven-year deal that paid him an average of $6 million per season. The former first-overall pick just had a down season in which he scored 16 goals and 52 points in 65 games split between the New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes.

Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson and New Jersey Devils left wing Taylor Hall
Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson and New Jersey Devils left wing Taylor Hall (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

With the salary cap this season remaining flat, it is no secret that there will be fewer teams willing to pay large sums for UFAs, especially ones that had down seasons. John Shannon stated:

“I think there will be a small market and I think the two places that are obvious for Hall to go, other than staying in Arizona, would be Montreal and Calgary.”

There is no doubt the Canadiens could use a proven offensive threat to add that scoring to the roster. But Marc Bergevin would need to be very careful in how he proceeds. Hall is 28 years old and will be looking for a long-term deal, but has had injury concerns plague him in recent seasons. Another pitfall will be how Bergevin can balance a large cap hit from Hall while trying to retain key players next season such as Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault. Not everyone would be able to remain, and it adds another name to the protection list in advance of the Seattle expansion draft next summer.

Will Max Domi Play?

Once the NHL decided it would return to play, the first question asked by Habs fans was, will Max Domi be able to play? As a Type 1 diabetic, he is at greater risk of having COVID-19 negatively affect him if he were to contract the disease.

Domi is definitely in a higher risk category; as such he will need to be cleared by the NHL and team doctors to enter Phase 3 (training camp) and Phase 4 (play-ins). If for whatever reason he is deemed unfit by team doctors, he will have the ability to seek out a second opinion.

Max Domi Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens centre Max Domi (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

NHL players aren’t normally ones to opt out of playing, and Domi has more than a few reasons to do so. His contract situation as a restricted free agent (RFA) lends to a risky situation. If his health is compromised before he is re-signed to a contract, he risks his future earnings, as well as his health. The expectation is for Domi to want to play as this would be his first opportunity to play in a playoff format in the NHL, but more factors will be weighing on his mind before he does.

Flat Cap Opportunities

The defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues are in need to shed cap. They have difficult decisions to make on who to retain and who to let go. With their captain Alex Pietrangelo and RFA defenceman Vince Dunn in need of new deals this summer, general manager Doug Armstrong has a difficult choice to make to stay under the cap and remain Cup contenders.

While the Blues lacked superstars earning eight-digit salaries, they featured experienced talent up and down their lineup. This collective strength allowed them to sustain pressure shift after shift, game after game, and earn the craziest parade St. Louis will ever see. Moving forward, though, the Blues’ formula will be difficult to maintain. The coronavirus pandemic inflicted major economic damage and the NHL will need several years to recover.

Gordo: NHL’s new labor deal creates salary cap crunch for Blues, STLToday, 08 July 2020
Vince Dunn St. Louis Blues
Vince Dunn, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bergevin is in an enviable position to make trades with his cap space, prospect pool and stockpile of draft picks. The window is open for Montreal to take on cap and get a player to help now, much like what happened in the Joel Armia trade. The Canadiens’ could find a way to fill needs on the blue line and in net if they are willing to offload picks and prospects while taking on short-term deals such as Jake Allen’s $4.3 million, one-year deal.

Down on the Farm

There was a major announcement in Trois-Rivières on who will be the main tenant in the newly constructed arena. As announced on FM106.9, a radio station near Trois-Rivières, the city announced the arrival of an expansion ECHL franchise for the 2021-22 season. While it was not announced that the franchise would be affiliated with Montreal, it is all but a formality as the franchise and location were secured with help coming directly from the Canadiens and their front office.

This is major news for the Canadiens and the flood of prospects starting to arrive in the system. Player development will become a major cornerstone in the Habs rebuild especially now with cap uncertainty due to the pandemic and its effects hitting the NHL financially. Having their AHL and ECHL affiliates all within 90 minutes driving distance is beneficial not only for call ups but also for sharing training facilities and coaches.

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It also provides the Canadiens an incentive for late-blooming, Quebec-born players to sign and stay home while they look for a chance to earn NHL deals instead of signing with other organizations just as David Desharnais had done before moving up to the NHL.

David Desharnais (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As teams around the league, including the Canadiens, prepare to start training camps on July 13, stick to The Hockey Writers for all of the latest hockey news and rumors.