In the leadup to the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, writers at THW representing every NHL team completed a Mock Expansion Draft.
The Montreal Canadiens will have some very difficult decisions to make. The largest issue that must be dealt with is the Jonathan Drouin situation. General manager (GM) Marc Bergevin will need to be creative in solving this issue by giving Drouin a fresh start while finding value in return. There will also be major decisions on who to keep, who to protect, who to re-sign, and who to allow to test free agency. The long-term salary cap situation will need to be kept in mind while finding a way to retain the depth that has earned the Habs a Stanley Cup Semifinals appearance.
Bergevin has several contracts he must address this offseason. The most impactful ones, to the salary cap and the current roster, will be those of Phillip Danault and Joel Armia. In Danault’s case, having an experienced shutdown center is an important role for a team with so many young centers, especially as a local product. His salary and term demands will likely be higher than the offensive output he provides will dictate. With the development of Nick Suzuki, and the slower progression of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jake Evans, even Ryan Poehling make it hard to decide to give a roster position. Yet, for this exercise, both Armia and Danault will be left as unsigned as this expansion draft arrives.
Two restricted free agent (RFA) signings that should be easier to complete quickly are Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen. Both are also no longer expansion draft exempt, meaning that they will need to be protected. Kotkaniemi is likely to receive a bridge deal as that has historically been Bergevin’s approach. Based on his first three years, a two-year bridge deal at $2.8 million per season is reasonable.
Lehkonen is coming off of a two-year, $2.4 million per season deal. He has been a solid bottom-six winger who can be used in many situations. This flexibility has earned the 25-year-old winger a small raise — a two-year, $2.8 million per season deal provides the RFA an opportunity to remain in an advantageous role as well as work on earning a raise on his first unrestricted free agent (UFA) contract.
Offseason Free Agency Signings
There will need to be gaps in the roster to be filled, and with big name free agents such as Taylor Hall and Dougie Hamilton all stealing the spotlight, the stage is set for Bergevin to put the focus on the second-tier free agents that he can not only afford, but also attract with promise of better roles on a competitive team that has proven it could be a contender after a run to the Stanley Cup Final. Who they may be and how much he can afford to pay is dependent on the outcome of the expansion draft and what trade options become available during the NHL Entry Draft the following week.
Expansion Draft Trades
For the purposes of this exercise, some trades between acting GMs occured — writers at THW playing the roles — which were monitored by a third party. For the Canadiens, the focus was on finding Drouin a new home without breaking the salary cap structure. There was also a need to fill out the top nine on the left wing as Drouin would be leaving and it is highly likely, due to being a long-term healthy scratch in the playoffs, that Tomas Tatar will not be returning to Montreal.
The Canadiens had many draft picks at their disposal to make deals, including trying several ways to make a deal with Seattle to offer draft picks to ensure they did not pick Jake Allen. Those were successful in this mock draft, but in reality, the picks would be best used to add to the roster while leaving cap space to sign a goaltender if Allen was lost in the draft.
The first trade made was to address replacing Tatar. Boston Bruins left winger Jake DeBrusk had fallen out of favor and was being shopped. For the cost of a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 third-round pick, adding his $3.675 million for one year allowed the Habs to replace Tatar with a younger player that can provide offence and some two-way play.
The next trade was to add some size, secondary offence and an option to play at left wing or center. For a 2021 first-round pick, the Canadiens added the Chicago Blackhawks’ Dylan Strome to their top nine. A line of Strome, Kotkaniemi and Josh Anderson could add skill and physicality while leaving the top line of Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Tyler Toffoli untouched.
Finally, a new home for Drouin was needed. Moving him to an American market where he would be a depth player, yet be used for his best quality as a playmaker, was essential. The Washington Capitals sent Evgeny Kuznetzsov to Montreal. His skills as a playmaker and his shot, as well as the versatility to play center or wing, allows Montreal to keep a similar skillset, but with added versatility.
This comes at a cost — not only does Drouin go south, but so does a 2022 first-round pick and defenceman Ben Chiarot. Chiarot was added to save on cap space, open room for a possible free agent addition of a puck-moving defender, but also to ensure Joel Edmundson remains protected.
With all these moves completed, the time came to build a protected list. The choice to use the 7-3-1 method, where a GM can protect seven forwards, three defencemen and one goaltender, was clear.
The Seven Forwards Protected Were:
- Evgeny Kuznetsov
- Jake DeBrusk
- Tyler Toffoli
- Josh Anderson
- Brendan Gallagher – his no-movement clause (NMC) made it mandatory
- Dylan Strome
- Jesperi Kotkaniemi
There are some on the NHL roster who are exempt, such as Suzuki and Caufield. Also, Poehling and Jesse Ylonen in Laval are exempt.
The Defenders Protected Were:
- Jeff Petry – his NMC made it mandatory
- Joel Edmundson
- Shea Weber
Alexander Romanov is exempt from the expansion draft.
In goal, the choice is obvious: Carey Price. His NMC also makes it mandatory unless he waives it, which is unlikely now that there is a contending team in front of him. Cayden Primeau, seen as the heir apparent to Price, is exempt from the expansion draft.
To add additional cap space and to ensure Allen remains in Montreal, a side deal with Seattle was made to send Paul Byron and his two years remaining at $3.4 million to the Kraken. For this exercise, it cost a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 third-round selection, which is a realistic cost of what it would take to ensure the Canadiens protect all the assets they require to continue to grow into a contender.
Roster After the Expansion Draft
The lineup, prior to free agency and without any players called up from the AHL Laval Rocket would look like this at the end of the expansion draft:
Line 1: Toffoli – Suzuki – Caufield
Line 2: Kuznetsov – Kotkaniemi – Gallagher
Line 3: DeBrusk – Strome – Anderson
Line 4: Lehkonen – Evans – ?
Pair 1: Edmundson – Petry
Pair 2: Romanov – Weber
Pair 3: Kulak – ?
The roster makeup at the end of the expansion draft will be a roster of 18 with a cap hit of $74.505 million, leaving $6.997 million in cap space. There will be enough cap space to graduate players such as Lukas Vejdemo, Poehling and Cale Fleury to fill out the roster. There would also be enough for Bergevin to focus on adding a top-four, puck-moving defenceman. He could still use his nine remaining picks from the 2021 Entry Draft and his prospects to make a trade for that puck mover if he desired to.
There will be no easy choices for Bergevin this summer as he tries to keep his core intact while improving on a roster that can be seen as a Stanley Cup contender.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.