Montreal Canadiens Mailbag: Dark Horses, Salary Cap Problems & More

The Montreal Canadiens just completed their worst season in history, finishing 32nd in the league behind even the expansion Seattle Kraken. Despite the outcome, there is a sense of hope as new general manager (GM) Kent Hughes and head coach Martin St. Louis have brought in fresh ideas and are forging a new path ahead.

Montreal Canadiens mailbag Nick Suzuki Cole Caufield
Nick Suzuki Cole Caufield (The Hockey Writers)

The Hockey Writers has opened up the mailbag to see what is on the minds of Canadiens fans and what everyone is looking forward to as the 2022-23 season approaches. Do you have questions? We have answers, or at least something that resembles answers.

Canadiens Dark Horse?

The Canadiens are going to be arriving for training camp in only a few weeks, which makes this question very timely. Eli @NewfieEGK asks:

Who will be the dark horse prospect to make the team from training camp?

This is a difficult one to pin down, as the Canadiens have a log jam at forward, with 14 NHL-capable players. On defence, there may be an opening, but there is a need to balance development as well. Several rookies will get all the attention, Juraj Slafkovsky, Jordan Harris, and Kaiden Guhle – but if there is one forward who fits the “dark horse” moniker, it would be Rafael “Lavallagher” Harvey-Pinard.

Kaiden Guhle, Montreal Canadiens
Kaiden Guhle Montreal Canadiens (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Coming off of his sophomore professional season, he became the Laval Rocket’s points leader, scoring 56 points in 69 games. He was also the team’s Brendan Gallagher, playing with 100 percent effort on every shift and crashing the net with a smile. In his short call-up last season to the Canadiens, Harvey-Pinard scored in his first NHL game by doing exactly what he does in Laval: going to the net. The good news is that there is a wave of young, skilled prospects that will be knocking on the door for NHL jobs very soon.

Montreal Cap Concerns

@The_real_XndrB asks:

[What will the] Habs will do ahead of opening season to be cap compliant and add to their needs?

According to the Canadiens’ salary cap information as of Aug. 11, 2022, they have less than $250,000 available and still need to sign Kirby Dach. But the cap issues aren’t as dire as they may seem. The largest issue is the Carey Price question: will he play or not? If he does, that would free up $1 million with Samuel Montembeault being placed on waivers. Also, Paul Byron might be placed on long-term injury reserve (LTIR) to start the season as his hip continues to cause him problems. However, that $3.4 million will only be opened up while he is out and would need to be re-integrated once he’s healthy.

If Hughes wants to guarantee he has the cap space to sign Dach, the popular vote seems to be to trade Mike Hoffman. But with two years left at $4.25 million, it’s unlikely anyone will take on his contract without sending one back in return – unless the Canadiens provide assets such as picks or prospects to make it happen. The other choice would be to move out a player that has value, like Christian Dvorak or Josh Anderson, but that would leave holes in the roster that can’t be filled internally at the moment. Furthermore, the return may not be as significant as fans would hope as other GMs know Hughes is over the cap barrel. As a result, their best bet is to take the LTIR and/or waiver route so as not to lose assets that could help the rebuild in the future.

Habs Rookie Class

Casey @Casey_LeighD asks

Which rookie on the Habs will have the biggest impact?

Assuming that Slafkovsky makes the roster, he has the most potential to make an impact. But Justin Barron could also make an impact. Being a right-handed defenceman on a team with shallow depth in that role could make him more important to the team. That lack of depth will open up several important roles – a top-four position on the blue line and a role on the power play (PP). His excellent vision, mobility and puck-moving abilities give him the tools needed to take advantage of this opportunity.

Related: Canadiens Focus is on Development Not Wins

Barron has the potential to eat up minutes and put up points. He would also give the blue line balance and an added weapon for the PP that would be huge not just for this season but also for the future as the defense finally morphs into one that fits the modern NHL.

Canadiens’ Fashion King

@LO_Canadiens asks a fun question

Which one of the most recent draft class do you think will be the fashion king?

Players are increasingly allowed to express themselves through their wardrobes with fancy hats, funky socks, and colourful fabrics on full display. But it’s all in how they put it together for the pregame catwalk fashion show as they enter the rink.

The Canadiens’ social media accounts recently had alumni rate the current players’ fashion choices. While Nick Suzuki sports some nice outfits, he gets beat out by Cole Caufield, who must have the same tailor as TSN’s John Lu. Anyone who has seen John’s suits on TSN knows he loves bright colours and varied fabrics; he even had a suit made to look like a set of sweatpants and a hoodie for a truly fashion-forward look. Caufield has recently put together the most original outfits, coordinating interesting hats that make people talk with original suits. So, if there is any player on the roster that can be the Habs’ version of Zoolander, it’s Caufield.

Dach Dach Goose

The Hockey Writers colleague from the Ottawa Senators page, Devin aka @CorsiForWhat asks,

I’m a firm believer in Kirby Dach, while I know others are not. I think he could start to achieve his potential in Montreal if given the chance, do you think he gets that chance and hits his potential?

First, Hughes made a major splash on Day 1 of the 2022 Draft by trading Alexander Romanov to the New York Islanders for the 13th-overall pick, then flipped that pick along with a third-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for Dach’s restricted free agent (RFA) rights. The fact he made these major moves to bring in the 6-foot-4 center screams that Hughes will give Dach all of the developmental support he needs and offer him every opportunity necessary to help him meet his potential.

Kirby Dach Chicago Blackhawks
Kirby Dach, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Now, for the hard part. Dach is coming off of a very difficult season with the Blackhawks that saw him drop in production and move to the wing. His wrist injury seemed to cause strength and mobility problems that affected many areas of his game, such as faceoffs, passing and shooting. Also, he hasn’t had his breakout season yet, so management’s focus on developmental support and opportunity will be helpful. Also, a season playing under St. Louis could boost his development as he likes to work individually with young players. With a fresh start and the Canadiens’ need for him to succeed, Dach may still become a quality top-six centerman.

Last season, nearly anything that could go wrong did. This season, the Canadiens will try to put that behind them. The fanbase is hopeful that bad luck like that can’t continue. They are rallying around the future, thanks to the tidal wave of young prospects entering the organization and, especially, the professional ranks. Added to that is the promise of a more exciting brand of hockey that St. Louis has already generated in his short tenure. While, this season, the Habs may not reach a playoff spot, expect them to take a step forward towards becoming a team that can contend for the Stanley Cup once again.