Going into the offseason, Montreal Canadiens general manager (GM) Kent Hughes had a huge task ahead of him. He needed to make a splash at the 2022 Draft in Montreal and shed cap space to sign free agents (FA) and his unsigned players through entry-level contracts and restricted free agents (RFA). He did almost all of these things plus got good value on a player who wanted out of town. Here is a look at the news and rumours from this week.
Canadiens Trade Petry to Penguins
Jeff Petry had one of his worst seasons in the NHL last year with the Canadiens. After five seasons of 40-plus points, he had a terrible start, scoring only two points in his first 27 games. Many speculated that his hand injury during the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup run last season caused his offensive woes. Other factors soon revealed themselves, which were more personal and family-related; due to the COVID restrictions in Quebec, Petry moved his family to his home state of Michigan. Being away from his wife and family was a struggle, which seemed to affect his play. He also had issues with then head coach Dominic Ducharme’s coaching style, and communication with the head coach was frustrating. When Martin St. Louis replaced Ducharme, there was a vast improvement in Petry’s play, and he finished the season with 27 points, scoring 23 points in his final 37 games.
During the season, Petry made it known he wanted to be traded from Montreal and GM Hughes told him he would do it if it were good for both the team and the player. At last week’s draft, many thought Petry would be on the move, but nothing materialized, although there was a conversation between Hughes and Pittsburgh GM Ron Hextall on the draft floor on day two. Still, nothing happened until a little over a week later — Petry was traded, along with center Ryan Poehling, to the Penguins for defenceman Mike Matheson and a 2023 fourth-round pick. Matheson is a Montreal native who had been previously represented by Hughes when Hughes was an agent; Matheson had a career season last year, scoring 11 goals and 31 points.
Pierre-Luc Dubois Still Attached to Canadiens
Since playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pierre-Luc Dubois was rumoured to become a Montreal Canadien. Now that he is an RFA with the Winnipeg Jets, the rumours are running rampant that he will soon be a Hab. Dubois’s agent Pat Brisson told TVA Sports, “Montreal is a city he would probably… he’s a restricted free agent; Montreal is a place, a city he’d like to play in. That’s all I can say about that.” Dubois even went as far as to attend the draft held in Montreal because he thought he might get traded to the Habs.
Dubois recently did not file for arbitration, leaving the door open for other teams to present him an offer sheet. Dubois now has three options: accept a qualifying offer that will pay him $6 million for one year, negotiate a deal with the Jets for more money, or receive an offer sheet. The Canadiens are rumoured to have offered three pieces to acquire Dubois at the draft, but Winnipeg turned the offer down. The Jets want a player that Hughes has deemed untouchable.
It will be a long battle between the Jets and Canadiens while negotiating a trade for Dubois. The Habs have all the advantages; they don’t need to trade for him if they want to be patient. Dubois intends to play in Montreal, and the Jets know he wants to test free agency in 2024. Hughes can sit and wait while the Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is under the gun with Dubois.
Canadiens Sign Pitlick
Last week the Canadiens offered some of their players a qualifying offer; Rem Pitlick was not one of them. The Habs are in a tight cap situation and feared that Pitlick would cost too much money if they qualified him. Once the team traded Petry and Poehling, they had enough room to sign a player if the deal was on the cheap side, and Pitlick’s deal was a steal at a $1.1 million average annual value (AAV) salary for the next two seasons.
The Canadiens picked up Pitlick on waivers from the Minnesota Wild; he had six goals and 11 points when he joined the Habs. He continued to flourish with Montreal scoring nine goals and 26 points in 46 games and finishing 10th in goals and 11th in points for rookies. A player who could play up and down the lineup, Pitlick can be a very versatile player for the Habs, where he will primarily play wing on the third or fourth line.
Canadiens Still Need to Make Moves to Sign Dach
The Canadiens have $1.2 million in cap space, with RFA Kirby Dach left to sign; although his stats weren’t all that great last season, his potential is still very high. Dach had 23 points in his rookie year as a 19-year-old, playing in 64 games. The following season, he broke his wrist playing in the World Junior Championships and was held to only 18 games scoring 10 points for the Chicago Blackhawks. Last season he played 70 games but scored only nine goals and 26 points.
Although Dach had what is considered a down season as the third-overall pick in the 2019 Draft, he is still only 21 years old and has room to grow. That is what Dach and his agent will try to sell to the Canadiens when negotiating a new contract. To negotiate anything, however, the Habs need to free up cap space first, and they don’t have a lot of tradable assets.
The best trade chip they have is Josh Anderson, and that’s about it unless you want to count Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, who have been deemed untouchable. Anderson is involved in many trade rumours, and according to Hughes, many teams are interested in the immense power forward’s skills. It would take an overpayment to move Anderson, so odds are someone else gets traded if it’s possible.
Mike Hoffman could go to a team needing a goal-scoring winger, but the rest of his game isn’t very appealing. Joel Armia could go, but his $3.4 million contract and the lack of production will make him almost impossible to move. Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron have expiring contracts and are tradable, but both are injured and would be more valuable at the trade deadline.
Canadiens Sign Montembault
The Canadiens signed goaltender Sam Montembeault to a two-year, one-way contract, extending him until 2024. At 25, he had an 8-18-6 record in 38 games for the Habs with 3.77 goals-against average (GAA) and a .891 save percentage (SV%). He was thrust into a bad situation last season and did the best he could after Price and Jake Allen both went down with long-term injuries. This will give insurance to Montreal in case Price isn’t ready to start the season or Allen gets traded; if both remain healthy and on the team, Montembeault will have to pass waivers to be sent to Laval.
The start of the season is just a little over two months away. Hughes can go 10 percent over the salary cap in the offseason, but the roster must be cap compliant before the season starts. They have a long-term injury reserve (LTIR) they could use if Byron or Carey Price is long-term injured to start the season to help out, but it doesn’t look like Hughes will wait for that. Look to see another move soon to clear up space and maybe acquire a particular center from the Jets.