Likeliest Canadiens to Re-Sign as Pending UFAs After 2022-23

The easiest part of any good rebuild isn’t necessarily to tank. Playing the waiting game is far easier as the Montreal Canadiens for example look ahead for unwanted contracts to expire. It just takes a great deal of patience, as many of these deals are potentially unwanted by other teams too.

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Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes could theoretically succeed taking a proactive approach, trading some pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) away by the trade deadline. However, in a worst-case scenario, most if not all of the following players will be gone next offseason as the Habs let their deals lapse for more cap space or really just the roster spot they’ll each be giving up to someone with more of a future with the organization.

Kent Hughes, Montreal Canadiens GM
Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes – (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

In some cases though, it’s not that simple. Most are entering their last seasons as Montreal Canadiens. Some can still theoretically play a part in the team’s long-term plans. Here are the likeliest Habs to re-sign as pending UFAs after the 2022-23 season, in increasing order:

5.  Evgeny Dadonov

Put simply, there’s no good reason for the Canadiens to keep Evgeny Dadonov in the fold past 2022-23. In fact, the only chance he lasts as a Hab past the next tradeline is if there are no takers. Even if Dadonov’s incredibly underrated as a perennial 20-goal scorer, it’s not as crazy as it sounds, seeing as the Vegas Golden Knights had the hardest time trading him away for cap space last deadline.

Related: Canadiens Who Are the Most Underrated Ahead of 2022-23

In fact the Golden Knights failed to so much as practically give Dadonov away. They had a trade with the Anaheim Ducks (with a conditional second-round pick for John Moore and Ryan Kesler) nixed by the league, as it violated Dadonov’s no-trade clause.

It comes down to the fact that the 33-year-old Dadonov has a $5 million cap hit. That hypothetical cap space is simply more valuable to the Canadiens with Cole Caufield set to become a restricted free agent in 2023. Furthermore, Dadonov’s roster spot is simply more valuable filled by the likes of fellow-winger Jesse Ylonen (or even Joshua Roy, following his first professional season, playing for the Laval Rocket in the American Hockey League).

Evgenii Dadonov Vegas Golden Knights
Current-Montreal Canadiens forward Evgeny Dadonov – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Ultimately, Dadonov was a means to an end, little more. He was the player the Canadiens took back in exchange for Shea Weber’s contract, giving the Canadiens more long-term flexibility at the expense of his short-term cap hit. While Dadonov certainly has more to offer on the ice than a “retired” Weber, for the Canadiens’ purposes, it’s on another team. That could be at the next deadline, with something coming back in exchange. That would really just be gravy though, as Dadonov has undeniably already served his purpose.

4. Paul Byron

The only reason Paul Byron has a greater chance at staying a Hab past 2022-23 is his status as an alternate captain with the Canadiens. One of ex-GM Marc Bergevin’s greatest success stories as a one-time waiver-wire pick-up, Byron is entering his eighth season with the Canadiens. However, over the last four he’s missed 133 games.

It’s not just that injuries have taken a toll on the 33-year-old. It’s also that, because of the Canadiens’ depth up front these days, Byron’s skillset is more so in line with that of a bottom-six forward. When he signed his current deal, which carries a $3.4 million cap hit, he was coming off his second straight 20-goal season, though. Things change.

Paul Byron, Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In that historical context, $3.4 million is a bargain, especially considering Byron’s infamous penalty-killing prowess. However, as a fourth-line forward, it’s hard to justify. In general, it’s simply hard to fit Byron into the lineup, even when he’s healthy. It’s a harsh reality, but the NHL is a business, and the Canadiens are simply going to be more justified walking away once his deal expires next summer.

3. Jonathan Drouin

Of all the players on this list, Jonathan Drouin arguably has the most value. He’s a 27-year-old former third-overall pick who’s still in his prime with a fairly affordable $5.5 million cap hit. Considering he’s a native son from Quebec, in theory the Canadiens would love to keep him a Hab. However, in practice, it just hasn’t worked out for all parties involved.

The Canadiens acquired Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev back in 2017. So, five years have passed. It’s past the point at which anyone can reasonably say the trade can still work out for the Canadiens. Bottom line, it was a mistake back then to trade away an up-and-coming defenseman like Sergachev when the Canadiens desperately needed one (instead of another winger in Drouin).

Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin
Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Even though the Canadiens are fairly set on Sergachev’s left side on defense these days, it’s clear Sergachev has panned out (his odd, expensive extension notwithstanding) and Drouin simply hasn’t lived up to the hype. That’s not his fault, though. For a top-six forward, Drouin has generally delivered, but expectations upon his acquisition, as unrealistic as they were, were for him to be the team’s next great French-Canadian superstar. That obviously hasn’t happened.

Through all the injuries and overall inconsistency and Drouin’s well-documented mental-health struggles, it’s clear a divorce of some sort is in order. It just isn’t a fit. The plus side is, as Drouin is set to be healthy for training camp this season and playing for his next contract, he’s in line for a rebound season to up his value ahead of the next deadline. There is no negative side. One way or another, he’s unlikely to stay with the Habs past 2022-23.

2. Sean Monahan

Center Sean Monahan was actually taken in the same 2013 NHL Entry Draft as Drouin. So, they’re technically in their respective primes at the moment. However, injuries have prevented Drouin from getting in the lineup regularly, while injuries have hindered Monahan’s production significantly in the recent past.

Monahan hit a career-high 82 points in 2018-19, but has scored just 99 over the last three seasons (185 games), largely due to hip problems. Separate hip surgeries each of the last two offseasons give hope Monahan is finally healthy and can pick up where he left off just three years ago, though.

For the Calgary Flames, the uncertainty surrounding Monahan was too much, especially with Nazem Kadri available as a free agent. So, to make room, they made the difficult choice to package him with a conditional first-round pick in a trade with the Habs, for whom the choice was actually very easy in comparison.

Monahan is the perfect low-risk, high-reward acquisition Hughes should be chasing with expectations for the Canadiens as low as they are, especially with cap space to spare with news that goalie Carey Price and his $10.5 million cap hit are realistically headed to long-term injured reserve. There is no downside whatsoever to giving up nothing but “future considerations” for both Monahan and a first-round pick. The only hang-up is to what end?

Sean Monahan Calgary Flames
Current-Montreal Canadiens forward Sean Monahan – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There is at least a chance the Canadiens decide to re-sign Monahan, assuming he bounces back from his hip surgeries and rediscovers some semblance of the scoring touch he’s displayed in the past as a three-time 30-goal scorer. Hughes has suggested it’s a possibility, while the Canadiens would need an insurance policy for their young No. 2 center of the future in Kirby Dach. So, in some respects, re-signing Monahan makes sense.

Ultimately though, Christian Dvorak does all Monahan can do and more from that perspective with far less risk, seeing as Dvorak’s cost-effective contract expires in three seasons. Re-signing even a resurgent Monahan to a long-term deal, seeing as he’d probably be looking for some job security with his next contract, is kind of, well, crazy. So, the best play is to trade him next deadline. If he doesn’t rebound though, the only play is to cut ties with him altogether as he hits free agency.

1. Jake Allen

With Carey Price out of the picture, his injury potentially marking the end of his career, the Canadiens need reliable goaltending. At 32, Jake Allen unfortunately doesn’t give them that, at least not consistently, but he does provide veteran leadership to the likes of Samuel Montembeault, his current projected backup, and farmhand Cayden Primeau.

Considering the circumstances, there is no realistic way the Canadiens trade Allen this coming season. And, while he’s not a No. 1 goalie, he is the No. 1 goalie on this team. With that in mind, he’s far from a long-term solution, but, up until the point at which the Canadiens are through with their rebuild, he could be the guy, especially if how the team finishes in the standings is not a priority. At least it shouldn’t be.

Jake Allen Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goalie Jake Allen – (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

To be clear, Allen’s not a bad goalie. He’s just a No. 1 based on his career up to this point, nor is he a game-breaking talent like Price. Especially with the defense being in the shape it’s in, i.e., largely inexperienced and in transition, no one can reasonably expect Allen to make a difference. If that’s the level of quality of goaltending with which the Habs are comfortable past this season for the foreseeable future, why not try to re-sign him, then?

It of course remains to be seen if Allen is willing to stay on as glorified fodder. Someone will have to be though, before the Canadiens’ defense catches up to its offense in terms depth. At least they know Allen. Until the right goalie to replace Price comes along, whether that’s Primeau or someone via trade or free agency, Allen will do. For all intents and purposes, he’s the right goalie for right now, potentially even beyond this season.