As the Stanley Cup Final nears its conclusion, general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin has to split his attention — he needs to be putting together a plan of attack for the upcoming Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. No matter what decisions he makes, the Canadiens will lose a good player.
The expansion draft rules will be identical to those of the Vegas Golden Knights draft in 2017. As they are only four seasons removed from entry into the NHL, and less than a month after being eliminated by the Canadiens in the semifinal, Vegas will be exempt from these proceedings.
The remaining 30 NHL franchises will need to decide which option they will choose to protect their players. Will they choose the first option, known as the 7-3-1, where they can protect seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goaltender? Or will Bergevin choose the second option available, known as the 8-1, where they can protect any eight skaters and one goaltender?
One wrinkle for the GMs, any player with a no-movement clause (NMC) will need to be protected. For the purposes of this article, the assumption will be that none of the Canadiens players that hold an NMC will waive those clauses. Also, the assumption that the 7-3-1 method will be the one the Canadiens use as it protects more depth assets, and that has proven to be their strength.
Free Agents List
The Canadiens will have a difficult choice ahead this offseason. With a flat salary cap at $81.5 million, there will be no increase to help cover the cost of the raises some free agents will likely demand. Any free agent, whether they be unrestricted free agents (UFA) or restricted free agents (RFA) with more than two years of North American professional experience, will need to be protected, or they could be open to being claimed in the expansion draft.
Difficult choices on UFAs like Phillip Danault, Joel Armia, Corey Perry, and Tomas Tatar will need to be made — which to retain, which to allow to walk. Three of them played major roles in the Canadiens’ success this season. The RFAs that will need contracts, like Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen, will also need protection and raises.
One Major Issue
Bergevin will have his hands full regarding what to do with forward Jonathan Drouin. The supremely skilled yet mercurial left-winger has had issues finding his potential in Montreal. This, in turn, has led to loud and consistently harsh criticism from fans and media alike. For now, Drouin is on the long-term injured list while he works on his personal issues, creating a difficult situation. If they can’t resolve his situation or work out a trade before the draft, it’s almost a guarantee he will be protected, as losing that level of skill for nothing would be a difficult hurdle to overcome.
Like the Vegas Expansion Draft, GMs will have an opportunity to make side deals with Seattle. Bergevin may want to offer some draft picks in return for the Kraken to select a specific player from his roster. That player would still need to hold some value to the new franchise, such as an ability to fill a role or as a future trade asset.
One player that Bergevin could try to use in this manner is Paul Byron. He had been placed on waivers multiple times this past season as part of the team’s cap and roster management — with two more years remaining at $3.4 million, it is no surprise he cleared each time. But Byron does have leadership value, as he is an alternate captain and still plays a major role on the Canadiens’ penalty kill, which has been outstanding during their run to the Stanley Cup Final.
He may not reach the 20-goal plateaus he has with the Habs in the past, but for a short-term addition as a bottom-six player, he could add the intangibles a new franchise may need. So adding a second-round pick might be enough to convince the Kraken.
With that said, now onto what the Canadiens’ 7-3-1 approach can look like.
Protected: Carey Price
Exposed: Jake Allen, Micheal McNiven, Charlie Lindgren
Notable Exemptions: Cayden Primeau
This will be an easy decision for Bergevin. Not only did Price provide outstanding play in the playoffs yet again, but he also holds an NMC. So his five remaining years at $10.5 million will be protected.
Allen was a key regular-season contributor and will be in danger of being lost to Seattle. This may be the biggest concern for the Canadiens, as it took Bergevin several seasons to find a competent backup goaltender capable of playing enough games to allow Price to rest for the playoffs or could fill in for long stretches in case of injury.
Protected: Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Joel Edmundson
Exposed: Ben Chiarot, Brett Kulak, Cale Fleury
Notable Exemptions: Alexander Romanov, Josh Brook
The protected list for defencemen is difficult to predict. Team captain Shea Weber has no clause to force Bergevin to protect him, and while there had been talk of leaving him and his five remaining years at $7.86 million exposed as fans believe his contract is too rich for Seattle to want to claim, the same fans seem to overlook that this contract is a tradeable commodity. Weber’s salary drops significantly in the last four years, making this contract desirable for teams wanting to remain cap compliant while staying on a strict budget. Also, it is highly unlikely Bergevin doesn’t protect the player he brought in to create and maintain the culture he wants to see in this locker room.
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Jeff Petry will be an easy choice, as his new four-year, $6.25 million contract has a full NMC. It is also a given that he will be protected, as he has become the Canadiens’ top defenceman in minutes played and by virtue of being their top puck-mover. This was the fourth season in a row he has led all defenders in points, this time with 42 in 55 games played, which is a 60-point pace in a full season.
The decision to protect Edmundson over Chiarot is a difficult one. It is likely, however, as Chiarot’s one remaining year under contract at $3.5 million would be difficult for Seattle to overlook, perhaps enough that they would choose him over Allen. Another reason is that Edmundson has become the ideal partner for Petry, and breaking up the de facto top pairing is difficult to do for a team in desperate need of retaining its defensive abilities.
Protected: Brendan Gallagher, Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Jonathan Drouin, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Arturri Lehkonen, Phillip Danault
Exposed: Lukas Vejdemo, Jake Evans, Paul Byron
Notable Exemptions: Jesse Ylonen, Ryan Poehling, Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, Cameron Hillis, Raphael Harvey-Pinard
Toffoli, who led the Canadiens in goals and finished seventh in the NHL in goals this past season at 28, will be protected. Anderson, who in his first season in Montreal scored 17 goals in 52 games (on pace for 27 in a full season) and provides a power forward game, will also get protection.
Gallagher is an easy decision to protect, not only as he has an NMC for his new six-year, $6.5 million deal, but also because Bergevin became very emotional discussing Gallagher’s importance to Montreal.
Bergevin will need to keep his young centers together, and protecting the soon-to-be 21-year-old Kotkaniemi will be essential. The former third-overall pick has slowly been growing into a physical two-way center with a reputation of elevating his game in the playoffs with nine goals in his first 28 games.
The remainder of the forward group is where Bergevin will have the most difficult choices. As mentioned above, Drouin is likely to be protected, but the rest of the list becomes harder to decide. With so many UFAs, Bergevin is likely to leave the majority unprotected. However, Danault is probably the one to get protection, as he played a major role in the playoffs and provides veteran leadership to a very young and highly promising center corps.
With Montreal coming off their most successful playoff run in 28 years, the retool plan Bergevin put into place seems to be providing fans with a team that is entering its window as a plausible contender for a Cup. The Habs have several youthful players that are or will be significant pieces and are exempt from the expansion draft, which bodes well for the future of the franchise. Unfortunately, Seattle will take a piece away from that puzzle, which may cause a setback, or could provide an opportunity to clear salary from a lower-impact role player. How Bergevin decides to approach this draft can decide if it will either help or hurt the team in the short term.
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.