General manager Marc Bergevin used this past offseason to add to the Montreal Canadiens roster. This year will be quite different as he has several significant pending unrestricted free agents to worry about, despite already extending Brendan Gallagher and Jeff Petry, and not a ton of cap space to get them re-signed. Not to mention the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft which will surely impact these already difficult decisions.
The theme of this upcoming offseason won’t be about who the Habs add, it will be about who they can keep to continue building a contender and most importantly, who they have to lose to make the numbers work under a stagnant salary cap.
Contract Extension Odds: In January, La Presse reported that Danault turned down a 6-year, $30 million contract offer from the Canadiens. The fact that the negotiations went public seemed to affect his play earlier this year, but he has rebounded nicely. Although negotiations haven’t gone as planned so far, the 28-year-old is the most likely UFA to return in 2021-22.
Pros: Danault is one of the best two-way centres in the game and has propelled himself into the Selke Trophy conversation year after year. He plays against the opposing team’s best players every night and is the Habs’ stabilizing veteran presence down the middle. His importance is magnified when the other young centres struggle as they continue their development. Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki are going to be great players for a long time, but right now they need a player like Danault to take some pressure off. The same goes for Jake Evans and Ryan Poehling, who might be the bottom-six centres of the future, but who still need a safety net.
Cons: The issue with Danault is his lack of consistent offensive production. On a good team, he is a third-line centre but wants to be paid like a top-six one because that’s where he has played since arriving in Montreal but won’t be for much longer. The key for Bergevin will be signing him to a team-friendly contract that won’t amplify his cap woes and will allow him to add missing pieces to the lineup. Will Danault accept a hometown discount? The Canadiens have to hope he will.
Contract Extension Odds: If I was the GM, Tatar would be my priority. The problem is that he may have priced himself out of Montreal after putting up 146 points over the past three seasons. It’s likely there won’t be room for him, but Bergevin needs to find some.
Pros: On top of his scoring, Tatar plays on one of the best forward lines in the NHL alongside Danault and Gallagher. When the Habs need a lift or help to get out of a slump, they can count on their dominant trio. Bergevin would be wise to keep them together. Plus, the team’s left wing depth is nothing to write home about and losing Tatar would create a gaping hole that would be hard to fill.
Cons: The Slovak will surely fetch more money on the open market than what the Canadiens will be willing to offer him, so like Danault, the Canadiens will have to hope he wants to prolong his stay in a city and with a team that have both been very good to him.
Contract Extension Odds: Of the three most tenured UFAs left to sign, I think Armia will be the odd man out. He’s a luxury the Canadiens can no longer afford.
Pros: The Finn is a bit of an enigma. He can show flashes of brilliance just as quickly as he can disappear from a game. When he’s on, Armia is a difference-maker. He’s an effective forechecker who can stickhandle in tight spaces as well as anyone in the league. He’s a big body who is hard to knock off the puck and he has a deceptively good shot.
Cons: The problem is he’s not always engaged in the battle the way he should be which makes him a non-factor some nights. It wouldn’t be wise to invest in an inconsistent performer, especially when you have Cole Caufield waiting in the wings poised to take a spot on the right side. Jesse Ylönen is also showing NHL potential with the Laval Rocket this season.
Contract Extension Odds: Perry and the Canadiens have been a great match and the 35-year-old has been open about his appreciation for playing in Montreal. It’s not out of the question that he’ll be back next year.
Pros: Perry still has the hands and savvy of the Hart Trophy winner he once was. He’s a leader, helps the power play and has a knack for scoring big goals. Not to mention his penchant for getting under the skin of his opponents.
Cons: He has lost a step and struggles at times with the up-tempo style of play that the Habs like to use. The organization wouldn’t want him stopping a prospect, who’s ready to make the jump, from having a regular role on the team. But he would be a great insurance policy.
The Trade Deadline Rentals
I thought it plausible the Canadiens could let Danault walk if his contract demands are too high on the condition they re-sign Eric Staal but given how the past few games have gone for the decorated centreman, I doubt that will happen. In my defense, the thought crossed my mind after he scored the overtime winner in his Habs debut. If he can turn it around, the idea is worth revisiting, but it looks like Staal may be nearing the end of a brilliant career.
Considering they haven’t hit the ice yet after being acquired at the Trade Deadline, it’s impossible to predict the future for Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson. If Merrill partners well with Alexander Romanov on the third pair and shows some versatility to play up and down the lineup, Bergevin might consider bringing him back.
The Verdict: Who Should Get an Extension?
In addition to his pending UFAs, restricted free agents Kotkaniemi and Atrurri Lehkonen also need new deals. Ultimately, I think Bergevin will move enough money around to re-sign Danault and Tatar because they are simply too vital to Montreal’s current and future success. The danger in letting them go is that the Canadiens will take a step back in their retool after all the progress made in the past year. My wildcard to return is Perry.
I don’t envy Bergevin, he has many tough choices to make in the coming months and finds himself with pieces of a puzzle that will be hard to fit back together.