On May 8, 2020, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin signed defenceman Alexander Romanov to a three-year, entry-level contract (ELC) with a yet to be determined date. On July 13, Bergevin made the start date of Romanov’s ELC official, it begins immediately.
In the six weeks between the two announcements, many wondered if Romanov would be eligible to play if the NHL resumed or if he would need to wait until next season. There were also questions about the impact of activating his contract before the playoffs.
Romanov Signs for 2019-20 Season
After he signed, Romanov made it clear where he wanted to play:
“It’s my dream to play in the NHL. It’s my dream to play in Montreal. It’s my favorite dream,” affirmed Romanov, who was a second-round selection (38th overall) in the 2018 NHL Draft. “I’m so excited. I’m so happy to come to Montreal and to come to Canada. I’m so happy,”Romanov in an interview with NHL.com
It should have been no surprise that he wanted to join the team as soon as possible, and his agent Dan Milstein announced it on social media the moment it happened.
However, Romanov’s signature means he will burn the first season of his ELC. This means he can now travel to Montreal and join the team after he completes his quarantine period.
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The amount of time he will be in isolation means he won’t be available for most of the Phase 3 training camp. However, he will be able to be in the bubble and practice with the team during Phase 4. Fans will have to wait to watch him play as he is not eligible to participate in the play-in series or the playoffs in this Return To Play (RTP) plan.
Pros And Cons
There are pros and cons to activating his contract and management decided the pros outweigh the cons. The con is that the Canadiens lose one season of cost certainty and one season before Romanov becomes an unrestricted free agent (UFA).
However, there are also several pros. Romanov will be part of an abbreviated training camp, with hands-on coaching to allow him to become better accustomed to the smaller North American rink without the added pressure of playing in the playoffs.
More importantly, he will be able to immediately acclimatize to the team as he acclimatizes to North America. He will benefit by becoming accustomed to the differences in food, language, culture along with so many other issues that are overlooked for young players arriving to the NHL for the first time.
Romanov played two seasons in the KHL. That will make it easier for him to adjust on the ice. Off the ice, he is already settling down with his fiance and now that he has signed, they will need to plan their permanent move to Montreal.
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Another con, due to the pause in the season and the RTP plan, next season will not commence until January 2021. It is unlikely Romanov would have waited nine months from his last game in March in the KHL until the start of the 2020-21 NHL season without playing a game. No meaningful hockey over such a long period of time could be detrimental to his confidence and possibly his development. He was clear that he is willing to do what it takes to play and develop properly. Romanov stressed:
I’m ready to play in the AHL. I’m ready to play in the NHL. I’m ready to play in North America.Alexander Romanov
The biggest benefit of signing Romanov now is that management has full control over where he plays and develops. As mentioned, there is a long gap between seasons. Some may he should have signed with his former KHL club and play there while he waits. That is true. However, then he would not have been available to the Canadiens until the end of his KHL contract.
The reason for this is that the NHL and KHL do not have a transfer agreement, so it is unlikely that any KHL club would allow Romanov an NHL opt-out clause. With an NHL season starting in January 2021, a decision to play in the KHL could mean missing significant time next season if there is an 82 game season, or worse, the entire season if the NHL chooses to hold an abbreviated season.
Once Romanov arrives in North America, the hope is that the AHL will begin its season in October as planned. If that happens, he would join Joel Bouchard in Laval and play with the Rocket until the NHL training camp for the 2021 season opens in December. If the AHL is unable to begin play on time or at all, Romanov has a clause in his ECL which would allow him to join a European club that has a transfer agreement with the NHL.
As Eric Engels noted in the tweet above, some NHL clubs are talking about the possibility of a prospects tournament, with up to as many as 20 games. That would be an ideal situation for a young rookie to develop against his peers.
That being said, management now has several options in regard to Romanov’s development. Signing him may burn a year of his ELC, but more importantly, it provides certainty that he will be available to the team for next season.
I have been a writer covering the NHL and the Montreal Canadiens for over 6 years. I am also currently a 27+ year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces