Canadiens’ News & Rumors: Staal, Caufield, COVID-19 & More

The NHL shut down the Montreal Canadiens for COVID-19 protocols, but that didn’t keep them from having one of the busiest, maybe most exciting weeks of the season. General manager Marc Bergevin made a trade, two players went on the NHL COVID-19 list, and the Canadiens finally signed their most highly anticipated prospect.

2 Canadiens Placed on NHL COVID-19 List

Just hours before the Canadiens were set to play the Edmonton Oilers, the league announced that two team members entered NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. One player had tested positive, while the other was listed for being in close contact. The two players in the protocol are Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia – no announcement was made as to who actually tested positive, but rumours have suggested it to be Armia.

Joel Armia #40 of the Montreal Canadiens
MONTREAL, QC – JANUARY 23: Joel Armia #40 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Arizona Coyotes in the NHL game at the Bell Centre on January 23, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

The news of the players going into COVID-19 protocol forced the NHL to shut the Canadiens down, having three games postponed through March 28. If no one else tests positive by Monday afternoon – March 29 – the Canadiens can resume skating and having practices. Their next scheduled game is March 30 against the Ottawa Senators, and there are no updates as of yet for the postponed games – Bergevin expects the NHL to reshuffle the schedule to fit the games in.

Canadiens Acquire Staal

Just days after Bergevin hinted to the media that he would be hard-pressed to make any moves before the deadline, he went out and acquired center, Eric Staal, from the Buffalo Sabres. The Canadiens sent third and fifth-round draft picks in 2021 to the Sabres, and Buffalo retained 50% of Staal’s salary. The Canadiens were on Staal’s 10-team no-trade list – due to the 14-day quarantine mandate at the time – but he had no issue agreeing to the trade now that the quarantine limit is seven days.

Related: Canadiens Fail to Address Pressing Need with Staal Trade

Staal brings depth at the center position to the Canadiens, which they lacked, having only one veteran center in Phillip Danault. Although the Canadiens other centers, Nick Suzuki, Jake Evans and Kotkaniemi, have played very well this season, they don’t have the experience and leadership Staal brings. On the surface, Staal’s numbers in Buffalo don’t look very good, with 10 points in 32 games; however, he is just one season removed from a 19-goal campaign with Minnesota, and the Sabres are in a terrible tailspin, where they have more shutout losses than they have wins.

Caufield Signs With the Canadiens

After a historic NCAA season, the Canadiens top prospect Cole Caufield has signed his three-year entry-level contract (ELC) and will be joining the Habs minor league team, the Laval Rocket. The contract is worth $880,833 with a $92,500 signing bonus. It also includes player performance bonuses which could add up to $132,500, and this is a game played threshold bonus which is prorated 56/82. If he plays 10 games, he gets $20,000; if he plays 20, he gets $107,500.

Cole Caufield Canadiens Draft
Cole Caufield, Montreal Canadiens, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Caufield’s Wisconsin Badgers lost to Bemidji State in the first round of the NCAA tournament; Caufield scored two goals and one assist in the 6-3 loss. This ended Caufield’s dominance of the NCAA, where he scored 30 goals and 52 points in 31 games leading the entire NCAA in scoring while also winning the Big Ten player of the year award and being selected to the Big Ten first-team all-star squad. Caufield is also a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, which is the top collegiate player.

Bergevin May Not Be Done Dealing

Bergevin twice this week has stated he will not be making moves before the trade deadline. We all know two days after he first made that statement, he traded for Staal; now, with the signing of Caufield, Bergevin finds himself in a very tight spot when it comes to the cap. As of now, with Paul Byron and Suzuki on the taxi squad and Caufield in Laval, the Canadiens have $1,414,421 in cap space; with the addition of Staal, Byron may not come off the taxi squad, but Suzuki most certainly will, leaving the Canadiens with only $512,118 of projected space.

Related: Most Expendable Canadiens to Clear Cap Space at Trade Deadline

If the Canadiens want Caufield on the main roster sooner than later, they will need to find a way to free up the cap space. They still have to wait for Caufield to quarantine for seven days after he arrives in Montreal – which will be late on March 29 – they have time, but the team is so tight to the cap that a move seems like the most logical thing to do. The team can’t risk putting a player like Armia or Artturi Lehkonen through waivers and losing them for nothing – if they want Caufield on the team and don’t want to lose one of those players, then a trade to shed cap must be made.

If they are in no rush to get Caufield on the team, then they can leave him in Laval to work with Rocket head coach Joel Bouchard and call him up after the deadline where they have a deadline cap space of $2,284,834.

Canadiens Have Games Rescheduled

With the Canadiens having to postpone four games, the NHL has rescheduled them later in the season; after playing three games in this upcoming week, starting on March 30, the Canadiens will play four games a week for the remainder of the season.

For a week with no games, it sure was exciting! The Canadiens made a trade, signed their most anticipated prospect in years and now see themselves in an even tighter schedule from now on. Bergevin has said he doesn’t see any more moves happening, but the insider from my podcast Habs Unfiltered seems to think he just might, or maybe he won’t.