What If… Canadiens Got Price’s Cap Hit off the Books?

The Montreal Canadiens could do a lot with goalie Carey Price’s $10.5 million cap hit. The trick is getting it off the books. That may be easier said than done, but it’s a scenario worth considering, especially for the possibilities it opens up for general manager Kent Hughes heading into the offseason.

Carey Price Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It even appears that Hughes has considered the possibility too, based on what he said at his post-mortem press availability. Also citing a possible Jeff Petry trade as a way to gain cap flexibility, Hughes mentioned Price possibly going on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) as a way to get even more space, hypothetically speaking of course.

Price’s future is notoriously uncertain at this point, with retirement having been floated as one possibility. It’s one of several ways in which the Canadiens would suddenly get (a huge amount of) cap relief. What’s on their hypothetical wishlist, though?

It’s admittedly all speculative in nature. However, with the Canadiens appearing to at the very least prepare themselves to move on from their face of the franchise in Price, it’s at least a discussion worth having as their offseason begins. Just what can $10.5 million buy?

No. 1 Goalie to Replace Price – ~$4 million

Some may argue, if the Canadiens do lose Price, they should just ride it out much like they did this season, with Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault in net. After all, with Connor Bedard, a projected generational talent in play at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, the Canadiens shouldn’t necessarily want to compete in 2022-23.

It’s a logical argument, but there are two things wrong with that strategy. Firstly, there are at least some reports the Canadiens are looking to be active on the free-agency front, implying they want to be competitive next season. Also, Allen seems physically incapable of playing the lion’s share of games, based on his multiple injuries last season.

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Samuel Montembeault admirably rose to the challenge this season, getting the majority of games. Even though he had a few impressive stretches, he still earned a .891 save percentage and simply didn’t prove he belongs in the NHL on a permanent basis. Forget logic. The Canadiens simply need to sign someone else, even if purely from a logistical standpoint, especially if they want prospect Cayden Primeau to get a full season in the American Hockey League.

Assuming that “someone else” is a starter to replace Price, there are three free agents that should intrigue the Habs (and really any other team looking for a goalie). They are Darcy Kuemper of the Colorado Avalanche, Jack Campbell of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ville Husso of the St. Louis Blues.

Ville Husso St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues goalie Ville Husso – (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),

Going 25-7-6 with a .919 save percentage, Husso probably holds the most upside at 27 years of age. He’s probably also going to be the cheapest option due to his small sample size of success, having made his NHL debut in 2020-21. If you look at what the Arizona Coyotes gave Antti Raanta once upon a time, as he similarly transitioned from a backup to a starter, Husso can easily command north of $4 million

Even with a conservative estimate of $5 million to sign Husso, the Canadiens would be in good shape. Just take into account the $1 million in cap space that would otherwise be allocated to a back-up, with Montembeault having made $750,000 last season. Altogether, that would take a reasonably sized $4 million bite out of the $10.5 million with which the Habs started here.

Letang to Replace Petry – ~$1 million

The rumors are already out there, that Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is on his way to the Canadiens this offseason. That of course would only go down with the aforementioned Petry trade, to free up his $6.25 million in cap space.

Related: No, Canadiens Still Shouldn’t Trade Top Defenseman Petry

If you subtract that amount from Letang’s current $7.25 million cap hit, that leaves $1 million. It’s definitely an assumption that Letang would be seeking the same salary he has right now, with him having signed his last deal in 2013, when he was only 26.

Now 35, Letang isn’t worth that amount of money, at least not every season over the course of the deal he’s likely going to sign once free agency hits. However, he is coming off a 68-point campaign and teams tend to overpay free agents. So, the $7.25 million hit, especially over a much shorter term, seems realistic.

Kris Letang Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Much like the rest of this piece, this theory is very much speculative, even with the connection between Letang and Hughes that would see the right-handed defenseman replace Petry to play for his hometown team. However, if Petry is traded, and it’s looking more and more like a likelihood, the Canadiens are going to need someone to play on the right side, because all you would have left at that point is David Savard and maybe Justin Barron.

It may as well be Letang for this piece’s purposes. Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg is another possibility and probably makes more sense, considering he’s going to only be 30. The $7.25 million hit is still quasi-realistic in that alternative scenario though.

Copp to Play with Suzuki and Caufield– ~$5.5 million

That leaves ~$5.5 million to sign a forward, which is a fair bit of money, based on for what Hughes would be looking. The Canadiens obviously need a center and, if they somehow miss out on one of the top pivots at the NHL Entry Draft, Carolina Hurricanes forward Vincent Trocheck could realistically be signed for that much.

However, if the Habs lock up, let’s say top-prospect Shane Wright, conceivably solving their depth issues down the middle, Hughes’ attention should shift to the top line (at least up front). The Canadiens need a winger to play with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield.

Their most common linemate has been Josh Anderson, pointing to a need for some size and grit (and arguably more consistency). He may not fit the same power-forward mold perfectly, but Andrew Copp is maybe the best solution there (at least via free agency). He’s not a bad option either at 28, having established himself as a great complementary top-six forward over the last few seasons.

Copp currently has a cap hit of $3.64 million. He’s not necessarily worth $5.5 million, but he will probably get somewhere in the neighborhood of 5, because, you know, free agency. It’s a lot of money, but, in a world where the Canadiens were ready to devote almost $13.5 million to goaltending last season, only to give most of the starts to a $750,000 netminder, does anything really make sense anymore?

Andrew Copp New York Rangers
New York Rangers forward Andrew Copp – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Ultimately, getting Price’s contract off the books can go a long way to improving the team’s depth across the lineup. It at least presents an interesting conundrum: Do you hope for a completely healthy Price or for him to retire?

The answer is an easy one. Based on what he’s given this organization up to now, whatever is best for him. He’s earned the right to call his own shot in this regard. If the worst-case scenario is that the Canadiens get a healthy Price back, it certainly puts it in the proper perspective. That objectively speaking isn’t half-bad… which technically makes the cap relief all the more attractive by default. Food for thought.