The Montreal Canadiens’ relationship status with the salary cap may as well be “it’s complicated,” especially now. With defenseman Shea Weber on long-term injured reserved (LTIR), it was bad enough. Now that the Habs have traded him to the Vegas Golden Knights for Evgeny Dadonov, they’ve effectively traded away short-term in favor of long-term cap flexibility.
True, the Canadiens freed themselves from obligations to Weber’s $7,857,143 cap hit, with his deal only expiring in 2026. General manager Kent Hughes argued it would have been difficult to spend up to that amount in new contracts and ice the best team possible with it simply placed on LTIR. So, exchanging Weber’s contract for Dadonov’s, which expires next summer, is undeniably practical.
However, Hughes technically contradicted himself with the move. After all, there’s no denying the Canadiens still just ate up a chunk of Weber’s hit ($5 million) to pay Dadonov, who regardless of his baggage, still improves their top nine (if not top six).
So, in some ways, the Canadiens are in a worse position now, especially if they were looking to stay at the bottom of the standings. That means there’s likely another domino about to fall. Here are the likeliest Canadiens trade candidates (to free up more cap space in light of the move) in decreasing order:
4) Mike Hoffman
In an ideal world, the Canadiens would be able to cut ties with Mike Hoffman. In theory, Dadonov could replace him in the lineup straight up, as Hoffman simply hasn’t worked out as hoped.
The Canadiens signed the 32-year-old sniper to a three-year deal worth $13.5 million as a power-play specialist. While Hoffman did score a co-second-ranked 13 power-play points, it was still one of the lowest totals of his career in that category. Plus the team’s man advantage ranked 31st in the league (13.7%).
So, trading Hoffman is easier said than done, as there would likely be few takers. Hoffman also places last on this list because his $4.5 million cap hit just falls short of matching Dadonov’s $5 million. For that same reason, Joel Armia, whose value is also very low right now, similar to Hoffman, fails to make the list altogether.
3) Josh Anderson
There is some debate as to whether or not the Canadiens would actually benefit by trading Josh Anderson. On one hand, he’s a speedy power forward, on a team, maybe even in a league largely devoid of them. That makes him a commodity, supposedly worth his weight in gold.
On the other hand, the prime years of his career fail to align with when the Canadiens would be able to most make use of him. Realistically speaking, they are still a few years away from contending (at least).
Based on Anderson’s injury history to date, there’s a good chance he won’t stay healthy to produce at a high level by the end of his deal in 2027. So, considering he’s in demand right now, the Habs should consider a trade to maximize his value.
That’s just logical, but, approaching last season’s deadline, there had been noise Anderson could be on the block. He effectively played his way out of the discussion with a seven-point stretch in five games heading into March last year, before the trade deadline.
Of course, he then proceeded to score just eight points in the season’s remaining 26 games. That’s admittedly an extreme at the opposite end of the spectrum based on how he’s produced over his career, but the fact remains Anderson simply can’t be expected to at least produce on a level that’s consistently worth his $5.5 million hit.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that $5.5 million hit would negate Dadonov’s $5 million in one fell swoop. However, even if there is demand for Anderson’s services and the Canadiens could easily swing a deal according to reports, those same reports state the Habs are unlikely to pull the trigger.
The Canadiens simply value what Anderson brings to the table. However, things like sugar are also known commodities. There may not be enough Andersons to go around, but, come a certain point, there may be too much Anderson for the Habs to handle with respect to the cap.
2) Jonathan Drouin
There’s every reason to believe Jonathan Drouin won’t be wearing a Montreal Canadiens jersey in 2023-24, as his deal expires next summer. However, the question is whether or not he finishes 2022-23 with the Habs or not. In fact, it may not even get that far.
Drouin’s obviously a chip come the 2023 trade deadline, at which point he’ll have presumably put together a pretty decent season. Assuming Drouin’s healthy, he’s playing for a contract next season.
The difference between him and, say, Paul Byron, who’s also a pending unrestricted free agent, is Drouin’s in his prime. Not only is Byron’s cap hit just $3.4 million (explaining his exclusion from this list), but he’s 33 and on the decline production-wise.
Admittedly, Drouin ($5.5 million) still needs to prove himself following a few less-than-stellar seasons. However, logically he can. So, for the Habs to get as much as possible for the guy, they’d have to wait. The Dadonov acquisition means they might not be able to wait for the perfect deal.
1) Jeff Petry
It’s becoming more of a certainty Jeff Petry gets traded. Sportsnet’s Eric Engels said as much in a recent piece on the Dadonov acquisition, as an update on the saga surrounding the 34-year-old defenseman, who reportedly requested a trade earlier this season (from ‘Jeff Petry open to remain in Montreal, but Canadiens might have other plans,’ Montreal Gazette, April 30, 2022).
The idea is for the Canadiens to wait for a trade that makes sense, but they are definitely under the gun from a cap perspective. The Habs are near the $82.5 ceiling ceiling with several players having to be signed, like restricted free agents Rem Pitlick and Alexander Romanov. So, trading Petry’s $6.25 million cap hit is more so a necessity than a luxury now.
Much like Weber, Petry’s deal has several years left on it, expiring in 2025. So, trading Petry won’t just give the Canadiens (hopefully) a slew of futures, but more of the same long-term flexibility they got acquiring Dadonov. Short-term too, though. As a result, the Habs must weigh what means more to them, getting a bigger haul or getting more space before free agency opens. It unfortunately may not be totally in the cards, but, in a certain respect, the Canadiens should feel entitled to the former.
In Petry, they’re not just giving up a defenseman a few years removed from having received James Norris Memorial Trophy votes. They’d also be giving up their best hands-down defenseman, effectively throwing in the towel on the season in the process (depending on the return). They deserve to be compensated for that… even if that’s probably more of a reason to get it done sooner rather than later all things considered. It all depends on what they’re looking for in 2022-23. Their cap situation may be complicated, but trading away your best players to ensure a bad outcome is simple on paper.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.