Montreal Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu was never going to break the bank with his new contract. However, his new two-year, $2-million deal is nevertheless good reason to breathe a sigh of relief.
All Pros, No Cons
There are countless ways this deal works out in the best interest of the Canadiens. Most importantly, it makes the rapidly approaching salary-cap ceiling figure (estimated at $71.5 million) that much more manageable to keep under.
After re-signing Jeff Petry to a six-year, $33-million deal (and arguably overpaying him), the Canadiens were almost broaching on a single car’s length between them and that ceiling (which may actually be stopping shorter than initially expected), with several players, including Beaulieu and Alex Galchenyuk, still left to be signed.
Not only does the Beaulieu signing check one thing off of general manager Marc Bergevin’s to-do list and shift his focus to negotiations with the Galchenyuk camp with plenty of time to work something out, it also leaves approximately $6 million in cap space left. That should be plenty enough.
There are of course other players to be re-signed (potentially Torrey Mitchell, Jarred Tinordi, etc.), but once the larger Galchenyuk domino falls, assuming those others haven’t by then, they too will in short order.
A pending restricted free agent before signing, Beaulieu, in terms of importance, could have been seen as a tweener, who didn’t really fall into the same category as Galchenyuk and could have seen his value been dictated by the latter’s deal as well.
Galchenyuk, after all, has been with the team for three full seasons now, whereas 2014-15 was really Beaulieu’s first with Montreal, despite having made appearances to the tune of 30 total games between the 2013 and 2013-14 seasons.
Beaulieu, having scored just nine points last season, projects this next one as a potential second-pairing defenseman to play with Jeff Petry. He may even get looks playing with P.K. Subban, depending on how the now-35-year-old Andrei Markov holds up.
Alternatively, Beaulieu can move down to the third pairing to play with Tom Gilbert, for one other possibility. As Gilbert makes $2.8 million and far from impressed last season, it goes to show that wherever the potential-oozing Beaulieu lands and plays in the line-up, he’ll be doing it cost-effectively.
To Bridge or Not to Bridge
In contrast, because he’s guaranteed top-six minutes, Galchenyuk’s deal should come in much higher. From that perspective, it might have made sense for Bergevin to get it out of the way first (even if logic dictates it will take longer to negotiate). However, looking at Beaulieu’s ultimately inexpensive $1 million cap hit, it was critical that he maintain the precedent that his team is determined to sign their RFAs to affordable bridge deals.
That strategy may have ultimately backfired when, in 2013, it was used on Subban, who initially held out, ultimately caved, signed a two-year $5.75-million contract instead of a longer-term one, and then went on to win the Norris Memorial Trophy, driving up his value exponentially.
However, it’s unlikely that will happen with Galchenyuk, and not just because forwards can’t win the Norris. Whereas Subban had established himself as a key player with the team by the end of the 2011-12 season (he led all d-men in scoring), Galchenyuk has arguably yet to.
Drafted as Montreal’s future No. 1 center, he remains on the wing and on the second line. He has yet to fully break out to the point that Bergevin has come out and questioned whether he will ever become the player the Habs need him to.
Granted, that was quite possibly just a negotiation tactic. Publically calling out a 21-year-old forward for a general inability to take his game to the next level after he just scored 20 goals for the first time reeks of logic the same way a coaching staff deserves praise right after its power-play unit scored just two goals over a one-month span.
In any case, if Subban wasn’t good enough to cash in after his entry-level contract, Galchenyuk shouldn’t be either. This Beaulieu deal reinforces that, albeit on a smaller scale. And if Galchenyuk, after hypothetically signing his bridge deal, does in fact break out in similar style relative to Subban, the value of his next contract won’t be an issue.
Same goes for Beaulieu.
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 written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.