Saturday, 21 May 2016

The Canadiens are flirting with the 50-contract limit, need to make changes.

Every year, at the end of the Canadiens' season, I like to do an overview of where they are in terms of what players they have on hand, what players need to be signed or re-signed, which players will probably move on.  It helps me get ready for the draft and free agency periods, and to have a sense of what to expect in terms of roster decisions when October rolls around.

For example, after going through this exercise last season, I was pretty confident that the Canadiens would start the season with Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn as their #7 and #8 defencemen, based on how the contracts and roster spots and waiver situation worked out.  And darned if I wasn't right, although their integration into the lineup as reliable and tough contributors didn't go as I hoped, if only because my prediction that Tom Gilbert would be traded for oodles of draft goodies didn't pan out.  We didn't pull the trigger on that early enough.

Usually I start the off-season by making judgments on which of our draftees will be signed before their rights expire.  Every year there seems to be a tough decision/prediction to make, based on the limited info we get as fans.  Cases like Daniel Pribyl, Brady Vail and Dalton Thrower stand out, players who were on the fringe, not a slam dunk or definite no.

This off-season though, none of our draftees need to be signed.  Next season we'll have to worry about Jeremiah Addison, Simon Bourque and Matt Bradley, but this June, we have smooth sailing.

What seems to be a concern though, is the number of contracts we have currently.  We're finishing this season with 49 contracts on the books, one shy of the 50 contract limit.  Sure, some will expire on July 1 and not be renewed, but there are also some players who have finished their Junior careers and need to start their pro career in St. John's.

So let's count and see where we're at.  The easiest way to drop contracts is to not re-sign Unrestricted Free Agents who have outlived their usefulness, or would cost too much to bring back.

With the Canadiens, we can definitely count Tom Gilbert out.  And with the IceCaps, we can confidently say goodbye to Ben Scrivens and John Scott.

And that's it.  Three fewer contracts.  We're far from the 2010 era when countless Danny Massés and Hunter Bishops and Andrew Conboys would drop off the rolls every spring.

So we have to dig into the maybes.  The Canadiens have Mike Brown and Victor Bartley who will be UFA, and the IceCaps have Bud Holloway and Gabriel Dumont.  All of these players could conceivably return.  There have been rumblings about the Canadiens wanting to retain Mike Brown and Victor Bartley for their specific, affordable skillsets, and we can imagine that Marc Bergevin would like to re-sign Bud Holloway and captain Gabriel Dumont if only for the leadership they can provide for their AHL farmhands.

So let's say two of those contracts drop off, two are re-upped.  That would leave us at 44 contracts, which seems like a comfortable margin, except that next season, Daniel Audette, Martin Reway and Tom Parisi will start their pro careers, and take up three of those free slots.  (Remind me again why we signed undrafted college free agent Tom Parisi?  Was it his one goal, sixteen points Senior season at Providence College?)

If Arturri Lehkonen wins a job at training camp, and if we sign a Vadim Shipachyov and a Kyle Okposo, or any other free agent, as everyone seems to want, we're right back at the ceiling again.

So we have to maybe now look at the Restricted Free Agents.  These guys are all assets who are under our control, and it doesn't make sense to cut these guys free, instead of retaining them and trying to at least trade them for a draft pick later, but we've let players like Yannick Weber, Ryan White and Frédéric St-Denis walk as RFA's, it does happen that a player is too expensive to qualify, and would be untradable if retained.

Finishing the season with the Canadiens were RFA's Phillip Danault, Lucas Lessio, Daniel Carr, Sven Andrighetto, Mark Barberio, Darren Dietz and Joel Hanley.  These guys are all still viable prospects, they're all assets, and are cheap and easy to qualify.  A couple have arbitration rights, but none really have a case to ask for more than their qualifying offers.  It's almost guaranteed all these guys will be retained.

With the IceCaps, we have Morgan Ellis, Mac Bennett and Michaël Bournival as RFA's.  Morgan Ellis certainly did enough this season to earn a qualifying offer, but there is a little more nuance required for the other two, I don't think it's a certainty that they'll be re-signed.

Mac Bennett was a third-round pick in 2009 draft, and was thought to be a 'value' pick, a guy who was ranked higher and fell a little bit.  He didn't quite take off during his career at Michigan, in my view, at least in terms of his points production, but was thought of highly by the Canadiens' staff and by his former coaches.

But his pro career has also lagged.  Four goals in Hamilton last season, only one this season, a demotion to Brampton, lots of healthy scratches, it hasn't been a tale of progress.  If he had something to hang his hat on, if he had a booming shot or great size, it'd make a Canadiens fan want to be patient, give him more time to put his game together, but in this situation, with so few contract slots available, maybe it's time to cut the cord.  Good guy, cool story, but the 50 contract limit has the effect the salary cap does, it makes us bid adieu to character guys and fan favourites like Dale Weise and Brandon Prust.

As far as Michaël Bournival, I hate to consider this, but maybe his concussion history coupled with the bind the Canadiens are in with respect to contracts means that he doesn't get qualified.  I hate to think this, I still view him as the indefatigable forechecker who won a job and our hearts in training camp in 2013, and keep hoping he gets well and starts skating and causing havoc again, but there may converging circumstances at play here.  I've even thought that maybe the Canadiens can give him an AHL contract only, to keep him in the fold, but free up a contract slot.

So in sum, it wouldn't shock me if Mac Bennett and/or Michaël Bournival were not qualified, were let go, in order that some of these contract slots be vacated.

And we've been saying this for years now, but I'm kind of expecting that a lot of these prospects, a lot of these assets we have, may be bundled in trade, two or three-for-one swaps to ease the pressure.  We still have a surfeit of right-handed defencemen, we've been seeing that for years, and the backlog hasn't been eased.  We have P.K. Subban, Jeff Petry and Greg Pateryn with le grand club, so there are no jobs available there, and Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz, Ryan Johnston, Brett Lernout and Dalton Thrower in St. John's.  Magnus Nygren is still in the picture, vaguely.  And Noah Juulsen and Nikolas Koberstein a couple years away.

Depth is great and all, but there comes a point when too many players are getting in each other's way, when they rob each other of development time, of powerplay responsibilities, of icetime in general.  Is it a surprise that Morgan Ellis had his best season yet, with Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn and Magnus Nygren finally out of his way?

So a couple of trades, whereby we clear away some of the overstock in return for a few draft picks, would do wonders for our organization, in more ways than one.

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