This article is part of our Cap Compliance series.
While the current season remains on hiatus, there is no time like the present to start looking ahead to next year. Over the next several weeks, we'll take a look at the cap situation for all 31 NHL clubs, including restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and even potential buyouts. Then, we'll play a little armchair General Manager by providing our recommendations for how we would approach the upcoming 2020-21 campaign if we were running the club.
In our most recent Twitter poll, the Montreal Canadiens were the voters pick for the first team to cover this week.
2020-21 Cap Situation
The Canadiens currently have nine forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders under contract for next season at a price tag of $62,378.809. Assuming a flat cap of $81.5 million, this leaves the club with $19,121,191 in cap space and seven spots under the 23-man roster to fill.
Restricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: Domi will be the high price option here among the forward group and will no doubt be eager to earn a raise. Jason Zucker and Teuvo Teravainen are both relatively comparable contracts, with Domi likely coming in slightly behind in terms of AAV. It would be good for the organization to secure the center to a longer-term deal, so I'd put him down as a five-year, $25 million contract. After logging 72 games with the Habs back in 2017-18, Hudon has slowly seen his number of games played drop each season to this year's 15, which will depress his value as a restricted free agent and will likely see him forced to accept his qualifying offer as a "prove-it" deal. Similarly, Ouellet's limited time in the NHL figures to limit his options and see him saddled with his QO as well. The contract negotiations for Mete will be complicated due to his injury woes this season, combined with the fact that his offensive contributions have been limited, as he's failed to reach the 20-point mark in any of his three NHL campaigns. Still, it would make sense for the club to tie him up for another two seasons, at least, and it could probably do so in the neighborhood of 950,000 AAV.
Kyle Riley: Domi's offensive totals exploded last year, setting career highs in goals (28), assists (44) and shots on goal (203) during his first season with the Habs. After that performance, it appeared as though Montreal would likely be handing him big bucks on a long-term deal this offseason, but the 25-year-old center has fallen back to earth this year, notching just 17 goals and 27 assists in 71 games. He's a good player, but he's highly inconsistent, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Canadiens try to sign him to something in between a bridge and long-term deal in order to mitage their risk. If the team wants to lock him down for five years, they're likely going to have to give him a deal that exceeds $6 million in AAV, so I'd prefer to play it a bit safer with a three-year, $15 million extension. As AJ mentioned, Hudon's involvement with the big club has steadily declined over the past three seasons, so he clearly isn't a big part of the team's plan for the future. Nonetheless, he's played well in the minors this season (27 goals, 35 points in 46 games), so he's worth keeping around on a one-year, two-way deal. I wouldn't be surprised to see him elect to go to arbitration, but he still won't get anything more than a one-year, $1 million extension (two way). Ouellet is in a very similar situation. The former Red Wing has only appeared in 31 games with the Habs over the past two campaigns, but he's been productive in the minors over that span (16 goals, 36 assists in 86 games), so he's worth keeping around as organizational depth, but he too won't get much (if any) more than his QO, even if he elects to go to arbitration. Mete has proven to be a solid bottom-pairing blueliner for Montreal over the past two campaigns, so they'll definitely be looking to lock him up for at least a few more seasons. I think a three-year, $3 million deal should work for both sides.
Unrestricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: The two easy decisions here are to let Weise and Kinkaid hit the open market. Weise played in a mere 23 outings this past season while counting significantly against the cap. With up and comers like Nick Suzuki, Charles Hudon and Jesperi Kotkaniemi looking for more opportunities, they'll need to let veterans like Weise go to make way. Same goes for Kinkaid, who was buried in the minors and has fallen down to third, at best, in the organizations depth chart behind Charlie Lindgren. Re-signing Folin will provide the club with some certainty if it has concerns about the health of Victor Mete or the development of Xavier Ouellet. A deal for Folin shouldn't break the bank and I'd expect it to be a two-year contract at max with a $1.0 million AAV.
Kyle Riley: Weise will be 32 years old next season, and he's simply not a full-time NHLer at this stage in his career, so Montreal shouldn't think twice about letting him walk. The same can be said for Kinkaid, who will likely need to head overseas to secure a job as a starter (or even a backup). Folin's only appeared in 16 games with the big club this campaign, so with Ouellet and Mete re-signed, and players like Otto Leskinen, Noah Juulsen (who will also need to be signed to a QO) and Cale Fleury in the system, there's no reason to keep him in the fold for 2020-21.
Minor-League Free Agents *Who appeared in an NHL game in 2019-20
AJ Scholz: Both players made their respective NHL debuts this season, though neither player logged more than 15 contests this year. In the minors, Evans was the more productive player with 38 points to Vejdemo's 19 points. As such, only Evans could hope for more than his qualifying offer, though it's unlikely to be a one-way deal or a significant bump compared to his QO, if the club wants to go that route.
Kyle Riley: Evans has played well in the AHL this year, (14 goals, 38 points in 51 games) and he's been decent in limited action with the big club (three points in 13 games), so although he's already 24 years old, I still think he could develop into a solid bottom-six contributor for the big club. He's arbitration eligible, but I still think he won't get much more than a one-year, $1 million deal (two way). As AJ mentioned, Vejdemo has been significantly less productive this season, but the Habs took him in the third round in 2015, so I don't think they'll give up on him just yet. Nonetheless, he won't get anything more than his QO.
AJ Scholz: Even if the club goes significantly higher than the $5 million AAV for Domi, it will still have between $6-8 million to spend on the open market. That should allow them to bolster their forward complement in terms of a bottom-six forward as well as a veteran backup netminder if the Habs have concerns about Charlie Lindgren. The club could even go so far as to make a run at some of the top free agents available on the market like Taylor Hall, Mike Hoffman or Evgenii Dadonov.
Kyle Riley: Depending on who's brought up to the big club on a full-time basis next season (Ryan Poehling, Jesperi Kotkaniemi) and who's buried in the minors, the plan I outlined above would see the Canadiens enter the 2020-21 campaign with close to $10 million in cap space. The team needs help on offense and defense, so they could go a couple directions with that space, but I'd probably take the route of targeting a top-tier blueliner in free agency such as Torey Krug or T.J. Brodie, who can both contribute on both ends of the ice, and adding a complimentary bottom-six forward for cheap to round out the roster.