Before Montreal’s brief foray into free agency, they swung a deal to add Joel Armia from the Jets in exchange for basically just cap space. Our writers offer up their thoughts on the acquisition.
Gordon Black: I like this (very typical) move by Bergevin. It is a very low-cost trade to shore up some skill and size to the right wing depth while at the same time adding a couple of additional – if not hugely substantial – assets in the form of the draft picks. The cost of which will be cap space that was likely not going to be used in any case, certainly not this year.
Perhaps there was the potential that Mason could’ve been flipped with salary retention and that fell through as free agency became clearer to teams looking to use that as a backup. Certainly, if that cap space was potentially needed for something else concrete then the return would be considered justifiably underwhelming. Still, in a salary cap world in which this buyout costs the Habs literally nothing, for the time being, they just got something for nothing.
This seems to be Bergevin’s bread and butter, and it’s a tidy bit of taking advantage of what’s out there in the realm of the possible. Meanwhile, we will all wait and see if there is more news – a trade, a signing, and/or the absorption of other bad contracts in exchange for assets or anything that maybe moves the needle a bit more than this one does. Although, while we wait, this trade is still a bird in the hand; it has always been good business and still is today, even if the fan base has started to grow weary of staring wistfully at the bush and wondering what could have been.
Terry Costaris: My immediate thoughts are that I see this trade as an upgrade on Daniel Carr. Armia definitely has an upside. Statistically speaking, the late picks will likely amount to nothing – though Montreal has snagged a few gems here (most notably Victor Mete and Brendan Gallagher).
I’m not sure that the financials make sense for Geoff Molson though. Next season does not look promising in terms of playoff revenues for the Canadiens. So every dollar saved covers some of the losses that his team will incur. Is Armia worth the several extra millions of dollars now added to the Habs’ payroll to buy out Steve Mason on top of the million-plus salary that he will be given? For all intents and purposes, Armia is being paid twice what he will be signed for.
How will his new teammates and their agents respond to this move?
For owners, moves such these eat away at their profit margins and possibly lead to cutbacks in other areas.
Wouldn’t this money have better been spent on replenishing Montreal’s depleted scouting staff? The team let a lot of its scouts go recently. An extra few million dollars can get you some primo scouts from other organizations. Alternatively, it could be used to build a leading edge analytics department or to hire first-rate skills coaches.
Yes, Armia makes the Habs a tiny bit better and more draft picks are better than less draft picks but if I’m running an organization that’s 1) in rebuild mode, 2) likely to lose money in ticket revenues, and 3) working with a plummeting Canadian dollar then this was not a good move.
For these reasons then, this trade will not likely sell the same hope to the media or fan base as would be the case if the Canadiens instead invested the money that they are now going to spend on Armia in infrastructure. This would provide more blast for Geoff Molson’s bucks.
Tom Donovan: The Armia/Mason swap and subsequent buyout of the latter’s contract signals that Marc Bergevin, short of being a serious contender in the NHL free agent sweepstakes, has finally decided to make creative use of his considerable cap space and set a course for the future, which will come in about three years’ time, if their best-laid plans unfold as forecast. In Armia, they acquire a bottom-six forward with size who compensates for his limited offensive upside by generating more than his fair share of scoring chances. He’ll slot in nicely alongside Jacob de la Rose and Nicolas Deslauriers on my lineup card.
That none of the big fish in the free agent pool had Montreal on their negotiation list was a blessing in disguise, as it will hasten the team’s descent into mediocrity, further enhancing their chances of winning next year’s draft lottery and welcoming Jack Hughes into the fold (my best-case scenario). If Max Pacioretty rebounds as he should and fetches a first-round pick before next season’s trade deadline, the Canadiens could enter the 2019 draft with a pair of first-rounders. In the meantime, credit Bergevin for starting the process of restocking the cupboard by acquiring bad contracts. In doing so, he takes a page from the Leafs’ playbook that was key to turning the once sad-sack original-six franchise team into a bonafide Stanley Cup favourite—if you’re among those (and there are many) who believe the addition of John Tavares (plus a defenceman down the road) makes them the team to beat in the East.
Give us your bad contracts, then, your ill-advised free-agent signings of years past, but mum’s the word if you hear any talk of reconstruction. Wouldn’t want to scare away the fan base.
Brian La Rose: Last season, Montreal didn’t do a good job of utilizing their excess cap room. Cap space in itself is an asset and if they’re not going to use it on players to help now, they might as well get assets that can help in the future. The draft picks cover that.
Armia might be able to help long-term as well. It will be interesting to see what type of contract he gets as he’s only two years from UFA eligibility but he could conceivably be part of the longer-term plan. He hasn’t lived up to his first-round billing but Armia has shown flashes of high-end skill although the consistency hasn’t been there. In a season where it looks like they’re going to be treading water, an essentially free look at a player like him is a nice piece of business.
It’s unfortunate that the Habs have to take a hit on next year’s salary cap as well with the Mason buyout. In a perfect world, they’d have been able to trade with 50% retention but with the goalie market as deep as it was (Robin Lehner and Kari Lehtonen are still unsigned with few teams looking for help), that wasn’t a realistic possibility. Assuming the Habs are well under the cap at the end of this coming season (something that seems likely), they should at least be able to absorb Mason’s hit without much issue.
Getting young NHL talent isn’t that easy to do and the Habs effectively did so for a prospect who struggled mightily last year and eating some dead money. This isn’t going to drastically change their fortunes but it’s a shrewd little move by Bergevin.
Dave Woodward: Given the Habs’ cap space and the reluctance of free agents to come to Montreal, Bergevin might as well use the available cap space to acquire some assets. By acquiring Armia, a Finn who Jesperi Kotkaniemi grew up idolizing, they have a roster player and some picks, albeit a fourth and seventh rounder. That is better than sitting on a lot of unused cap space. Some might take issue with using cap space for this year and next for the Mason contract buyout. This pundit fully expects that it will take a lot longer than a couple years for Bergevin or, more likely, his successor to clean up his mess. Overall, it’s not a bad move.