Tuesday’s qualifying offer deadline came without much fanfare for the Habs who are parting ways with three prospects while extending offers to five others.
The three to not receive offers are forwards Daniel Audette and Hunter Shinkaruk as well as defenceman Brett Lernout. Audette had his best season offensively in 2018-19 with Laval but still only managed 39 points in 71 games, production that doesn’t suggest that he has NHL potential. Meanwhile, Shinkaruk is coming off a disastrous season that saw him score just five times in 54 games and go 23 straight games without a point to end the year. This is a player who was a first-rounder six years ago and now, he’ll likely be looking overseas to try to extend his career.
Lernout’s non-tender is the most interesting of the three. While his upside is limited, he did hold his own in his time with the Habs over the years and he could still serve as a potential recall if injuries strike. However, he didn’t get a lot of playing time with the Rocket last season and with Josh Brook and Cale Fleury (both right-hand shots like Lernout), he was going to be quite low on the depth chart so a chance to catch on elsewhere isn’t the worst thing for him.
Meanwhile, players that received qualifying offers are forwards Joel Armia, Charles Hudon, Artturi Lehkonen, and Michael McCarron plus blueliner Mike Reilly. Armia and Lehkonen were both no-brainers but the other three are a bit more surprising.
Hudon clearly isn’t in Montreal’s plans moving forward after he was hardly used down the stretch last season. His trade value is next to nothing as a result but a change of scenery would be ideal for him. He’s eligible for arbitration where his 2017-18 performance will come into play so there some potential risk here.
Reilly was a regular for most of 2018-19 but when Christian Folin got his chance to play, Reilly lost his job and never really got it back. Keeping him around would provide more competition for training camp but assuming that the Habs add a left defender this summer, he could be on the outside looking in. (If not, there’s still a path to playing time.)
McCarron clearly isn’t going to live up to his draft billing and his upside at this point is certainly limited. However, he did show some signs of improvement under Joel Bouchard in Laval and it appears that it was enough to give him one last chance.
With 40 players already under contract for next season plus five that remain restricted free agents, the Habs don’t project to have much wiggle room under the 50 contract limit heading into free agency. By the time they look at a veteran backup goalie and a defenceman, that could very well be it for them unless something changes over the coming days.