The Habs took care of business with a pair of their remaining restricted free agents on Thursday, signing wingers Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen to two-year contracts. Armia will carry a $2.6 million cap hit while Lehkonen will check in at $2.4 million.
Armia joined Montreal last summer as the incentive for taking on (and buying out) the final year of Steve Mason’s contract. His reputation was that he could be a high-impact player some nights but relatively quiet on quite a few others. That didn’t really change with the Habs although he was a factor at the defensive end most of the time.
He was on pace for a career year last season but a knee injury prevented him from beating his previous career high in points (29) that he set in 2017-18. Nonetheless, Armia set new top marks in shots on goal, hits, and time on ice.
With Andrew Shaw now back in Chicago, Armia may be in line for even more playing time as he’s just one of three right-shot options on the projected roster for next season, joining Brendan Gallagher and Jordan Weal (who likely will be on the fourth line again). The contract buys out his remaining RFA year plus one year of UFA eligibility.
Meanwhile, Lehkonen is coming off what could best be described as a confounding season. While he set a new career best in points (31), he also had a career low in goals (11) and was snake-bit for long chunks of the season. Clearly, he has the skill set to be a productive NHL player but he has yet to put it together for long stretches with any sort of consistency.
That’s why a bridge deal isn’t an entirely surprising outcome here. This buys both sides more time to see if Lehkonen can become more of a reliable producer or if he’s going to be more of a depth piece long term. Regardless of what happens offensively, $2.4 million for someone that’s going to move up and down the lineup and play both wings will hardly break the bank. He’ll be eligible for restricted free agency in the 2021 offseason.
With these signings, the Habs have 46 players under contract for next season now with Charles Hudon and Michael McCarron still in need of new contracts. Depending on which players on one-way deals will be heading for the minors, the Canadiens will have around $6 million to $8 million in cap space for next season. However, based on the Offseason Cap rules, Montreal is much closer to the actual Upper Limit and these contracts effectively will put an end to any high-end offer sheet speculation as they no longer have enough offseason cap room to go after the top remaining restricted free agents.