The Habs inked a pair of two-year deals with wingers Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia last week. Should they have given them longer-term contracts or was going with shorter pacts the best way to go? Our writers offer up their thoughts.
Terry Costaris: Marc Bergevin is once again showing both his cautious and strategic thinking with these deals. In an ideal world, he would have signed both Armia and Lehkonen longer but given salary cap and expansion draft considerations, along with speculating on how much better the two will be over these next two years, I believe that Bergevin properly played the odds here and made a reasonably good decision.
The window of Armia becoming anything more than Lars Eller 2.0 is closing but who knows. Lehkonen still has a greater upside and may finally have his breakthrough as a goal scorer. Is he as snake-bitten as he seems or will he be a more consistent scorer? This is the riskier signing of the two as a longer-term contract could have been a bargain for the Habs.
I like both players a lot. They are essential role players with excellent defensive skills. But in a salary cap league, you need to free up as much space as possible.
It seems to me that Montreal is building a team that is solid top to bottom and not one that is based on top-heavy contracts like the Toronto Maple Leafs. I like this strategy as less flashy but good all-around clubs can contain teams with lines consisting of top-end forwards and then do serious damage through their superior third and fourth lines. They are also less vulnerable to key injuries and tend to do better in the playoffs.
In order to be a solid top-to-bottom team, cap flexibility and the injection of youth (Montreal’s pipeline is brimming in this area) will be extremely vital.
A lot of thought went into these decisions. Bergevin took into consideration many moving parts here. We should also acknowledge that he is neither risk-averse nor a poor judge of talent. Yes, he’s made his mistakes but he’s been right more often than he’s been wrong when it comes to player evaluations.
For example, he was the one who signed Max Pacioretty to a very favourable long-term contract after this player suffered a serious neck injury from Zdeno Chara. He also snagged a great deal with Brendan Gallagher. He saw their potential and took gambles that could have been debilitating for this franchise.
Neither Armia nor Lehkonen are in the same class as Pacioretty or Gallagher. Neither has done enough to risk cap and expansion issues two years from now. It is, therefore, a safe, logical business decision with what I believe to be a 75% chance of best maximizing Montreal’s short term interests. So looking at these signings in totality, I give them my two thumbs up.
Brian La Rose: I thought both players were going to sign for a bit longer. I figured Armia was going to be around the three years, $3 million range while Lehkonen was one I expected to get a long-term contract, especially with the team being relatively restrained in their spending this summer.
Armia appears to be in a good spot to have a career year next season with Andrew Shaw’s departure so I could foresee his deal looking like a bit of a bargain which is why I was hoping for a longer-term deal. Even if he remains inconsistent, his defensive play should be good enough to make it a minimally risky move.
As for Lehkonen, I like that he’s still a restricted free agent at the end of the deal. While I’d have preferred a long-term pact, this is better than a medium-term deal that only buys a year or so of UFA eligibility. I’ve never really felt that Lehkonen can be a legitimate top-six player in the NHL but he does enough other things right to make him an important piece. If his offensive game doesn’t improve much over this deal, he’ll probably wind up moving from being a core player to an expendable one. He’s going to have a lot to prove over the next couple of seasons.
Paul MacLeod: The Lehkonen and Armia deals were just about what I expected. They provide good value and short term which provides flexibility and cap space moving forward. I would have liked to see Lehkonen locked up longer term as I think his value will rise but this deal allows Montreal to get a better grasp on the player they have before committing. Armia will probably be gone at the expiration of his deal. In both cases, these contracts work for players and management. I’m looking forward to a Hudon trade before his arbitration date.
Norm Szcyrek: I believe the signings of Armia and Lehkonen were somewhat higher in salary than I expected. Both are decent role players for the Habs but if they played for an American based team they would have been signed more on their merit and the contracts would have been a little lower. Fortunately for the Habs, they have a cap surplus due to their botched offer sheet attempt to Sebastian Aho. However, I am pleased enough with the term for both players. If either one falters significantly, then I predict a farmhand like Jake Evans could easily replace either of them.
Dave Woodward: Both of these players leave one wanting more from them. As for Lekhonen, the effort is always there. He is certainly a good NHL player from a defence and possession perspective and Lekhonen does contribute offensively. However, after his rookie year, most Hab fans were expecting him to break out and become a core part of the team’s top six. While he does play up and down the lineup, that has yet to happen (despite last season’s career-high 31 points). As an undersized winger, Lekhonen is always fully engaged and he does generate scoring chances for himself and his teammates. After likely leading the team in posts and crossbars hit last season, it is unclear if Lekhonen is snake-bitten or if he simply has problems finishing at the NHL level. Given that the jury is still out on his offensive upside, the two-year bridge contract at a reasonable salary makes sense.
As for Armia, his size and strength add a necessary dimension to an undersized group of forwards. He is a reasonably skilled player who, despite missing 25 games with an injury, did set a career-high last season in goals (13). Armia also contributed moderately (two goals and six points) to Montreal’s anemic power play. On some nights, Armia wins puck battles and uses his big body to good advantage. More often, he plays like the friendly giant. It would be nice to see a little more truculence from the friendly Finn but he does add a necessary element to the Canadiens’ forward group. He becomes unrestricted after this two-year contract which is at a reasonable cap hit for his deliverables. It remains to be seen whether Armia is worth a long-term commitment before he becomes a UFA. In the interim, for the next two years, he can help mentor Jesperi Kotkaniemi as the youngster emerges into the star we all hope he will become.