While the Habs project to be well under the salary cap again next season, they’re getting close to another cap that could impact their movement in the weeks and months to come.
In recent years, Montreal has sat comfortably below the 50-contract limit which has allowed them the in-season flexibility to make moves (such as adding Nate Thompson and Jordan Weal in trades and burning the first year of Ryan Poehling’s contract last year). However, that flexibility really isn’t there at the moment.
As things stand, the Habs have just two unused contract slots and none of those belong to players that could see their contract slide a year by being sent back to junior. There were several of those in past years but not this coming season.
Presumably, GM Marc Bergevin is going to want to keep at least two spots open for in-season moves. With so many draft picks for 2020, it seems likely one or two could be dangled for players at some point during the season while depending on how Cole Caufield does at Wisconsin in his freshman campaign, he could be a one-and-done player meaning he’d need an NHL deal late in the year. (His contract could still slide if he plays nine games or fewer but the spot would be encumbered either way, especially if they’re in playoff contention.) It would be nice to have that option available but for that to happen, they need to free up some contract slots along the way.
Unfortunately, that’s something that’s easier said than done. Yes, the Habs have some fringe prospects that they could easily part with but no teams are going to want them unless they’re offloading a similar fringe player of their own (for their own 50-contract issues). They could offer to pay down part of a veteran’s salary like Dale Weise but even at 50% of his contract, it still doesn’t change the fact that he’s not really NHL-calibre anymore so doing that probably wouldn’t accomplish much.
One player that I could see moving on at some point is David Sklenicka. If Xavier Ouellet, Karl Alzner, and Gustav Olofsson all make it to Laval, Sklenicka isn’t cracking the left side of the lineup regularly. (Otto Leskinen is in that mix as well and his deal wouldn’t slide even if he was loaned back overseas.) He could be in a battle for a spot on the right but with Cale Fleury and Josh Brook there (plus possibly Noah Juulsen), there isn’t a spot for him there either. If he’s on the fringes of the depth chart, there’s a chance he’ll ask for a contract termination and head back overseas. But that’s probably not an option until the season starts which doesn’t exactly help them out if they want to try to add someone now.
Beyond that, Montreal’s best bet to clear up some contract space is losing someone on waivers. (Charles Hudon stands out as the likeliest candidate.) However, that’s something that would happen in late September or early October so that also doesn’t help them in the short term.
While there are still a handful of unrestricted free agents available that could help the Canadiens, their contract situation may actually be more prohibitive than their cap situation. If Montreal wants to add someone else this summer, they’ll be wanting to move someone out at the same time so until that happens, any other offseason movement is probably at a standstill. Everyone wonders what could be coming next for Montreal. Something to try to free up a contract slot may very well wind up being it, especially if Bergevin hopes to add someone else this summer.