Before free agency got underway, the Habs were able to retain Joel Armia on a four-year, $13.6M contract. Was that the right move to make or too much for what he brings? Our writers offer up their thoughts.
Terry Costaris: There’s really not a lot to say here. This is a fair deal for both sides. Armia tends to be inconsistent in the regular season but, come playoff time, he turns on the jets.
The Montreal Canadiens have taken forever to bulk up as a team. Keeping this big, highly serviceable forward, who can be moved up and down the lineup, is good news for the Habs.
This year’s playoffs showed us how important it is to have quality help in the bottom six of the lineup. To get quality, you have to pay for it.
In an ideal world, you would want two young and inexpensive players filling in his role but we do not live in such a world.
Armia likely could have gotten $200-500K more per year somewhere else. That money can now go towards partly subsidizing a less costly younger forward or quality veteran. A few more similar deals (such as David Savard’s – who also took a hometown discount) could really help the Habs in this regard.
Tom Haapanen: $3.4M may seem like a high price for a fourth-line winger, assuming that Gallagher, Caufield, and Anderson are ahead of Armia on the right wing. And yet that may not be the best way to look at this signing. The Habs’ offence has been based on the concept of four balanced lines, and what that means is having stronger third and fourth lines that compensate for the lack of elite forwards on the first line.
Armia is a big forward with soft hands and a good shot — which he should likely trigger more often — that can play a variety of roles, depending on where Ducharme needs him. He can play either wing, on the second, third, or fourth line, and take on a role on either or both special teams; based on the goals against rate, Armia was the most effective penalty killer forward on the Habs this past season. His long reach enables him to intercept passes, and he uses his body to his advantage to win board battles.
The cost may be high, depending on what one assumes about Armia’s future usage. But with his flexibility and skills, and nearly 0.5 points/game in his first two seasons with the team, $3.4M AAV looks to be a very cost-effective signing.
Allan Katz: Armia is an enigma. He is a mystery as far as what separates very good players from good players. He seems to have all the tools and when well used, he is a positive force for the Habs. Having said that this feels like a slight overpay to retain a role player that within certain parameters is a very good role player, but far from a great producer. You get the sense the team knows exactly how they want to utilize him and feel safer with what he CAN bring rather than what he (or a new player) MIGHT bring. With a full season, the guy’s a 12-22-36 type player with penalty killing and puck protection as two highlights.
Interestingly, there are three players on the Habs who seem to have similar strengths and weaknesses – Armia, Kotkaniemi, and Lehkonen: great tools and flashes of awesome offensive talent with seemingly no killer instincts. Living in L.A. watching Kobe grow there emerged a quality that he called Mamba, like a black mamba snake, dangerous and could strike at any moment. Armia and the others do not have much mamba in them. Caufield has the mamba mentality. SIDENOTE: Over a year ago I was playing tennis near my home in Calabasas California. Our game was interrupted by the smell of burnt metal and wiring. A few miles away a helicopter crash had taken the lives of a number of people. We had no idea and kept playing … May some Mamba Magic flutter down and touch the souls of a few Habs – like Armia and his fellows.
Brian La Rose: I like Armia but there is no way a fourth liner should be making that money. More specifically, there is no way another fourth liner should be making that money on this team.
Is Armia a fourth liner? On the Canadiens, he certainly is. Accordingly, it doesn’t matter that he’d play higher than that in a lot of organizations. On this team, that is his role based on the depth chart and barring one of Montreal’s four right wingers ahead of him being traded, he’s going to stay in that role for a while. I understand and can even appreciate wanting to have quality depth when injuries strike. It can certainly help but so too can having a few less million in spending on the fourth line to upgrade another area of the lineup.
Look to a year from now where Montreal has nearly $70 million committed already with several roster spots to fill and Nick Suzuki to sign. I know I’d like to be able to allocate some of Armia’s money to that next deal so that it doesn’t force a better player to be let go to afford that signing.
When this contract was signed, I thought it was well over market value but some of the comical contracts for other depth players have proven me wrong there. He could have received this money elsewhere. I like Armia but I think he should have received this money elsewhere and over time, this contract will come back to hurt the Habs, just like the other fourth liner making this money in Paul Byron.
Norm Szcyrek: I am on the fence about this signing. To me, Armia is consistently inconsistent. He looks like he could become more than a bottom-six forward at times, but in most games you don’t notice him. However, he is responsible defensively and is so good on the penalty kill that he can surprise the opposition with a turnover and generate a scoring chance. Considering his lack of quickness and speed, that is a remarkable skill. When he was paired with Corey Perry and Eric Staal in the playoffs, he showed a strong cycle game and utilized his size well.
I am also concerned about his health, namely his concussion last season and his two positive COVID-19 tests. Four years is a long-term commitment to a role player, and I feel we may be lamenting this contract for the last half of it.
Naqeeb Shaikh: This is the same, salary that Byron is earning, so it’s in line with 3rd/4th line penalty killing duties that Armia and Byron perform.
Since being acquired, he has played a meaningful role in the team’s success and maturation. This past Stanley Cup Final run was his breakout in terms of what kind of player he is, how his strengths can be best used to get the most out of him, and what to expect from him as a player. I think the major reason why is because he has a coach who recognizes what Armia’s capable of producing and the type of situations to put him in to maximize his strengths for team success. He played a critical role in the penalty kill unit’s success in the playoffs.
The 4th line of Perry-Staal-Armia was awesome for the most part, and with Perry moving on and Staal likely leaving as well, at least one of those players will be back.