HabsWorld.net -- 

One element of the CBA that often gets overlooked is the limit of 50 active contracts.  While right now, the Canadiens are well under that limit for next season, it’s quite possible that they’re going to be very close to it this summer.

Part of the reason for this is the number of prospects that have signed or will start counting against the limit next season.  Jayden Struble, Jakub Dobes, and Xavier Simoneau all have entry-level deals that begin in 2023-24 so they’re now on the books.  Meanwhile, Joshua Roy, Riley Kidney, and Logan Mailloux, players who were exempt from the limit this season, won’t be next year; they’re now on the books too.  That’s six extra players to account for right there that didn’t count this year.

At the moment, Montreal is at 35 contracts for next season.  On the surface, that looks completely manageable but let’s look at the restricted free agents who don’t currently count against that limit:

D Nicolas Beaudin
F Cole Caufield
F Lucas Condotta
F Denis Gurianov
F Rafael Harvey-Pinard
F Michael Pezzetta
F Mitchell Stephens
F Joel Teasdale
F Jesse Ylonen

Of those nine players, I think it’s safe to say a minimum of six if not seven of those will eventually be on the books.  Gurianov probably won’t be qualified but will they try to keep him for less money?  Stephens is worth keeping around as a key player for Laval but they’ll only be able to do so if they have enough contract room.  Beaudin could be in that category as well.  If they plan to be active in adding other players, maybe that pushes one of Condotta or Teasdale out of an offer even though both have done enough to warrant longer looks in Laval as well.

Let’s say seven of these players ultimately wind up with NHL deals.  Now Montreal is up to 42 contracts before looking at their pending unrestricted free agents.  Here’s that list (reduced by those who haven’t signed elsewhere already or weren’t on a contract this season):

F Alex Belzile
D Madison Bowey
F Paul Byron
F Jonathan Drouin
F Sean Monahan
F Anthony Richard
D Corey Schueneman
F Chris Tierney

Clearly, not all of those players are returning.  But it stands to reason that some of them will.  Expect them to try to re-sign (or replace) Belzile and Richard to help Laval and with both of them having some NHL success this season, they’re not taking AHL-only contracts.  By all accounts, they want to keep Monahan as well.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s say three players re-sign from this list.  Now we’re at 45 without even looking at acquisitions from outside the organization, either through free agency or trade.

While I think it’s reasonable to think that the Habs won’t be particularly active on July 1st, I think they’d like to add a piece or two for Laval.  A defenceman, at a minimum, is needed to replace one or both of Bowey and Schueneman while Frederic Allard and Otto Leskinen have already gone overseas.  I’d put it as safe to say that they’ll add a couple of free agents for the Rocket.  Now, it’s 47.

On top of that, there’s a signing deadline approaching for a pair of goalie prospects – Joe Vrbetic and Frederik Dichow.  I’m not sure that they’d want to give Vrbetic a three-year deal but Dichow would be on a two-year agreement and has shown some upside (although he’s signed for another year overseas).  So if he does well at the Worlds and earns a contract, there’s another one to make room for.  That’d be 48 now, a number that excludes players like Owen Beck and Filip Mesar who can be non-counters next season, in case you’re wondering.

We haven’t even gotten to NHL free agency yet.  Perhaps they’d like to add someone there?  Or would they like to take on a contract in a trade to add additional assets like the Monahan move from a year ago?  But knowing that a team should want to keep a few slots open for midseason movement, that starts to get a bit tricky unless there are some others on the move.

If you’re looking for a reason for the fifth-overall pick to not start in Montreal next season, this would be one of them as well; don’t exacerbate the contract issue by rushing someone that doesn’t need to be up right away.

While stockpiling draft picks and prospects is certainly a good thing, it also creates a situation where there can be a contract crunch and it looks like Montreal could be heading for one next season as things stand.  With that in mind, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Habs try to move out a player or two over the offseason for unsigned assets (draft picks or prospects), giving them some wiggle room to try to add some more new pieces to the organization.

By the way, if you’re curious, it could be even more adventurous in 2024-25.  There are presently eight prospects that will need to be signed (most of which have legitimate chances to earn a contract) while Mesar and Beck will start to count at this time as well.  Get used to this.  It’s a challenge that won’t be going away for a while.