When the Habs acquired Denis Gurianov at the trade deadline, the hope was that he’d find another level and potentially play his way into Montreal’s future plans. But the results were mixed and as a result, it’s far from a guarantee that Montreal will qualify him later this month.
Instead of getting off to a hot start, Gurianov did the opposite, failing to record a point in October. Despite the sluggish debut to his year, new coach Peter DeBoer showed patience with Gurianov for a little while longer before his ice time started to be cut to the point where he was briefly scratched. Fortunately for Dallas but unfortunately for Gurianov, the Stars were relatively healthy up front so there was never a situation where injuries forced them to give him another extended look in the top six.
His first half can basically be summed up as this. As bad as he played and as poorly as Evgenii Dadonov fared in Montreal, Dallas still looked at Dadonov and said swapping the two would still be an upgrade for them. That says a lot.
Following the swap, Gurianov got off to a strong start with four goals in his first eight games, doubling the two he had in 43 games with the Stars. It looked like the change of scenery might indeed get him going. However, despite seeing more minutes with consistency, Gurianov’s production tapered off quickly from there as he finished off the year going pointless in his final ten games, an even rougher stretch than how his October went. In other words, he started badly and finished worse. Not a great final impression to make on his new team to say the least.
Stats: 66 GP, 10 goals, 7 assists, 17 points, -9 rating, 10 PIMS, 116 shots, 13:12 ATOI
(With MTL): 23 GP, 5 goals, 3 assists, 8 points, -7 rating, 6 PIMS, 46 shots, 15:11 ATOI
One year, $2.9 million. Tendering the offer would also grant Gurianov eligibility for salary arbitration.
Argument To Qualify
Gurianov came to Montreal as advertised. He has a high-end shot and for his size (6’3), he has speed to burn. Theoretically speaking, a player having those two elements is going to have a chance to have success in this league. At 26, Gurianov still probably hasn’t played his best hockey yet and he’s certainly young enough that he could be part of this core group for a while if he sticks around.
Yes, Gurianov didn’t play great at times but he was also adjusting to a new role and a new system. 23 games isn’t exactly a long time to become fully integrated with Montreal’s systems and concepts and it’s not as if he had the best of linemates to work with as down the stretch, let’s just say the Habs weren’t icing their ‘A’ lineup thanks to a comically-long list of injuries. With a summer with a better understanding of Montreal’s ideas, a full training camp, and better linemates, it wouldn’t surprise me if Gurianov was more impactful if he was to stick around.
Argument To Cut
Look at the offer above. $2.9 million is a lot of money for a player who scored just ten goals this season and unlike someone like Joel Armia who scores at a similarly sporadic rate, Gurianov isn’t going to provide help in other areas. If he’s not scoring, he’s not providing much. And in recent years, he hasn’t been scoring much.
With due respect to these players, there’s enough ‘deadweight’ on the roster in Armia, Mike Hoffman, and Brendan Gallagher, players that are being paid to produce and aren’t doing it enough. (All due respect to Gallagher’s hustle but hustle alone isn’t why he’s getting $6.5 million a year.) Having a fourth winger like that in Gurianov certainly isn’t ideal while his presence would also make it harder for a prospect like Rafael Harvey-Pinard or Jesse Ylonen to try to grab hold of a full-time spot. You never want to guarantee a prospect a roster spot but as a rebuilding team, you want your prospects to have a chance to force management’s hand and slot them in. Gurianov being kept makes that a little harder.
The Other Options
This isn’t something I’ve covered over the years I’ve done articles like this but it’s worth a mention here. Montreal can jump the entire qualifying offer process and file for club-elected arbitration and file a ‘cut-rate’ offer at 85% of the qualifier. That would check in at $2.465 million which is a bit more reasonable. Worth noting, they have until the later of 48 hours after the Cup Final ends or June 15th. Basically, they’d have to make this filing this week.
However, it’s not without its risks. Montreal would be putting their fate in the hands of the arbitrator who could be swayed by his 20-goal effort back in 2019-20 and come back with an award that’s closer to the original offer, if not higher. With the Habs initiating the process, there is no walkaway option; they’d be stuck with the contract which probably would be one that wouldn’t carry much trade value either.
The other option that could come into play is Montreal trying to negotiate a contract for a lower rate than the qualifier. If Gurianov feels that unrestricted free agency wouldn’t go well for him, he might be willing to sign for less than $2.9 million. Perhaps the Habs try to tack on a second season to make that idea more palatable. Neither this nor the cut-down arbitration happen very often around the league but they’re at least plausible options here.
If Gurianov had shown anything over the final few weeks, him getting another look wouldn’t have shocked me. I legitimately think they were hoping he could fit into at least their medium-term plans as big wingers with good speed and a good shot aren’t easy to come by.
However, $2.9 million is simply too high of a price tag to take a flyer on him. Not in this marketplace, at least. Montreal is in a spot where if they want to be an LTIR team again, they’ll have some cap room to play with this summer and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them try to make another Sean Monahan type of move. Keeping Gurianov makes a move like that harder and in the grand scheme of things, what another Monahan-like move would bring to this team is more than what Gurianov will.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Montreal try to work out a cheaper deal, trying to sell him on the possibility of a bigger role than he might get with another NHL team. If they can get something closer to $2 million, maybe they keep him. But I’m not predicting that will happen and instead, they’ll cut him loose at the end of the month.