A comprehensive look at Montreal Canadiens’ contract situation

Some guy that said:

Some guy that said: “Man, I hate St. Louis.”

  Sportsnet

MONTREAL — If Marc Bergevin knew, he probably wouldn’t have said it. He was right at the goal line of his season-ending press conference and a straight answer would’ve sent him into the end zone for a game-winning touchdown. Pack it up, see you next … winter?

But when Bergevin was asked to explain, based on his experience as a former NHL player and current general manager, how an unexpectedly strong playoff experience can shape the next training camp for young players, he essentially tipped over a half-full glass instead of pouring more water into it.

“People who aren’t educated in hockey will often say, ‘Why aren’t they able to play this way over 82 games?’ It’s the intensity of the playoffs that go up another level,” Bergevin said.

He went on to explain how valuable the experience of the last month would be for the Canadiens, but we got stuck on this first thought for one reason: he was right. It took everything the Canadiens had — rookies and sophomores playing like seasoned veterans, the defence corps punching above its weight and the reputed best goaltender in the world playing like the actual best goaltender in the world — to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in six, and they can’t play that way over 82 games. They showed it in establishing the 24th-best record in the NHL this past season, and that was after offering the strongest evidence in falling just short of a post-season berth the season prior.

Granted, the experience Nick SuzukiJesperi Kotkaniemi and Jake Evans just gained will change the complexion of the Canadiens for the better next season. With Phillip Danault completing the picture up the middle, the coaches have four centres they can confidently spread the minutes to, and that balance will allow the team to better sustain its effort over a season.

There’s also great value in Brett Kulak finding the confidence to play like an established top-four defenceman. If he can continue to be one, it buys Alex Romanov time on the third pairing and strengthens the entire defence.

If Carey Price can play nearly as well he did this past August, it would go a long way towards securing the playoffs for the Canadiens next season. Jake Allen giving him some rest and performing to the level he did for the St. Louis Blues over the last year wouldn’t hurt.

But they need more. Much more. They don’t have the components that allow them to give anything less than a playoff effort to win consistently, and they aren’t going from playoff hopeful to Stanley Cup contender without some outside help.

But before we soup this car up, we need to look at what’s already under the hood.

FORWARDS

Jonathan Drouin
Position: LW
Age: 25
Contract status: Signed for three more seasons
AAV: $5.5M

The Skinny: If the Canadiens can get 50-60 points out of Drouin, they have no issue justifying his contract. But what they can’t afford is a Drouin who plays like a 75-point player on some nights and a 10-point player on others. That’s been the issue since he arrived in Montreal via trade in 2017, but there were signs it was going to change when he collected seven goals and 15 points in his first 17 games. We still believe he can get there, and we’re not putting much stock into Drouin being kept off the score sheet in the eight February games he played post-wrist surgery. We’re not reading too deeply into his impressive finish to the playoffs, either. It’s time to see if Drouin can deliver on a consistent basis.

Nick Suzuki
Position: C
Age: 21
Contract Status: Signed for two more seasons
AAV: $863,333

The Skinny: A few seasons of entry-level pay for a star-calibre player is one of the central tenets of icing a winner in a salary cap system. Suzuki was a plug-and-play option at the top end of the lineup in his rookie season, so you can partially check that box. And we’re not expecting a drop off after he carried the Canadiens with four goals and seven points in the playoffs. Especially not after he got the better of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Sean Couturier.

Joel Armia
Position: RW
Age: 27
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $2.6M

The Skinny: The value is there. He’s a six-foot-four winger who, at times, plays a dominant puck possession game on a team lacking size and skill up front. With 16 goals and 30 points in a 58-game season interrupted by injury, Armia established himself as a player who helps get you to the playoffs. Had he played as well at the beginning of the playoffs as he did towards the end of them we might be able to suggest he’s a player who helps get you through them. Jury is still out on that, but he’s 27 and in his prime.

Tomas Tatar
Position: LW
Age: 29
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $4.8M

The Skinny: A little less ambiguity than Armia on the get-you-to-the-playoffs-get-you-through-them scale; Tatar book ended the two best seasons of his career with punch-less post-season performances. Knowing what we do now, his tenure in Montreal likely ends in one of two ways: he either helps the Canadiens to the playoffs — maybe he’ll even surprise once they get there — before walking away as a free agent, or the Canadiens trend towards missing despite his contributions and they trade him at the deadline.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Position: C
Age: 20
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $925,000

The Skinny: This boy became a man over the last season, and now it’s time to see if this man is prepared to centre one of the top two lines. Because even if you think the answer is already yes, a 10-game sample isn’t quite enough to hang your hat on. But we’re not taking away from how Kotkaniemi followed up a disastrous, injury-plagued sophomore season with a playoff that inspired hope he’ll be every bit the player the Canadiens thought he would develop into when they drafted him third overall in 2018.

Brendan Gallagher
Position: RW
Age: 28
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $3.75M

The Skinny: A five-foot-nine, 184-pound winger who plays like he’s six-six, 220; a consistent 30-goal scorer; the heartbeat of the Canadiens. Players like Gallagher cost double what he’s making, so there’s that.

Paul Byron
Position: LW
Age: 29
Contract Status: Signed for three more seasons
AAV: $3.4M

The Skinny: As capable a third-line player as you’ll find in the league. He’s a versatile winger who can score 20 goals, kill penalties and move up and down the lineup as need dictates. In spite of a rocky start, and an injury that kept him out of 42 of Montreal’s 71 games, he showed that he can continue being that player.

Phillip Danault
Position: C
Age: 27
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $3.08M

The Skinny: Montreal’s best five-on-five centre, and one of its best penalty killers, has established himself as a player worth considering for the Selke Trophy. No reason to believe he won’t be exactly that moving forward, even if the competition for ice-time with Suzuki and Kotkaniemi has ramped up.

Artturi Lehkonen
Position: RW
Age: 25
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $2.4M

The Skinny: He’s as good of a third-line player as you can find. Just don’t ask him to be a second-line or first-line player. Lehkonen does all the little things — and most of the big things — right, but he may never top the 18 goals he scored as a rookie in 2016-17. Even so, the Canadiens will take the 13-15 he’ll score from their third line, where he’s currently slotted.

Charles Hudon
Position: LW
Age: 26
Contract Status: RFA
AAV: $800,000

The Skinny: It seems the time Hudon spent under Joel Bouchard with the AHL’s Laval Rocket this season turned him into a player who can stick in the NHL for a meal to go with his cup of coffee. He’s had a hard time earning Canadiens coach Claude Julien’s trust as a dependable fourth-line player, but he played well in his limited playoff action and perhaps did enough to change perception. He’ll be easy to qualify for one more season and he’s got a leg up on the competition under the current roster construct.

Ryan Poehling
Position: C/LW
Age: 21
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $925,000

The Skinny: Poehling came to Canadiens camp in September as a player who appeared physically prepared to stick in the NHL. But a concussion slowed him out of the gate and the mental grind of his first full season as a professional proved more challenging than expected. He’ll be given a fair shake to earn a spot with Montreal next season, but it shouldn’t be seen as a blight on his potential should he require more time in the AHL. That might be the best thing for him if he’s going to eventually become a top-nine forward.

Jake Evans
Position: C
Age: 24
Contract Status: RFA
AAV: $925,000

The Skinny: Took all the steps necessary to become Montreal’s fourth-line centre of the foreseeable future. He’s a heady, hard-working player who can win face offs, score goals and move up the lineup if need be. A strong performance in the playoffs should leave him with some confidence to take into next Canadiens camp.

Dale Weise
Position: RW
Age: 32
Contract Status: UFA
AAV: $2.35M

The Skinny: After spending much of his season in the AHL, Weise’s time in Montreal has likely come to an end.

Jordan Weal
Position: RW/C
Age: 28
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $1.4M

The Skinny: Weal scored eight goals and 15 points in 49 games this season, which is good production for a fourth-line player. The problem is, he typically follows up a good game with a bad one. The other problem is we’re not sure what identity Julien wants for his fourth line, but we have a hard time believing it’s the one that suits Weal best.

Alex Belzile
Position: RW
Age: 29
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $700,000

The Skinny: His emergence as a star in the AHL gave him his first crack at NHL action this past August. An effective forechecker and an energy player who has supplanted Weise. Now the question is: can he score goals at this level after finding a way to do it in the AHL?

Max Domi
Position: C
Age: 25
Contract Status: RFA
AAV: $3.15M

The Skinny: If you’re wondering why Domi’s the last forward on this list, it’s because we broke things down line by line and it’s a bit of a mystery as to where he fits. Julien said they see him as a centre, which aligns with how Domi sees himself but also makes his position on the team questionable. That he’s up for a contract after following up a 28-goal, 72-point season with 17 goals and 44 points in 71 games complicates matters further. That he was relegated to a fourth-line centre role for most of the playoffs and produced just three assists as a middle-six winger for the rest of them puts his future in Montreal in doubt. He’s since fired agent Pat Brisson and hired Darren Ferris, and he’s scrubbed the Canadiens out of his social media bios. It’s a subject we’ll examine in finer detail next week.

DEFENCE

Shea Weber
Position: RD
Age: 35
Contract Status: Signed for six more seasons
AAV: $7.5M

The Skinny: Weber had 15 goals and 36 points in 65 games this season before putting up three goals and five points in 10 playoff games. Beyond that, he proven he’s still a dominant force and an elite player. Perhaps that contract will become onerous in the future, but based on how Weber played in the playoffs, that time isn’t coming so soon.

Ben Chiarot
Position: LD
Age: 29
Contract Status: Signed for two more seasons
AAV: $3.5M

The Skinny: Chiarot came to the Canadiens in July as a potential No. 4 defenceman and he played like a No. 2 from October to March. And if you liked that, you had to love what he showed in the playoffs. He was mean and he was nasty, and it’s been a long time since the Canadiens had more than one player willing to offer that brand. We’re not sure he can sustain the level he played at over the term of his contract, but a slight drop-off wouldn’t affect too much in the grand scheme of things. And there’s no reason to believe Chiarot’s game is crashing at 29. Especially not after he put up a career year.

Jeff Petry
Position: RD
Age: 32
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $5.5M

The Skinny: The third component of the modern-age “Big Three.” Or is he No. 1? Or No. 2? Three straight years of at least 40 points, logging top-pairing minutes, playing in every situation, landing near the top in power-play goals and hits among defencemen. An elite skating stride will keep Petry on the same road. Get him signed, ASAP.

Brett Kulak
Position: LD
Age: 26
Contract Status: Signed for two more seasons
AAV: $1.85M

The Skinny: Brett Kulak was a 5-6-7 during the season and a clear-cut No. 4 during the playoffs. What he takes from all of that is most important, because he said in his post-season conference call that it’s all about his mindset and having the confidence to play instead of playing hesitantly. Kulak has passed his development stage. He’s 26 and he’s played 224 NHL games — regular season and post-season combined. He could be a great value player as a No. 5, or he could be one of the best value players in the NHL as a No. 4.

Alexander Romanov
Position: LD
Age: 20
Contract Status: Signed for two more years
AAV: $894,167

The Skinny: The 38th pick in the 2018 draft is expected to make his prime-time debut next season. He’s an assertive, physical, defensive defenceman, but only time will tell how he transitions from the Kontinental Hockey League to playing on the small ice and against the best players in the world. At his top end, he improves the Canadiens significantly. The question is: can Romanov get anywhere near his top end in his rookie season?

Victor Mete
Position: LD
Age: 22
Contract Status: RFA
AAV: $748,333

The Skinny: What you get with Mete is pure speed, what you need is for that speed to translate to more offence. Because while he’s capable defensively — and even quite effective at disrupting plays with his stick — he’s undersized and outmatched in the corners and in front of the net. It needs to be considered that he’s a little over halfway towards becoming a complete product. With four goals and 11 points in 51 games this season, he showed there’s potential his speed can lead to more scoring. He needs to cash in on some of that potential next season. He needs to show that’s what he’s going to do right out of the gate at training camp, if he’s there. Because the competition on the left has grown stronger with Kulak raising his game and Romanov pencilled into the third pair, and it’s a possibility — not necessarily a probability — Mete will be traded.

Cale Fleury
Position: RD
Age: 21
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $771,666

The Skinny: Fleury got his feet wet and his shoulders working in 41 games with the Canadiens this season. He’s got a solid all-around game and a nasty physical edge. If he progresses at nearly the same rate Suzuki and Kotkaniemi did over the dead months of the NHL schedule, he could be a mainstay next season.

Noah Juulsen
Position: RD
Age: 23
Contract Status: RFA
AAV: $863,333

The Skinny: Juulsen spent two years in the dark, but now he’s back in the light. Migraine and vision issues arrested his development, but he’s finally healthy and ready to get his career back on track. There’s still hope he can turn into a reliable NHL defenceman. The hope is that he can gain back status as a potential No. 4.

GOALTENDERS

Carey Price
Age: 33
Contract Status: Signed for six more seasons
AAV: $10.5M

The Skinny: The playoffs showed what rest can do for Price. If he slides again in November, like he did the last two seasons, Allen is there to pick up the ball and run with it for a bit. He’s been flying without a parachute for too long, but now he has one. And the skills are clearly all intact. Price remains top dog at the position.

Jake Allen
Age: 30
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $4.35M

The Skinny: Allen put up the best numbers of his career in his first year as a backup to Jordan Binnington. He also showed he could step back into the starter’s role and deliver, with a .935 save percentage in four playoff games this summer. His strong play makes him and Price arguably the best goaltending tandem in the NHL.

Charlie Lindgren
Age: 26
Contract Status: Signed for one more season
AAV: $750,000

The Skinny: An NHL-capable goaltender with solid NHL experience. He’ll continue to serve as an insurance policy if he remains with the organisation.