Every NHL team is allowed to have a maximum of fifty players under contract at any given time. That may sound like a lot, but consider, depending on injuries, the 23 to 25 players on the NHL roster and another 23 or so in Hamilton, you can see that each additional contract spot becomes precious.
Managing that list becomes of prime importance at this time of the year and the Canadiens, like all of the other teams, have been busy in that regard.
With the recent signing of Vancouver Giants defenceman Dalton Thrower to an entry level deal, the Canadiens have 38 players under contract which at first glance would seem to indicate a semblance of breathing room. But, they are also currently in the process of making decisions on eleven unrestricted free agents including Vanek, Gionta, Parros, Markov, Bouillon, Murray and Weaver, none of whom are part of list. Also not under contract are eight restricted free agents including the Habs P.K. Subban, Lars Eller, Dale Weise and Ryan White.
See how quickly it can add up?
The first post season leauge mandated deadline Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin faced was June first. On that date, final decisions had to be made on whether to sign the remaining players they drafted in 2012. Earlier, they had already locked up Alex Galechenyuk (1st round choice), Sebastien Collberg (2nd round -since traded), Tim Bozon (3rd) and Charles Hudon (5th). Unsigned were Thrower, a second round choice, Windsor Spitfires centre Brady Vail (4th round) and Swedish leftwinger Erik Nystrom, a sixth round choice. Thrower signed a three year entry level contract the day before the deadline. The Canadiens decided not to use up precious contract space on Vail and Nystrom.
The hesitance to sign Thrower until the deadline was rooted in some disciplinary problems he had while a member of the Saskatoon Blades two years ago. In the Canadiens view, he matured as team captain of the Vancouver junior club this season. The lack of a contract offer for Nystrom was no surprise. He was given a 25 game tryout with the Hamilton Bulldogs at the beginning of last season and was promptly returned to Sweden.
The failure to sign Vail surprised more than a few of us. He had established himself as a versatile two-way forward in Windsor and showed some flashes during a tryout with Hamilton after his junior season had ended. Something in his physical or mental makeup made the Canadiens not want to risk a precious contract spot on him. He is now eligible to be redrafted and, if no-one takes him Vail becomes a free agent. (From the Windsor Star – More on Brady Vail here )
All of this manoevering is to set rosters for the NHL’s next deadline, July first free agency.
We’ve been wrong before, but most seem to believe that, among the Habs eleven unrestricted free agents, contract offers will only be made to Andrei Markov and Mike Weaver on the Canadiens roster and maybe Mike Blunden at Hamilton. That means that the Canadiens Vanek, Gionta, Parros, Bouillon and Murray will be moving on along with Hamilton veteran forwards Martin St. Pierre and Nick Tarnasky plus goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
Among the restricted free agents both at the Canadiens and Hamilton level , the difficult decision will surround the future of former first round draft pick Louis Leblanc. Right now chances of an extended future with the Canadiens must to considered 50-50. It’s possible there’s someone in the organization who thinks he can overcome his frustrating history of erratic play, but at this point his career path is more closely resembling that of Angelo Esposito or Alexandre Daigle than David Desharnais or Brendan Gallagher.
One RFA decision taken out of the Canadiens hands two weeks ago was Hamilton centre Joonas Nattinen who signed with MODO of the Swedish National League. He was one of those the Canadiens probably would have led go.
If Markov and Weaver are re-signed and all of the current Canadiens ‘restricted’s’ plus Mike Blunden also get contracts the contract total would be 46. That’s a precious four openings if the Canadiens want to get into free agency on July first.
There was a time when NHL teams could stockpile players and hold their playing rights infinitum. Those days are long gone. Now, keeping a contract list is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.
You can view the current Canadiens Reserve list here.