Two years ago, it seemed unfathomable that Max Comtois would be an unsigned free agent in late August. But it is 2023 and that’s where the former second-round pick finds himself after being non-tendered a qualifying offer by the Anaheim Ducks. Comtois had a terrific pandemic shortened 2020-21 in which he posted 16 goals and 17 assists in 55 games. At the time he appeared to be on the verge of becoming a complete winger who could be counted on to provide solid secondary scoring and strong play in all three zones. The Ducks promptly signed Comtois to a two-year deal that carried an annual cap hit just north of $2MM.
After signing his bridge deal things quickly began to go south for the Longueuil, Quebec native. In 2021-22, the 24-year-old began the season with just a single assist in his first 13 games and then missed 16 games with a hand injury that required him to have surgery. Upon his return, he played better but couldn’t recapture his scoring touch as he put up just six goals and nine assists in his final 39 games.
With the Ducks firmly in a rebuild, Comtois continued to struggle offensively this past season and missed significant time with several upper and lower body ailments. Comtois was out for 14 games due to injuries and when he was in the lineup he produced just nine goals and 10 assists in 64 games.
While he has battled injuries and inconsistency over the past few years, it is still surprising to see a young forward with a recent track record of success remain unsigned. It truly speaks to the flat-cap environment that teams find themselves in. Despite the disappointment of possibly being forced to sign a professional tryout, I do think that Comtois will sign an NHL contract for next season. He may just need to prove himself first to do so.
2022-23: 64 GP, 9-10-19, -20 rating, 76 PIMS, 89 shots, 52.3% faceoffs, 42.2% CF, 13:49 ATOI
Career: 210 GP, 38-48-86, -35 rating, 193 PIMS, 296 shots, 41.7% faceoffs, 45.4% CF, 14:23 ATOI
Comtois is unlikely to be picky at this point in the summer, he is just looking to remain in the league and show what he can do. He is from the Quebec area but given that the Montreal Canadiens have been trying to move out forwards, they are unlikely to be interested in Comtois, even if his youth does fit the timeline of their future competitive window.
Let’s start in the East. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been rumored to have interest in Tomas Tatar as they look to add some depth scoring to their bottom six. The Penguins would like to bring Tatar in on a PTO to see if he fits. However, if the former Devils forward can lock on to a team with guaranteed money that could open the door for Pittsburgh to look elsewhere. Possibly to Comtois. It’s no secret that general manager Kyle Dubas loves to have a lot of depth forwards to provide for call-ups and to keep the club’s AHL affiliate competitive. Should he sign with Pittsburgh, Comtois would be in a serious battle for a spot on the Penguins bottom two lines, but he would certainly be in the mix. He could also fill in for Jake Guentzel during his early season absence on the Penguins top line next to Sidney Crosby.
Staying in the East, the Ottawa Senators could really use some help in their bottom six forward group. Outside of Pittsburgh, it’s hard to find a team who leaned more heavily on their top six forwards last year. And given the look of the Senators current bottom six, it could be more of the same this year. The Senators are entering the season with playoff aspirations but are looking at having several rookies on their third and fourth lines which could lead to a lot of growing pains early in the season. Comtois has had his struggles, but if they were to acquire him, they would have another known entity to insert onto their third or fourth line.
Out West, it was rumored earlier in the summer that the Vancouver Canucks had interest in Comtois, but a deal never came to fruition. Vancouver has a bit of a logjam right now, both up against the cap and with the number of bodies they currently have in the forward group who are going to require NHL minutes. However, a forward like Dakota Joshua could become a casualty should Vancouver opt to sign Comtois. The other option for the Canucks would be to try a jettison a higher-priced forward to become cap compliant, and then sign Comtois as their replacement. Comtois could bring a lot to the Canucks as he does play with an edge and can play in all three zones and provide depth scoring. The worst-case scenario for Vancouver would be to bury Comtois and his cap hit in the minors if he didn’t work out with the NHL group.
Barring a dramatic turn of events, Comtois is likely going to have to take a rather large pay cut for the upcoming season from the $2.5MM he made last year. It is still possible he could hit a seven-figure salary but given how little cap space is available around the NHL he is unlikely to exceed more than $1MM on a one-year deal. There are several talented forwards who remain unsigned which has led to Comtois becoming a bit of an afterthought. But given his youth there will likely be a team out there willing to roll the dice on a player who has shown promise recently. However, I think teams will want to have a look at Comtois before offering a guaranteed contract just to make sure he is a fit in their bottom six, and to allow for maximum flexibility.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.