The Montreal Canadiens have signed their top draft pick, inking Kaiden Guhle to a three-year entry-level contract. Guhle was selected with the 16th pick in the draft earlier this month and plays for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. The contract will have an average annual value of $925K and includes Schedule “A” performance bonuses up to a maximum of $420K in each year.
With a big four-year extension for Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, the Bruins continue to work on their defense after the departure of Torey Krug. Of course, much of that work relies on a decision by veteran Zdeno Chara, who is still considering what he is going to do for the 2020-21 season.
“We have communicated consistently with Zdeno and [his agent] Matt Keator,” said Sweeney. “We’re just waiting for him to initiate what he’d like to do moving forward. I feel very comfortable allowing [the decision-making process] to take the necessary time and let Zdeno make his own decisions along that route.”
Of course, Keator did say that Chara has received multiple inquiries from other teams and the veteran is considering all options, according to The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa (subscription required), which isn’t good for Boston who will need the 6-foot-9, 250-pounder to help stabilize their defense after losing Krug to St. Louis more than a week ago and lack the financial abilities to bring in a solid replacement.
- In a conference call with reporters as well as NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said that he doesn’t foresee the team making any more roster moves, which includes adding more players or having to move a player out. The GM said the Maple Leafs will now focus on signing their own restricted free agents with next week’s arbitration case of Ilya Mikheyev on tap next, followed by focusing on working out a deal with defenseman Travis Dermott.
- The Athletic’s Arpon Basu (subscription required) writes that Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has now signed defenseman Jeff Petry and forward Brendan Gallagher to long-term deals. He also managed to swap forwards Max Domi and Josh Anderson, signing the latter to long-term deal as well. When asked what his next task would be, Bergevin replied that he was thinking about going on vacation, sounding like his work this offseason is finished. Basu writes that can’t be good news for center Phillip Danault, who is on his last year of a three-year, $9.25MM contract and has said he would like to stay long-term as long as his role on the team is guaranteed. The 27-year-old has posted 25 goals and 100 points combined over the last two seasons, but with young centers Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki ready to step into more significant roles in the near future, there may not be a big role remaining for Danault.
The Montreal Canadiens tendered a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Charles Hudon this offseason, but despite being eligible for arbitration the 26-year-old forward declined to file. Instead, Hudon has signed a one-year contract with Lausanne of the Swiss NLA where he will play this season.
In 125 games at the NHL level, Hudon has scored 14 goals and 41 points, underwhelming totals for a player who has dominated the minor leagues. Even in the shortened 2019-20 AHL season, Hudon tallied 27 goals in 46 games, though that came with just eight assists. He had just two points in 17 games with Montreal, including two during the postseason bubble.
Montreal will retain his rights temporarily, but given Hudon turns 27 in June he likely will become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. With the uncertain schedules of every professional league in the world that may still afford a bit of time for the team to bring him back, but it appears as though his time in Montreal could be over.
If it is, while he may seem like a disappointment after those big AHL totals, more than 100 NHL games out of a fifth-round pick is still pretty good value for the Canadiens.
Oct 16: The Canadiens have made it official, announcing the loan for the start of the 2020-21 season. In the release, it explains that Kotkaniemi is expected back at the start of training camp.
Oct 15: The Canadiens are working on a loan agreement to loan Jesperi Kotkaniemi to Assat Pori of the SM-liiga, GM Marc Bergevin confirmed to reporters, including Sportsnet’s Eric Engels (Twitter link), on a media call earlier today. The agreement is expected to be finalized over the next few days.
The 20-year-old struggled considerably in his sophomore campaign, collecting just six goals and two assists in 36 games with Montreal before being sent to AHL Laval in early February. He was more productive there, picking up a goal and 12 assists in 13 games before suffering a splenic injury that would have ended his season had it been a normal year. But with the pandemic delaying the start of the playoffs, Kotkaniemi was available to play and suited up in all 10 games, picking up four goals.
Assuming the loan is completed, Kotkaniemi will be returning to a program that he’s familiar with having played in Assat’s system before being drafted with the number three pick back in 2018. After the tough season he had, he’ll now have an opportunity to suit up at home before returning to North America where he will enter the final year of his entry-level contract in the hopes of securing a big raise on his next deal.
So much for all of the perceived drama surrounding the Montreal Canadiens adding right wings Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson on long-term contracts while homegrown star winger Brendan Gallagher was entering the final year of his contract. Montreal’s recent moves apparently have nothing to do with their allegiance to Gallagher and reports that “talks had stalled” were clearly overblown. The team has announced that the two sides have agreed to a six-year, $39MM extension that will begin with the 2021-22 season. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun adds that the contract contains a full No-Movement Clause.
Gallagher, 28, was believed to be heading for free agency next summer for the first time in his career after it appeared that he and the Canadiens were not close on a new contract. Instead, the fan favorite will remain with Montreal through the 2026-27 season at an AAV of $6.5MM. The deal represents a sizeable increase over his current $3.75MM AAV, but it has been well earned. Gallagher played all 82 games and topped 50 points in back-to-back seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19. He missed some time this past season, but still managed to record 43 points in 59 games, a 59-point pace over an 82-game season which would have been a career best. Given the offensive improvements that Montreal has made, not only off-season additions but in bringing up talented prospects as well, Gallagher could have 60+ point upside over much of the term of this new contract. That would result in this contract looking like a very fair value.
One concern that Montreal will have with Gallagher’s new deal is durability. Gallagher’s injury absence last season was due to a concussion and post-concussion symptoms, which is worrisome in its own right, but moving forward his 5’9″, 184-lb. frame may not hold up as well as he gets older. Gallagher plays an aggressive game and does not let his size hold him back, but he could be more of an injury risk down the line. With this extension already compensating him at his ceiling, the team hopes that they will get Gallagher at full strength as much as possible. Fortunately, he set a career high in ice time per game last season and shows no signs of slowing down in the immediate future.
The other note on Gallagher’s future in Montreal is of course the impending 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. While this new contract carries a full No-Movement Clause, the extension will not kick in until after expansion. As a result, Gallagher can still be exposed for Seattle to select next summer. The odds are slim that this will occur, but with so much money and term locked up at right wing, the Canadiens could get out from under Gallagher’s contract before it begins in the case of a poor performance this coming season.
The Montreal Canadiens may have an expensive tandem for this season, but it will get a little cheaper down the line. The team has announced a two-year extension with new backup Jake Allen, keeping him in Montreal through the 2022-23 season. The deal will carry an average annual value of just $2.875MM, much lower than the $4.35MM cap hit he carries this year.
Still, a new deal for Allen will certainly raise some eyebrows around the league. The veteran goaltender was brought in to serve as an experienced option behind Carey Price in a condensed season, but his presence for multiple years also means that young Cayden Primeau will have to wait a little longer. Primeau is exempt from the upcoming expansion draft, but was expected to challenge for the Montreal backup role in the next few years.
He’ll have to wait and watch for now, as Price and Allen make up the most expensive tandem in the entire league. They also could make up one of the best, given Price’s all-world ability and the resurgence of Allen’s game. The 30-year-old Allen posted a .927 save percentage in 24 appearances for the St. Louis Blues in 2019-20, his best statistical season, though obviously in fewer starts.
If reducing his load produces those results, he can be a real difference-maker for the Canadiens as they turn the corner and start to try and contend for the Stanley Cup. The team has dished out huge contracts this offseason to newcomers Joel Edmundson, Josh Anderson, and Tyler Toffoli, while also locking up Jeff Petry to a long-term deal. After spending under the cap for several years, GM Marc Bergevin has decided it is time to push his chips to the middle.
The Montreal Canadiens have broken off talks with Brendan Gallagher for the time being, according to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic. The two sides had been working on an extension for the 28-year-old forward, but as LeBrun puts it, “talks have obviously not gone great so far.”
With a year left on his contract, the level of concern for Canadiens fans should still remain pretty low, given Gallagher is the heart-and-soul of the team and brings exactly what GM Marc Bergevin has been after all offseason. Perhaps the additions Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli on long-term deals will complicate things, but with so much time left to get a deal done, it’s hard to see talks not resuming at some point.
- Champions Hockey League in Europe has decided to cancel their 2020-21 season, due to the impact of the COVID-19 situation. The league, which pits club teams from several different professional leagues against each other, has to deal with travel restrictions between 12 different countries that will make things impossible this year. They do plan on resuming in 2021-22.
- Dani Rylan Kearney is stepping down as commissioner of the National Women’s Hockey League, with Tyler Tumminia taking over on an interim basis. Tumminia was previously set to be the chairperson of the new Toronto Six franchise, but will leave that role according to Marisa Ingemi of The Ice Garden. The league is changing to an operation model of unincorporated association with a board of governors, similar to the structures found in other professional sports. Rylan Kearney will become the president of an independent NWHL ownership group.
Canadiens RFA Charles Hudon is closing in on a deal with Lausanne of the Swiss NLA, reports Guillaume Lefrancois of La Presse. TVA Sports’ Renaud Lavoie adds (Twitter link) that the winger is already in Lausanne and is waiting for his work visa to be approved before he signs the contract.
The 26-year-old opted to not file for arbitration back on Saturday so this may not be a typical loan situation as many players have had over the last couple of months.
Hudon spent most of last season with Laval of the AHL after clearing waivers and was quite productive, notching 27 goals in just 46 games. However, that didn’t carry over to his NHL opportunities as he managed just a goal and an assist in 15 games with Montreal during the regular season and didn’t record a point in two playoff contests. Hudon has had success in the NHL before, posting a 30-point season in 2017-18 but has struggled since then.
Lefrancois notes that Hudon was hopeful of a fresh start somewhere else but clearly, a trade scenario has not yet materialized. If this is a season-long signing and not just a short-term deal until NHL training camps open, it likely wouldn’t be until late March or sometime in April before his season would end which may wind up being around where the NHL trade deadline will be in 2020-21 depending on the length of the campaign. At that time, he could sign with whoever holds his rights or wait it out until next offseason when he’ll be eligible for unrestricted free agency.
The Montreal Canadiens have landed one of the top remaining free agents, agreeing to terms with Tyler Toffoli to a four-year contract worth a total of $17MM. That gives Toffoli a $4.25MM average annual value, actually a little lower than the $4.6MM cap hit he has carried the last three seasons and well below what most believed he would receive this off-season. The deal also does not contain any trade protection.
Toffoli, 28, has settled for a multi-year deal that pays him market value for his floor, but not close to his ceiling. Toffoli is a four-time 20-goal scorer, including one season with over 30 tallies, and has four seasons of 40+ points. While he did have a pair of seasons with the Los Angeles Kings in which he only managed 34 points, his norm is well above that mark. In fact, his 82-game pace with the Kings and Vancouver Canucks last season was 29 goals and 53 points. 82 games is not uncommon for Toffoli either; the two-way winger has played in every game in three seasons and has never played in fewer than 62 games since becoming a full-time NHLer. If Toffoli can stay healthy through this contract, which does take him into his thirties, and scores even at his career average rate, this is a bargain deal for the Canadiens.
Toffoli plays a smart, two-way style. He isn’t overly physical and doesn’t dominate the typical defensive stats, but is a capable penalty killer and an effective forechecker. Offensively, Toffoli can make zone entries, gets to the net, and creates scoring opportunities. A solid all-around player, Toffoli has been an analytics darling throughout his career with his ability to positively impact play leading to strong possession numbers and high scoring expectations. With Montreal, Toffoli joins a now lethal group at right wing, including fellow new acquisition Josh Anderson and career Canadien Brendan Gallagher. Toffoli is likely to challenge for a top line role, but there is no way of knowing how that group will shake out. Either way, Toffoli will produce at even strength and will be an asset on special teams.
While this signing should make Montreal fans very happy, fans of another team in Canada have to be frustrated at this point. Prior to the opening of free agency, the Vancouver Canucks had stated over and over that they hoped to re-sign all three of Toffoli, Jacob Markstrom, and Chris Tanev, if at all possible. Four days into free agency, Toffoli’s deal with the Habs means the Canucks have lost all three of their “priorities” this off-season, with Markstom and Tanev joining the rival Calgary Flames. The inexplicable inactivity out of Vancouver is one of the biggest head-scratchers of the off-season, especially with Toffoli signing such a reasonable deal.
Ouellet, 27, actually has 172 NHL games under his belt, even though he rarely stays up in the NHL for more than a few games at a time. His only full season was in 2016-17 when he suited up 66 times for the Detroit Red Wings, and he has played in 31 games with Montreal since arriving in 2018. More importantly, he’s been a leader and rock for the Laval Rocket, where he wore the “C” the last two seasons.
The minor leagues will be where he’s headed again, but having a defenseman with that much NHL experience stashed in the AHL is valuable. He can come up when injuries strike and faces little chance of being claimed on waivers upon his return.