A Recap of a Busy Free Agency for Montreal
Well, one thing’s for certain: the Canadiens’ finances have not been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Montreal Canadiens have been throwing a lot of money around since the beginning of the NHL free agency on October 9th. I thought I would go through every signing, and give you my thoughts.
October 8th, 2020: The Montreal Canadiens Sign Josh Anderson to a 7-Year, $38.5 Million Contract
After acquiring the big-bodied right-winger from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Max Domi, the Montreal Canadiens needed to sign Anderson to a new deal. Anderson is 26 and a year away from unrestricted free agency. He came into the negotiations with an ultimatum: either sign me to a one-year deal and we’ll try again next summer or give me term and pay for it. Bergevin opted for the latter. This deal pays Josh Anderson $5.5 million per season until he is 33. Now, a healthy Anderson who plays like his 2018-19 self (hitting, scoring etc.) is worth every penny of this deal. But an unhealthy Anderson who reinjures his shoulder (which was busted most of last season) could turn this deal into a bust. Bergevin really took a gamble here. We’ll have to see how this turns out, but rest assured that at this moment, Josh Anderson is 100% healthy. The question is whether he can maintain that.
October 9th, 2020: Canadiens Sign Brandon Baddock to a 1-Year, $700 000 Contract
Organiser la parade!
Elephant-headed Canadiens fans may remember Brandon Baddock as the guy who broke Nicolas Deslauriers’ jaw in the 2018-19 preseason. He’s a fighter who will bolster the AHL depth. I don’t see him playing at the NHL level unless the Canadiens are devastated by injuries (hopefully won’t happen). There’s not much to deliberate here.
After a quiet few days…
October 12, 2020: Canadiens Sign RW Tyler Toffoli to a 4-Year, $17 Million Contract
The Canadiens were in need of a triggerman, a sniper to help out the power play and play with the elite playmaking centres. Tyler Toffoli is that guy. He is a consistent 20-goal scorer, and even scored 31 in 2015-16. He had 24 goals and 44 points this past season, split between the LA Kings and the Vancouver Canucks. I mentioned him as a trade target at the 2018-19 trade deadline, and that was when he was having a down year. You can imagine how enthusiastic I am about Toffoli joining the Canadiens now, after he’s bounced back. The fact is Toffoli brings more than goal-scoring. He’s big and is good at winning puck battles in tight, which is something the Canadiens could use some help with. He’s also pretty good defensively; he occasionally killed penalties with the Kings. Toffoli signed for well below market value; he was projected to receive around $5.5 million per season and ended getting “only” $4.25 million. And for four years with little chance of decline, this is a great deal.
One interesting caveat is at this point, there were reports that contract extension talks between Marc Bergevin and Brendan Gallagher’s agent, Gerry Johansson, had stalled. This lead to widespread trade speculation and concerns about Gallagher’s future in Montreal, especially considering all of the depth the Canadiens have created at Gallagher’s position, right-wing. More on this later.
October 14th, 2020: Canadiens Extend Jake Allen for 2 years at $2 875 000 per year
This is classic thinking ahead by Bergevin. You see, every team must expose in the upcoming Seattle expansion draft, a goalie that is under contract for the 2021-22 season. The Canadiens had no significant goalie that could be exposed to Seattle, as Carey Price must be protected and Jake Allen’s contract was to end on July 1st, 2021. So, the Canadiens extended Allen at a cheaper price than his previous contract so that they could expose him to Seattle, with the hopes that Seattle will take Allen instead of a promising young defenseman whom the Canadiens can’t protect. There is no other explanation as to why the Canadiens would extend a goalie that hasn’t played a game for them yet.
Side note: this extension again fueled the “oh my God we’ll have no space to sign Gallagher” hysteria. Until…
October 14th, 2020: The Montreal Canadiens Extend Brendan Gallagher for 6 Years at $6.5 million Per Year
Brendan Gallagher is the heart and soul of this Canadiens team. I have sung the Brendan Gallagher praise time and time again, and I will do so in this article. Luckily, I’m not literally singing because that would be painful for all of us. In every shift of every game that Brendan Gallagher plays, he gives 110%. The guy always gives it his all out there, and comes back to the bench completely gassed. And yet, he brings that same level of intensity on the next shift, too. He’s the Energizer Bunny of this team. The numbers speak for themselves: two 30-goal seasons (2017-18 and 2018-19), and he was on pace for another one this year. Gallagher has led or shared the lead in goal-scoring on this team for the past three seasons. He plays a hard-nosed game and gets in the faces and heads of opponents. Gallagher is likely the next captain of this storied franchise. As for the signing, Gallagher wanted a long-term commitment, and he got one. The deal pays him until he’s 35. Is there potential for a drop-off in production near the end of the contract? Of course there is. But the leadership and motivation that Gallagher brings to this team is priceless and will make up for a drop-off in production. Is this a great signing right now? Absolutely. Gallagher is now in Montreal for a long time. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s three of the 2021 Canadiens free agents signed: Jeff Petry, Jake Allen, and now Brendan Gallagher.
Is Bergevin Done?
With many moves made, it seems that Marc Bergevin has finished his shopping for the offseason, adding Jake Allen, defenseman Joel Edmundson, Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli, and extending Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher. The one problem: with all those additions the Canadiens are now over the $81.5 million salary cap. They may have move a contract out to get under, but as they’re only about 400k above the upper limit, that shouldn’t be too difficult. As well, Bergevin might consider extending more 2021 free agents, such as UFA’s Tomas Tatar and Philip Danault, and RFA Jesperi Kotkaniemi. But if Bergevin is truly done, then I believe this has been a very successful offseason. The Canadiens used their cap space to add size, depth and scoring, especially on the wings. Their defence is now massive and punishing, especially the top-four. And Jake Allen can give Price a night off every now and then, giving the 33-year-old a chance to rest and stay on top of his game. Of course, we won’t know how effective this offseason has been until the season starts.
La saison peut-elle déja commencer? Je manque vraiment au hockey…
Go Habs Go.
Signed, Le Bo