Free agency is now just a month away and teams are looking ahead to when it opens.  There will be several impact players set to hit the open market in July while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign as well.  We continue our look around the NHL with an overview of the free-agent situation for the Canadiens.

Key Restricted Free Agents

F Jesse Ylonen – Hoping to build on a solid depth scoring season in 2022-23, Ylonen failed to boost his production in any meaningful way. In fact, he took a step or two back during the 2023-24 campaign while seeing his ice time dip towards the back half of the season. Ylonen saw his point-per-game average drop from 0.43 P/G to 0.14 P/G in only one year. Luckily, this should allow Montreal to keep him close to his previous league-minimum salary of $775K in hopes that he will rebound for the 2024-25 NHL season.

D Arber Xhekaj – Not much of a point producer from the back end, Xhekaj has become a valuable presence on the Canadiens’ blue line. Over the last two years, Xhekaj has scored a total of eight goals and 23 points over 95 games while also delivering 284 hits. However, because of his physicality, Xhekaj has lost quite a few games to injury in his first two years with Montreal, and the team will be hoping he can maintain better health moving forward. He should be able to get a modest raise on his most recent salary of $828K at the NHL level this summer, as Evolving Hockey projects a 2-year, $3M contract for Xhekaj.

D Justin Barron – Acquired in the trade that sent Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche during the 2022-23 NHL season, Barron could potentially be crowded out of the Canadiens defensive core this summer. Shuffled back-and-forth between Montreal and their AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket, Barron failed to build on his production this season despite seeing his ice time increase by an average of two minutes. It’s unlikely that the Canadiens will choose not to tender Barron a contract this offseason, but he may start the season in Laval with the team already having a crowded blue line.

Other RFAs: F Lias Andersson, F Filip Cederqvist, D Mattias Norlinder

Key Unrestricted Free Agents

F Tanner Pearson – After suffering through injuries during the 2022-23 campaign with the Vancouver Canucks, Montreal acquired Pearson last offseason for some much-needed depth scoring. However, Pearson would have one of his worst seasons to date in northeastern Canada, scoring five goals and 13 points through 54 games this year. A few weeks ago, it was announced the Canadiens have no intentions of re-signing Pearson, confirming he will hit the open market this summer.

Other UFAs: F Colin White, D Chris Wideman, F Arnaud Durandeau, F Philippe Maillet, F Mitchell Stephens, D Brady Keeper

Projected Cap Space

Heading into the summer months, the Canadiens organization will have around $9.4M of cap space to work with, with the ability to go 10 percent over the upper limit. Once the 2024-25 season starts, the team will place goaltender Carey Price on long-term injured reserve which will open up another $10.5M to work with during the year.

Unless Montreal can somehow facilitate a trade of Price’s contract this summer, they will have a little wiggle room to add an impact piece in free agency. Defenseman Mike Matheson and forward Juraj Slafkovsky took major steps forward this past season and the organization’s prospect pool should add complimentary pieces shortly. Because of this, Montreal’s sole focus should be moving out bloated but moveable contracts in Christian Dvorak and Joel Armia to increase the organization’s cap flexibility despite Price’s massive salary.

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2024-06-16T02:08:24Z dg43tfdfdgfd