Montreal is smart to take advantage of teams looking to free cap space

The Montreal Canadiens have a busy summer ahead of them, loaded with cap space and looking to stockpile on young depth pieces and draft picks ahead of a “re-tooling period”. While it is difficult to rebuild with contracts carried by Carey Price and Shea Weber, it is possible to re-tool and send the franchise in the right direction going forward.

Nearly 24 hours until free agency opens, the Habs made a deal with the Winnipeg Jets to acquire several pieces in exchange for a prospect.

Before understanding why the trade was made, it is important to understand what was involved in the trade.

 

Montreal Canadiens acquire

Joel Armia (RW)

The 25-year old winger stands at 6’4” and 205lb on the right side. Armia was selected 16th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres and was sent as part of a package to Winnipeg in the Evander Kane deal.

Armia is coming off of his most productive season, recording 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points in 79 games for the Jets. He also added two goals in 13 games for Winnipeg during their playoff run. Overall, Armia has 58 points in 180 career NHL games but is improving each year.

Fun fact: Canadiens third overall pick (2018 NHL Entry Draft) Jesperi Kotkaniemi admits to idolizing Armia. Both Joel and Jesperi come from Pori, Finland and both have played for Assat in Finland’s top league.

Steve Mason (G)

The 30-year old goaltender was the 69th overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Last season, Mason only appeared in 13 games for Winnipeg – posting a 3.24 GAA and .906 save percentage. He also played one game for the Manitoba Moose (AHL affiliate). Mason peaked at a 2.25 GAA for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2014-15, but has progressively declined since.

7th Round Pick (2019)

4th Round Pick (2020)

Winnipeg Jets acquire

Simon Bourque (D)

The 21-year old native of Longueuil, Quebec was selected 177th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens.

The defenceman was a 0.60 Point Per Game player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Since turning professional, Bourque is yet to make his NHL debut but has registered four assists in 49 career American Hockey League appearances.

 

What does this trade mean?

At the surface, it appears Winnipeg dealt a top nine forward, back-up goaltender and two draft picks in exchange for a single prospect who has yet to make himself known at the professional level.

Well of course, there is far more to it.

With one year left on his contract, Mason was set to make $4.1-million over the course of the 2018-19 season. That is a lot for Winnipeg to pay a goalie they barely used. To make matters worse, the Jets did not have much room to sign twelve regulars who become restricted or unrestricted free agents this summer, including Paul Stastny, Adam Lowry, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck, and more. Not including eleven pending free agents in their system.

Most notably, 32-year old centre Stastny is set to make a pay day after being dealt to Winnipeg at the trade deadline and being a major contributor in their final 19 games of the regular season, including 15 points in 17 playoff games.

In order to make room for their signings, the Jets were forced to offload Mason’s contract.

That is where a team like the Montreal Canadiens come in.

According to CapFriendly, the Canadiens have over $17-million in cap space for 2018-19 and the only contracts that need to be re-signed are on the cheaper end. Montreal can, and would be smart to, take advantage of teams in difficult salary cap situations.

For Winnipeg, Mason is not an elite enough player to offload his contract on its own. They need to make it worthwhile for a team to pay him $4.1-million for an entire year where he would likely not see much ice time.

This is where Winnipeg throws in a useful forward such as Joel Armia and two draft picks. While the draft picks are in the fourth and seventh rounds, we saw just last weekend how often picks get dealt and if the Canadiens can pile up the picks, they can be packaged together for better selections.

After shopping Steve Mason to find a suiter to offload his contract, Montreal made the quick decision to buy-out the goaltender.

 

Instead of Mason contributing $4.1-million against the salary cap this year, the Canadiens will pay him $1,366,667 per year for two seasons (for a total cap hit of $2,733,334) not to play for them.

Do not be mistaken, the Canadiens were not looking to acquire Mason and create more of a log jam at the goaltender position throughout the organization. The Habs have essentially acquired Joel Armia and two draft picks in exchange for Simon Bourque and will take on Mason’s contract, but only pay $1.36 million per year for two seasons.

This creates another question.

 

Why is Montreal helping Winnipeg clear up cap room to re-sign Stastny, when the Habs could try to grab him on the Canada Day market?

It is hard to assume what goes on behind closed doors. But it is fair to assume that there are two scenarios:

1) The Habs have inside intel that either Stastny does not want to come to Montreal, or has his eyes solely set on staying in Winnipeg.

2) Despite the wishes of many on “Habs Twitter”, the Habs actually have no interest in the 32-year old.

Whether it is scenario one or two, Montreal was likely not a destination for Stastny all along as a result of this trade. So it is smart of the Canadiens to take advantage of Winnipeg’s salary cap situation to build up depth with 25-year old Armia and future draft picks.

 

What next?

It is fair to assume that neither Paul Stastny or John Tavares are on the Montreal Canadiens radar heading into Canada Day. That leaves David Perron, Thomas Vanek, James van Riesmdyk, Tyler Bozak, James Neal, etc. as popular unrestricted free agents. You never know what Marc Bergevin has up his sleeve.

Armia may have been a questionable acquisition due to the logjam at wing. But keep in mind, it is only June. We have all summer, all of training camp and the pre-season to shape the team in time for the 2018-19 season. Expect many changes to be made to mold the squad into the organizational vision for 2018-19. But he’s certainly an exciting acquisition – and Kotkaniemi thinks so too.

Best of luck to Simon Bourque and Steve Mason on their futures! All About The Habs is excited to welcome Joel Armia to Montreal.

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