Canadiens, Romanov waiting for clarity on how to proceed with contract

Russia's Alexander Romanov during the Beijer Hockey Game between Russia and the Czech Republic. (Erik Simander/TT News Agency via AP)

If you’re curious about what the NHL’s memorandum of understanding for its new collective bargaining agreement and its return-to-play protocol mean for Alexander Romanov, you’re not alone.

As of this hour, the Montreal Canadiens, agent Dan Milstein and Romanov have more questions than they do answers (please note that this could change in an instant).

But here’s what they do know:

Players like Romanov — drafted players who have been placed on their team’s reserve list, players who were previously eligible to sign and play immediately at the end of their respective seasons in other leagues — will be permitted to sign their entry-level deal and have it start in 2019-20, but they won’t be permitted to play in this summer’s games.

Got it?

Also, Elliotte Friedman reported the following late on Monday:

If you’re asking yourself why the Canadiens would be willing to sign Romanov for 2019-20 and allow him to burn a year of his contract even though he won’t be eligible to play, you’re asking the right question. It’s hard to imagine the Montreal brass being too enthralled about the idea of getting Romanov a year closer to a potentially large payout — one that would be earned off a smaller sample size — without even getting to use him this summer.

In light of that, the pertinent questions are: Do the Canadiens see enough value in having Romanov participate in training camp come July 13, if he’s permitted to? Do they see it in making Romanov one of the 52 people they bring to the hub city on July 26 and in having him spend all that time around their players — practising with them and getting properly acquainted — even if he won’t be a part of their 31-player roster? Would those things be enough to mitigate having him burn a year of his contract?

To be clear, we don’t know yet (and neither do Milstein, Romanov nor the Canadiens know) if any of that would be permissible.

But if Romanov is allowed to do those things, they would obviously benefit him — and certainly much more so than sitting around for months without playing before starting his NHL career in late December of 2020 or January of 2021. In an ideal world, he’d sign, immediately burn the first year of his three-year deal with the Canadiens, participate in their upcoming training camp, practise with them, participate in all team functions in the hub city, and then have a chance to participate in tournaments that teams will likely organize for their prospects come fall.

That would even be somewhat good for the Canadiens, too, though it’s a lot to ask of them. Particularly on the hub-city front.

The Canadiens, like every other team participating in the return-to-play model, will have difficult decisions to make on who gets to come with them to Toronto later this month. Once you start crunching the numbers — between players, members of the administration, the coaching staff, the medical staff, equipment managers, and at least one member of the team’s marketing staff — you start to understand how hard it might be to squeeze someone in who you can’t even use.

What a pickle.

This can’t be how the Canadiens were hoping this would play out when they announced in early May that they had an agreement in place with Romanov for a contract that would begin in either 2019-20 or 2020-21. They drafted him 38th overall in 2018, they’ve watched him become an impressive young professional since, and they were hoping to see him playing a significant role in helping them take a big step forward as soon as possible.

It’s a given they wanted the NHL to budge on not allowing players like Romanov to sign and play, but sources indicated months ago that the league felt it would be unfair to have several players making their debuts — players who could make a significant impact — for teams that might not have been included in the playoffs had the regular season been completed and not interrupted by a global pandemic.

It’s clear that thinking prevailed in the end, even if the NHL’s deputy commissioner, Bill Daly, told Sportsnet on Monday that he wouldn’t comment on the reasoning for this rule adjustment, or on any other CBA issue, prior to the deal being ratified by both the NHL and NHLPA.

Anyways, we’re not the only ones searching for answers here.

The Canadiens, Milstein and Romanov want to know everything they need to know, and they want to know it yesterday. All parties, above all else, want to avoid a situation where the player is idle for close to a year.

But how the Canadiens handle that situation is going to be contingent on what they find out.

Sources have indicated they’d be willing to loan Romanov to a European team — most European leagues intend to start up again in the fall — but you have to wonder how well that really sits with them. How exactly can the Canadiens be excited about loaning Romanov out to another team, about having him play 20-30 games and exposing himself to illness or injury for another team before having him join their team for training camp, exhibition games, a condensed 82-game schedule and possible playoff games?

What European team would be willing to enter into such an agreement? And how would Romanov feel about going this route?

Again, more questions than answers here, but this is a situation we’ll revisit in short order if and when the league and the players ratify their deal.

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