The Montreal Canadiens moved 21-year-old defence prospect Simon Bourque for a serviceable player in Joel Armia, a 2019 seventh-round pick and a 2018 fourth rounder in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
The price was taking 30-year-old goaltender Steve Mason’s expiring $4.1 million cap hit off Winnipeg’s books and it was well worth paying.
Armia is 25 and he’s coming off a career-high 12-goal, 29-point season as a fourth-line right wing, and he has enough upside to move his way up Montreal’s lineup. Getting two futures, even if they’re lower picks, only sweetens the deal. And moving Bourque, who was on the lower end of Montreal’s prospect totem pole, was just a formality.
This is where having over 20 players signed and upwards of $19 million in cap space for the upcoming season really paid off. The Canadiens had the ability to make this deal, other teams didn’t.
It was a relief for Winnipeg, even if it meant giving up young talent. They may not be able to lock centre Paul Stastny into a new contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but they wouldn’t have been able to consider re-signing him without clearing Mason’s contract off the books. Regardless of what happens with Stastny, the flexibility gained was essential for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, as Blake Wheeler, the 31-year-old who scored 91 points last season, is a year away from unrestricted free agency. Defencemen Tyler Myers and Ben Chariot are playing out the final years of their respective contracts, too, as are young stars Patrick Laine and Kyle Connor.
For Montreal’s Marc Bergevin, this is a win all the way around. And chances are it’s just the first of the moves he’ll make over the next 48 hours or so.
According to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, the Canadiens have placed Mason on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying out his contract. Taking a final swing at Buffalo Sabres centre Ryan O’Reilly seems like a probability, with O’Reilly set to earn a $7.5 million bonus on July 1 that Montreal can afford to pay. And trading captain Max Pacioretty continues to be something they’re pursuing.
The Canadiens have also been linked to several impending unrestricted free agents. With holes at centre and on defence to fill, one would think they’ll strike deals with some of them.
Getting back to the trade they made early on Saturday: Armia alone was worth handing over Bourque, who scored three points in 46 games for the AHL’s Laval Rocket last season. He’s six-foot-three, over 200 pounds, and he’s not afraid of getting his nose dirty. He plays well at both ends of the ice, moves well for a man his size, and he can — if needed — play at the centre position. His experience in the NHL is limited there, but he did spend some time in the middle on his way up the ranks.
Armia, who was drafted 16th overall by the Sabres in 2011, also comes from Pori, Finland, which is the same town Jesperi Kotkaniemi was born and raised in. Kotkaniemi, who was drafted third overall by the Canadiens in Dallas last week, considers Armia to be a role model. It can’t hurt Kotkaniemi’s acclimation process to have his countryman around.
A deal between the Canadiens and Armia still must be made for that to be guaranteed. But the right winger, who is a restricted free agent coming off a two-year, $1.85 million contract, isn’t going to break the bank and should be inked in short order.
That’s just one more reason to like what the Canadiens did on Saturday morning.