MONTREAL -- You have to think Corey Perry could’ve taken a smidgen more than the league minimum to play just about anywhere. Coming off a run to the Stanley Cup Final with the Dallas Stars, over which he scored five goals and nine points in 27 games and fully lived up to his reputation of being about as fun to face as a mallet with blades, few teams would blink at bringing in a six-foot-three Cup winner with over 1000 games of experience as a depth option.
That Perry chose to sign a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Montreal Canadiens on Monday certainly says something about the stagnation of the salary cap butchering the market possibilities for lower-priority free agents, but it says much more about how far the team has come since the 2019-20 season was paused back in March.
Perry’s older at 35 -- a battle-hardened, bruised-but-not-broken type who can only be interested in one thing at this stage of his career. And after earning over $85 million since he was drafted 28th overall by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks -- as they were known -- in 2003, it ain’t the money.
This is about the Cup, which Perry must believe he can win with the Canadiens.
And maybe that’s to do with what they showed in the Toronto bubble in August -- beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games of the play-in round before giving the Philadelphia Flyers a legitimate scare in a six-game loss in the first round of the playoffs.
Or maybe it’s about everything that’s happened since.
The Canadiens have become bigger, meaner and far more seasoned. They’ve added scoring, grit and size with Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson, defensive depth, grit and size with Joel Edmundson and Alexander Romanov, and a 30-year-old backup goaltender coming off the best season of his career in Jake Allen.
Michael Frolik, a cagey vet of 850 games, signed on last week.
That’s four Stanley Cup winners (Toffoli, Edmundson, Allen and Frolik) coming to a team that previously had none.
And now it’s five with Perry.
“At 750K? I like it,” said a Western Conference executive we touched base with just minutes after the news dropped on Monday. “I really like it.”
For the Canadiens, it’s a no-brainer.
They wanted Wayne Simmonds, a 32-year-old with a near identical playing profile to Perry; a player who’s dropped off considerably from the one who consistently topped 25 goals but one who still brings size, edge, character and depth scoring. Bergevin even confirmed they offered Simmonds more money than the $1.5 million he took to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 9.
You have to think the Montreal GM is thrilled to land Perry, a one-time 50 goal scorer and Hart Trophy winner, for less than half the price.
The Western Conference executive we spoke with said he should be.
“I would take Corey Perry before I’d take Wayne Simmonds,” he started. “He’s obviously not the player he used to be -- neither of them are -- but he’s good on the walls and getting pucks out, and with the way Montreal plays, he’s going to be a good fit.
“He was outstanding in the playoffs. He’s not a guy that’s going to carry from one end to the other, but once he’s in the zone, he’s a useful guy. He’s a good defensive player, too, so you’re not worried that you’re going to get scored on. He’s also coming from Dallas’s system, so he’ll be polished that way.”
Will Perry be an everyday player for the Canadiens? Maybe not.
Perhaps the more pertinent question is: Does he even need to be one?
Last year’s Canadiens would’ve needed to use the Peterborough, Ont., native in their top-nine. This edition can afford to rest him on the second night of back-to-backs knowing that the fresher they keep him, the better he’ll be when it matters most.
Bergevin has secured the type of depth the Canadiens need in order to believe they’ll be playing when it matters most. It’s the type of depth you need in any season, but especially in one where his team is in a 56-game sprint to the playoffs and playing exclusively against six other teams in an uber-competitive division.
You’re going to need quality players rotating in and out at the bottom end of your lineup; quality players who can step up in case of injuries or a COVID-19 rash; quality players who can handle the playoff-style games this season is going to feature. The Canadiens suddenly have two more of them than they did at this time last week.
Prior to Perry and Frolik signing, you could’ve penciled two potential 20 goals scorers in Paul Byron and Joel Armia onto their fourth line. They’re players who could move up the lineup when injuries hit but players that could also rotate out for Perry or Frolik on any given night if the team is fully healthy.
“Perry’s a gamer,” said the executive. “He’ll want to play every night.”
The Canadiens wouldn’t have looked his way if that wasn’t the case. It’s that competitiveness they’re buying.
And Perry wouldn’t have signed with the Canadiens if they were still a team that could guarantee him a spot his play no longer merits.
The expectations are aligned, and they’re much higher than they have been in the make-the-playoffs-and-see-what-happens era of the Canadiens.
They’ve gone from habitually not spending anywhere close to the cap over the last three years to surpassing it by over a million dollars coming into this one -- a problem that doesn’t really require a corresponding move to solve, at least not beyond placing Jordan Weal, Xavier Ouellet and any other combination of players on their four-to-six-man taxi squad.
“We have a team that should make the playoffs, I can tell you that,” said Canadiens owner Geoff Molson in an interview with Sportsnet towards the end of October. “And I think the team and the organization and the fans would be extremely disappointed if we didn’t. I think we’ve gotten to the point where we can. So, with that in mind, it would be disappointing if we didn’t.”
When Molson made those comments, the Canadiens looked like a team that could do some damage if/when they get there. They are even more so now with Perry in the fold.