Canadiens Mailbag: Would Dubois fit from cap, chemistry standpoints?

Canadiens' Josh Anderson (17) is congratulated after scoring an empty-net goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

If I had to bet on one or two, I’d put my money on Emil Heineman and Logan Mailloux

The first appears to have really taken to the North American game in Laval, scoring seven goals in his first seven contests with the Rocket and not shying away from using his six-foot, 194-pound frame to engage in battles and disrupt on the forecheck. 

Even if the offence has quieted a bit over his last five games, Heineman is still displaying all the qualities we saw during an impressive 2022 training camp with the Canadiens.

If he can replicate that in 2023, watch out. 

I think it also helps Heineman that there could be some room on the wing for a player just like him. Even if you slot Jesse Ylonen and Rafael Harvey-Pinard into full-time slots, there are several wingers who likely won’t be back with the Canadiens next season and that opens the door for a player like him. 

At first blush, the opportunity seems somewhat closed to Mailloux. You have Mike Matheson, David Savard and Kaiden Guhle locked in. It’s highly probable, based on what they proved this season, that Jordan Harris and Johnathan Kovacevic are not only there but forming a pair. You have to think Arber Xhekaj and Justin Barron have spots to lose rather than ones to win. And even if it’s likely Joel Edmundson is moved in the off-season, it’s not guaranteed.

But no matter what you think about where Mailloux’s at in his development—and it’s conceded he has parts of his game that require a lot of work—he shoots and skates at an elite level, he projects to be a quality power play quarterback who can move and skate the puck with ease, and he plays on the side where the Canadiens aren’t quite as strong. There is a chance of him beating someone to a spot because of that package.

Also, even if you have eight defencemen coming in ahead, the last two seasons have proven that you need several more throughout a full NHL campaign. 

They’ve also proven you probably need at least one who wasn’t guaranteed a spot right off the hop.

The last factor is that I’ve been told the development staff is extremely high on Mailloux’s progress as a person and player. They really believe in him. 

Based on everything, I believe he’s going to play at least some NHL games next season.

I’d be somewhat shocked if a buyout was exercised on any Canadiens players this summer. 

There are only two candidates on their team they’d likely consider using one on and I have to think they’d prefer a trade in both cases.

Trading Mike Hoffman, who’s under contract for one more year at $4.5 million, may prove difficult. 

But if it’s proving impossible, the Canadiens could package him with one of their three fourth-round picks to incentivize a team to take on his full hit. Or they could offer to retain $1.5 million of his salary in the deal and that would likely still be preferable to buying him out for $3.33 million, and then keeping $1.66 million of his dead-cap value on the books through 2025. 

I’m not saying the Canadiens definitely won’t buy out Hoffman, but I think that would be a last resort. I’m not anticipating they’ll do it.

Same goes for Joel Armia. 

Not that trading the enigmatic winger would be easy, but it’s not as if the Canadiens absolutely need to move Armia before next season starts. 

I’d be shocked if they elected to buy him out in June rather than bring him back, hope he redeems himself and boosts his value—and that’s if they can’t trade him. They’re not so cap crunched that they can’t live with one-and-a-half more seasons of Armia (assuming he’d be traded by the 2025 deadline) versus giving him 66 per cent of his $3.5-million annual salary and keeping the remainder of his dead hit on their books through 2027. 

Any money retained on a player, even if it’s a little over $1.4 million, could be problematic for the Canadiens come 2026 or 2027, when they should be entering or into their competitive window. 

I expect Armia could be traded this summer, but I wouldn’t guarantee it. 

I’m reasonably confident Hoffman will be traded this summer, and even more confident Edmundson will be traded.

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And even if Josh Anderson made it clear he’d prefer it if we kept his name out of rumours, I’m not discounting the possibility he moves this summer as well. Certainly not because the Canadiens want to move him—he had a good season and appears to be rounding into a much more complete player under Martin St. Louis—but more because of the opportunity moving him might present.

I think your assumption on Jesse Ylonen and Michael Pezzetta is safe. 

I’m as curious as anyone to see how Harvey-Pinard’s contract shakes out. I don’t think a multi-year extension is out of the question, but I also don’t expect the Canadiens to be firing all kinds of money at him. 

Can the two sides find a compromise in Harvey-Pinard taking a smaller salary and receiving term and security? Perhaps. 

That might be a better option for the player rather than trying to sign short and bet on himself, because it’s unlikely he’s going to have the same opportunity in Montreal’s lineup as he received with all the injuries that paved the way for him this season. 

While Harvey-Pinard is also in the rare position of holding arbitration rights coming out of his entry-level contract, I’d be shocked if he used that as a hammer of any kind in negotiations.

But it’s not the worst thing for him that the Canadiens know it is an option he can exercise. 

Moving on to Denis Gurianov, I don’t think there’s a chance the Canadiens are qualifying him for $2.9 million. 

Could they circle back with a low-ball offer once he’s tested the market? Perhaps. 

I think they’ll have the opportunity to do so because I don’t think any team is going to pay Gurianov more than a million on a one-year deal—unless that team is in the KHL.

And no, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where Gurianov ends up next season.

As for Cole Caufield, I wrote an extensive piece on the possibilities Wednesday.

Let’s first get back to what Kent Hughes said at his end-of-season press conference, just so we break down what he means properly.

“We want (our players) to know that our expectations are changing,” Hughes started. “I don’t know if we’re going to make the playoffs, but we’re not coming into the season saying it’s a foregone conclusion (we won’t). We want to try to make the playoffs. If we don’t make the playoffs, that’s fine, as long as, along the way, we’ve seen a great effort and we’ve seen things progress and we’ve seen our team moving in that direction. 

“But we’re not coming into the season saying we’re out of the playoffs.”

That’s pretty explicit, but I have two main takeaways from it. One, we can now say with certainty the Canadiens aren’t aiming for a top-five pick in the 2024 Draft. Two, I won’t be covering another season where the results don’t matter from start to finish, and I’m thankful for that.

Nothing Hughes said suggests the Canadiens are going to regress from a player development strategy standpoint. They still have a bolstered staff in place, a much more modern approach and much more precise plans for all their players to carry out. 

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One thing that will change with expectations rising and an actual effort being put into making the playoffs is the team won’t be using the NHL as a development league quite the same way it did this past season. Mistakes are going to cost some players ice time they weren’t docked over the last 82 games.

But that’s (naturally) the next phase of development for the players who were given that amount of rope. They were afforded that opportunity to grow over the last year so they could make fewer mistakes and handle a tighter leash moving forward.

If you’re asking if Hughes’ comments are based solely on what is currently in the organization and how the culture, brand and style of play developed from September to now, I don’t think they were. 

He knows if the Canadiens are going to compete for a playoff spot, he’s going to have some major work to do this summer to help them do it. 

Drafting somewhere between first and seventh overall will obviously alleviate some of the heavy lifting for Hughes, but he’s still going to have to push quite a bit to give the Canadiens a realistic hope. 

Does Hughes believe the Canadiens will be a playoff team? Is he expecting them to be one? 

I think what the GM was saying was he’s expecting the Canadiens to approach the season with that aim in mind and with an adherence to a much higher standard

I think the Canadiens will look at every opportunity available to them to improve their goaltending. I think they’ll hope to draft some quality goaltenders, and I think they’ll explore both the trade and free markets for quality goaltenders. 

I can’t say whether or not they’d trade Jake Allen, but they’d probably have to if they find someone who absolutely helps them more than he can both now and in the future and has to immediately be on their NHL roster. 

I can say with 99.9 per cent certainty they won’t be trading Samuel Montembeault. 

And we’ll see what happens with Cayden Primeau if the Canadiens don’t acquire anyone else who can help them immediately. 

I don’t think it’s out of the question they carry three goaltenders on the NHL roster to start next season if things remain status quo.

Your first question is worth asking because of how you framed it.

Because if people are really wondering why the Canadiens might want to trade for Pierre-Luc Dubois based on who he is as a player, they haven’t been watching him this season and they’re unaware of how he steps up his game in the playoffs

He’s been so good the Canadiens might want to move for him when this season ends. Even if they think the chances are strong he’d walk right to them as an unrestricted free agent a year later, they don’t have a guarantee of that and a lot can change in a year.

If the cost to acquire Dubois this summer proves too prohibitive, perhaps they’ll roll the dice and wait. Because paying for his new contract, on top of paying a big price through trade, might not be worth it. 

If it just comes down to a contract, I think the player is worth what he’ll likely command on a long-term deal, and I don’t think it’ll be a problem from a cap perspective for the Canadiens. 

It would be even less of one if Anderson is moved in a deal to acquire Dubois, or in another deal to make space, so I’m not sure how you keep him out of it one way or the other. 

Chemistry-wise, there is a legitimate question to ask. Would either Dubois or Kirby Dach be amenable to sometimes being transplanted to the wing so both can play top-six roles? Would either be alright with technically slotting lower in the lineup at times for matchup purposes, even if ice-time and opportunity ends up being close to equal in the end? 

I don’t think this would cause a chemistry issue, but it would need to properly be sold to both players and then managed accordingly.

If I were pitching them, I’d tell them the Canadiens have a better chance of winning a Cup (or Cups) with both of them as options at centre and on the wing than without one of them at either position—especially with Suzuki firmly in place on a long-term deal.

And, regarding Matheson, I expect he can continue to be a No. 1 defenceman for the Canadiens. 

I don’t know that he’ll continue to produce points at the same clip he did this past season, but I don’t anticipate a regression in terms of his effectiveness all over the ice. 

If anything, I’d say Matheson builds on what he did this past season. That he believes he will only inspires my faith in that prediction.

It’s too soon to project where Lane Hutson fits. Too much can happen in his own development over his next year at Boston University, and too much can happen with the Canadiens over the next year, to say with certainty where he slots in.

When Hughes and Jeff Gorton say they’ll look for opportunities like the one that presented itself at last year’s draft (Alex Romanov traded for a pick and picks flipped for Dach), trading from depth on the blue line fits pretty well in that.

I wouldn’t necessarily guarantee it would be done to create space for Hutson, as he’s not necessarily an untouchable for them. 

Don’t mistake that for me saying the Canadiens will be dangling Hutson as trade bait— they won’t — but it’ll be interesting to see what players become available to them as other GMs evaluate one of the promising defencemen they could have in return.

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