MONTREAL — This is no small gamble, but it is a calculated one from Marc Bergevin.
When the Canadiens general manager decided earlier this week to ask Carey Price to waive his no-movement clause for the upcoming Seattle expansion draft, he rolled the dice on losing his franchise goaltender for nothing come July 21.
Bergevin did it to give himself the best opportunity to keep both Price and backup Jake Allen, but he also did it knowing that’s anything but guaranteed.
But if Bergevin does have to lose one of his two goaltenders, earlier on Saturday Kraken GM Ron Francis (ironically) offered up the best explanation as to why his Montreal counterpart would be willing to live with it being Price.
“The only thing we think is extremely, extremely valuable in this environment,” Francis said , “is cap space.”
No other GM would disagree.
The NHL suffered losses in the billions over the last 17 months of trudging through most of two playoffs and parts of two abbreviated seasons without fans in attendance, and the upper limit of the salary cap is expected to remain fixed at $81.5 million over the next four years because of it. That has created a lot of headaches for GMs across the league, and Bergevin is no exception.
Price is less than a month away from celebrating his 34th birthday, he’s locked into a contract that comes with a $10.5-million cap hit for each of the next five years, and that’s a lot of valuable space being used on a goaltender who fell off the pedestal over the last few regular seasons — even if he put in a superstar performance in last year’s bubble before doing the same to carry the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final this year. The injuries have piled up more than the trophies have over his 14 seasons in Montreal, and he admittedly can’t handle the same workload that had him termed a thoroughbred by the man who drafted him (Bob Gainey).
All that reinforced Allen’s value to Bergevin. The 30-year-old, who’s on the cap for $2.875 million over each of the next two seasons, got the Canadiens to the playoffs so Price could get them through, and that’s the same model the GM wants to retain in making this move.
The hedge to potentially losing Price to Seattle is on Allen. It’s on 21-year-old Cayden Primeau, who’s waiting in the wings and projects to be a future No. 1. And it’s on the goaltending market, which will open on July 28 when free agency kicks off and offer some reasonably priced and talented stop-gap solutions.
But prior to Saturday, Price’s contract was thought to be immovable—with good reason — and Bergevin is banking on that still being the case.
Price is owed an $11-million signing bonus on September of 2021, and he’ll make a minimum of $5.5 million up front for every remaining season under contract. His actual salary will be $13 million for next season and it will never dip below $7.5 million at any point. And though he has lifted his no-movement clause for the expansion draft, he will retain it if claimed by the Kraken (meaning they cannot claim him and then flip him to another team without his consent).
If all that — on top of what Price is making on the cap — isn’t a concern to Francis, he isn’t doing his job properly.
But even Bergevin has to know that some of that concern can be mitigated by several factors.
Start with this one: Of the 30 players the Kraken will choose, none of them will come with the pedigree or notoriety of Price, a former Hart-, Vezina- and Ted Lindsay-Award winner who also has an Olympic gold medal on his mantle. There will be some great players available to the franchise, but none who can serve as adequately as the face of it.
And as one executive pointed out after Saturday’s news dropped, “The Kraken will make up all that signing-bonus money on jersey sales within hours of Price landing in Seattle.”
Price’s wife, Angela, is from Washington State, and the family spent its last off-season there. And Price, born in Anahim Lake, B.C., would certainly help convert more than a few Vancouverites into Kraken fans, expanding the team’s reach and its merchandise sales.
So, for Francis, this won’t be as much about the remaining $44.25 million Price is owed on his eight-year, $84-million contract as it will the 13 per cent of Seattle’s annual cap that will be devoured over each of the next four seasons. And yeah, it’s going to count for a significant chunk in that final year, too, even if the cap rises.
Would the Kraken really want to do it?
There are going to be several good (and much cheaper) goaltenders available to them on Wednesday. There will be several star-level (and expensive) skaters on offer, too. And from the Canadiens alone, they could be looking at some appealing options outside of the crease.
Francis says he’s been authorized to spend to the cap, and he could do it through a combination of the expansion draft, trade and free agency.
If he does, would he be enticed to snag Shea Weber?
The Montreal captain is reportedly too injured to continue playing and will be left unprotected by the Canadiens. He could be placed on long-term injury reserve for the remainder of his five years under contract, and taking him would enable Francis to annually exceed the cap by his $7.87-million salary.
Francis might have the same opportunity with Jonathan Drouin. If the talented 26-year-old goes unprotected, he’s already on LTIR and has a $5.5-million cap hit for each of the next two seasons.
It’s all but guaranteed 22-year-old right-handed defenceman Cale Fleury will be left exposed. He’s a talented, tough restricted free agent due a qualifying offer worth about $9.5 million less than Price will count for on next season’s cap.
There will be other options, and we’ll find out on Sunday what they are — not just from the Canadiens, but from every team.
Bergevin will have to hope Francis’s plans have him steer clear of the former fifth-overall pick in 2005. And if his gamble doesn’t pay off, at least he’ll have what Francis correctly termed the most valuable commodity in this environment.