Gregory Stewart signing a one-year deal for $500,000 makes the Canadiens cap picture a little clearer, even though it's still murky because we don't know who will make up the 23-man roster once the season starts.
As things stand right now, assuming Ryan O'Byrne makes the team as a seventh defenceman, the Canadiens have just over $1.1 million in cap room with only Matt D'Agostini left to sign. Considering D'Agostini was making $508,000 last year, it would be surprising to see him get a contract worth any more than $600,000 for the upcoming season, if that.
So, for all intents and purposes, the Habs are working with about $500,000 in wiggle room for the upcoming season, perhaps even less than that if Max Pacioretty makes the big club and someone like Kyle Chipchura doesn't. That's not a whole lot of space when names like Alex Frolov and Patrick Marleau are flying around in trade rumours.
But where it gets complicated is the performance bonus cushion. This has been referred to here many times over the past little while, and I suddenly realized I didn't fully comprehend what the consequences of that cushion were. So I decided to refer to my favourite document and yours, the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The Habs have $1.615 million in potential performance bonuses on the roster this year, most of which is accounted for by Carey Price's $1.35 million bonus package. The CBA would allow the Canadiens to exceed the cap by that amount if they so chose, but that decision is one that shouldn't be taken lightly.
If GM Bob Gainey decides to use this loophole in the CBA to further bolster his club, it will come at the expense of the following season in a very dangerous way. Essentially, whatever the Canadiens spend over the cap this year would be dropped from their cap number in 2010-11.
If fans thought this summer was eventful, next summer may not be so peaceful either.
Price's entry level deal will be up and as an RFA he'll likely be looking at the contracts signed by guys like Dion Phaneuf (6 years, $39 million), Paul Stastny (5 years, $33 million), Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf (5 years, $26.625 million) and others who cashed in on their second NHL deal.
In addition, Tomas Plekanec will be an unrestricted free agent, Guillaume Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre will be arbitration eligible, while Sergei Kostitsyn will be a restricted free agent as well.
Add in the fact that there's the very real potential for a drop in the $56.8 million salary cap and it makes it a pretty ugly picture for Gainey, who has already committed nearly $44 million to 12 players for 2010-11.
So, when looked at in this light, would it be wise for Gainey to use that bonus cushion and make a trade now even though it's not likely to push his team over the top? Or would it be better to save that cap space for next season, when he - or whoever is GM of the team next summer - will have some more important decisions to make?