With Pyatt taking the league minimum at $500K and Pouliot getting a raise to $1.375 million, Habs GM Pierre Gauthier has about $6.9 million to play with to fill five or six roster spots. July 1 being Thursday, it's still difficult to say just how much of that money Gauthier can use on signing a new player.
Why? Because of the sticky situation that is Carey Price, the team's No. 1 netminder who remains a massive question mark and a huge gamble for Gauthier. But just how far does he take that gamble?
Price could simply be asked to sign his qualifying offer for about $900,000 and make things easy on the team's cap situation, but that's really not the way to go here, not right after anointing the guy as your starting goalie.
But at the same time, Gauthier can't throw gobs of money at Price nor can he sign him to a long-term deal that would buy some of his free agent years without knowing just what kind of goalie he's getting. A six-year, $15 million deal may look like the biggest bargain in the league by the end of the contract, or it could be a $2.5 million burden on the Habs cap halfway through if Price never realizes his limitless potential. By the same token, a two-year, $3 million deal means Gauthier may have to pay up extremely large when Price is only 25.
Therein lies the Catch-22 Gauthier finds himself in, but as far as I'm concerned he's already hitched his wagon to Price, so he may as well go all the way. Sign Price long term in the hopes that the contract will be a blessing rather than a curse.
Gauthier's decision - and Price's willingness to accept it - will go a long way toward determining how active the Canadiens are when the free agent market opens its doors Thursday.
The $6.9 million in available cap space does not include Maxim Lapierre, Sergei Kostitsyn and the other restricted free agents who received qualifying offers last week. I'm going to include Lapierre at $735,000 and also Max Pacioretty at $910,000 because I feel he figures large in the Canadiens plans next season.
That gets us down to around $5.25 million in remaining cap space, with Price, his backup and three or four more forwards to sign. Will one of those forwards be Dominic Moore? If so, that's at least another $1.3 million gone, leaving just under $4 million for two goalies and at least two forwards. If those other two forwards make the league minimum, that's $3 million left for the goalies.
So you see how this remains an extremely touchy situation for Gauthier, even though he was handed a gift when the salary cap was increased to $59.4 million for next season thanks to the player's association invoking their right to lose even more money to escrow.
Then again, there is always the possibility that Gauthier can shed some salary to make room for a move or two, and while many of you may be thinking of Andrei Kostitsyn, I'm not. He's only got one more year left on a deal that does not break the bank. He's been a maddeningly streaky player who takes forever to get going, but once he does, it can be special to watch. That month he strung together when his line with Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec was among the best in the league was good enough that Gauthier should take a chance it can happen again.
But a player like Roman Hamrlik could be intriguing to certain teams, especially with the news of the cap going up. Because as the cap rises, the salary floor rises as well and every year we see some teams scrambling to make it there. Next season, the floor will be $43.4 million, and by my count there should be five teams who will need to throw some money around to make it there: Phoenix, Nashville, Anaheim, Colorado and the New York Islanders.
Two of those teams jump out at me as potential trade partners for the Habs - the Ducks and Islanders. Anaheim just lost Scott Niedermayer and the defence could use a veteran presence aside from Lubomir Visnovsky. The Islanders, meanwhile, are known territory for Hamrlik, which is important because he has a limited no trade clause until Feb. 1 and would have to approve the team he is sent to.
If Gauthier can pull a trade like this off in the couple of days, then all bets are off as to what he does on July 1. But it's not very likely to happen that way, so Gauthier will probably have one singular focus on Thursday and that's to find a backup for Price. Because depending on whether or not the Chosen One grabs the reins of this opportunity and runs with it, that free agent signing may very well make or break the Habs season.