It's been nine months since New Year's day, the day Pierre Gauthier could have started to negotiate a contract extension for defenceman Andrei Markov. And while there was never any rush to do so, it now appears that one of the options Gauthier had available to him to keep Markov's cap number relatively low has been taken away.
With the NHL and NHLPA agreeing to amend the CBA midstream by changing the rules on long-term contracts, Markov's next deal is likely to take up a big chunk of cap space.
I don't think that Gauthier was actually considering throwing a 10-year contract Markov's way, in fact I'd have been shocked if he did. But now, he can't. Or at least it's not worth the trouble with this new formula for calculating cap hits on these long-term deals.
You've got to wonder if Gauthier won't have regrets that he didn't jump through this loophole while it was still open when Markov is suddenly counting for $7 million - or more - against the cap. And that cap situation will probably be pretty tight to begin with when Markov's contract expires on July 1.
Of course, this might also be a good thing because who knows how the Devils, Canucks, Hawks, Red Wings and Bruins will feel about those long-term deals five years from now when those players refuse to retire.
Speaking of tight quarters, with Carey Price's contract being signed yesterday the Habs cap figure has come into focus. I've seen it reported that Montreal has over $1.3 million in cap space remaining with 22 players signed, but that's not entirely accurate.
Yes, Gauthier could spend another $1.3 million if he wants, however he would have to use the dreaded bonus cushion in order to do so. His real level of penalty-free flexibility is a little over $950,000 (by subtracting Lars Eller's $425,000 in bonus money), which would get largely gobbled up as soon as a forward from Hamilton makes the club.
That's why it wouldn't shock me to see the Habs go with a 22-man roster to start the season, with defencemen Ryan O'Byrne and Alex Picard as the only two extras.