Most Canadiens fans have been fixated on the team’s negotiations with sniper Cole Caufield, and they had to be happy Monday with the news that the team has locked him up for a maximum eight-year term with an average cap hit of $7.85 million.
There had been speculation that he was looking at a max deal worth $9 million a season, but that was a non-starter because Nick Suzuki, the team’s captain and leading scorer, has a max deal with an annual hit of $7.875 million and the Canadiens weren’t inclined to pay Caufield more.
The max deal is beneficial for both parties. It gives the Canadiens a measure of economic certainty while providing Caufield with long-term security. While no player wants to think about injuries, they are a reality of the game. A shoulder injury ended Caufield’s season in January and, while the injury wasn’t career-threatening, there are always risks in a warp-speed contract sport. That’s particularly true when you are a smaller player with a target on your back.
The new deal is fair. While some people feel $9 million is reasonable for a player who was on pace to score 46 goals, Caufield has played only 143 NHL games counting playoffs and there is still room for development in his game, particularly on defence.
The new deal removes the threat of a team tendering an offer sheet if Caufield hadn’t signed by July 1. That was the way the Canadiens lost former No. 3 overall draft choice Jesperi Kotkaniemi to the Carolina Hurricanes, but you have to believe the Canadiens would have matched any offer to retain Caufield’s services because he is a natural goal-scorer and they are a rare breed.
While Caufield has garnered most of the attention, general manager Kent Hughes is now free to deal with another diminutive scorer who is deserving of a substantial raise.
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard stepped up after Caufield was injured and put up some numbers, which agent Phil Lecavalier can work with if these negotiations go to arbitration.
Lecavalier became Harvey-Pinard’s agent earlier this year and his presence adds an extra dimension to the contract talks. Hughes served as Lecavalier’s mentor when he joined the agency now known as Quartexx. Lecavalier’s younger brother, longtime Tampa Bay Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier, works for the Canadiens as a special assistant for hockey operations.
Harvey-Pinard scored 14 goals and added six assists in 34 games and his average of 0.59 points a game made him the Canadiens’ seventh-most productive player. He was on pace for a 33-goal season.
His shooting percentage of 24.1 per cent was the best on the team — Caufield was at 16.5 per cent. He was ninth in team scoring and fifth in goal-scoring despite his limited participation.
More importantly, he showed that he was more than a one-trick pony. He played at both ends of the ice, killed penalties and, on a team littered with minus players, he tied with Mike Matheson for the best plus/minus numbers on the team at plus-7.
The only potential downside going forward is that Harvey-Pinard may not have the same opportunity to showcase his talent if Martin St. Louis can’t find him talented linemates. It’s one thing to play on the top line with Suzuki and Josh Anderson and another to be on a bottom-six line with Jake Evans and the newly re-signed Michael Pezzetta.
Harvey-Pinard had a two-way deal with an $825,000 cap hit last season, which means he earned less than $400,000 for his time in NHL. This time around, the minimum should be a one-way deal and Lecavalier should be asking his former boss for a salary close to $2 million.
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