Canadiens News & Rumors: Tatar, Evans, Romanov & Cap Flexibility

Although the NHL’s regular season has been suspended in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, that doesn’t mean that news and rumours aren’t emerging from NHL teams. In this News & Rumors post, I’ll discuss what Montreal Canadiens players are doing and thinking about during the suspension. At the same time, I’ve been collecting news and rumours emerging from the organization.

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Today I’ll check in on the Canadiens players as well as note how the organization might handle life in the NHL after we emerge from this crisis.

Item One: Tomas Tatar’s Shoulder Injury Could Be Better

Most teams are in the same boat. If the 2019-20 NHL season returns to action, some players who were expected to be out for the season might be ready to play. The Canadiens’ leading scorer Tomas Tatar is one of those players.

Tatar has been out with a shoulder injury since March 1, and it seemed like he wouldn’t be able to lace up at all for the remainder of the season. The suspended season has changed that.

Tomas Tatar Montreal Canadiens
Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When teams lose their core players, their record suffers; that’s what happened without Tatar in the Canadiens’ lineup who lost their last three games. It would be a boost if he can re-join the team if the season resumes and the team is battling for a playoff position.

In fact, that might be the case. Although with the current playoff format, the Canadiens would likely not have made the playoffs, there have been rumors that a new version of a playoff scenario would have many teams make the postseason. In Item Two below, that’s what Dan Milstein, Alexander Romanov’s agent, has implied as a good reason for the Canadiens to sign his client.

There’s so much up in the air; however, might there be a scenario where the Canadiens make the playoffs? If so, they would benefit from a healthier lineup than the one they were icing before the break, (from ‘I want to be ready,’ Canadiens coach Julien says if NHL season resumes, Pat Hickey, Montreal Gazette, 08/04/20).

Related: Looking Back on Montreal’s Pierre Gauthier Era

That said, Tatar seems to have his head on straight about the global pandemic. In a conference call on Tuesday, he noted that he’s thinking less about his next contract or playing goals than about the health of other people.

Tatar reminded everyone how insignificant his contract situation is in the face of illness and death. He noted, “I think the health and safety of our fans, (hockey) workers and the players is in first place. Unless this all gets cleaned up and we’ll have a green light for games to be played, we just have to respect it.”

With veteran defenseman Jeff Petry, Tatar has another season left on his contract with the Canadiens. Both were considered valuable trade chips at the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24. However, the Canadiens decided to keep both key players.

Jeff Petry Montreal Canadiens
Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Should the league emerge from its hiatus, Tatar could be ready to play which is good news. Prior to the pause, he was having his most productive season to date, and led the team with 61 points (22 goals, 39 assists) in 68 games.

Item Two: Is Alexander Romanov Ready to Sign with the
Canadiens?

Speaking about how the NHL will resolve the 2019-20 season if the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Alexander Romanov’s agent Dan Milstein shared the rumor that “the GMs are in favor of having some kind of a regular season, and then as many as 24 teams would possibly make the playoffs.”

Related: Remembering the Canadiens’ 2010 Playoff Run

That’s important to the Canadiens because, if there’s any truth to these rumors, it matters when Romanov signs with the team.

We know that Romanov is ready to sign with the Canadiens; however, no one’s quite clear if his contract would begin next season or if he’d be able to play if the 2019-20 season resumes. Currently, the NHL only allows teams to sign players to contracts that begin next season, but that might change if there’s a regular season that carries through July.

If that’s the case, would teams be able to sign new players for the end of the 2019-20 season and then carry over those contracts into 2020-21? Milstein’s take is, “If I was Montreal, I’d probably be calling Romanov for this year. I haven’t discussed it with Montreal, but I will when the time comes.”

Alexander Romanov Team Russia
Alexander Romanov #26 of Russia during the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.
(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

As Milstein puts it: “It’s just, right now, I’d rather he plays this year. Why sit out and wait until October? He’s definitely coming. He’s coming to be an NHL player, and so it’s just a matter of when.”

When Romanov is ready to sign, it won’t be announced until a decision is made about the remainder of the 2019-20 season as a way to take advantage of any NHL loopholes that are allowed.  

Item Three: Jake Evans Is Self-Isolating at Home in Toronto

During the suspension of the NHL’s regular season, 23-year-old prospect Jake Evans has been self-isolating in Toronto at his parents’ house. Evans scored two goals and an assist in 13 games with the Canadiens, but he played most of the season with their AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket. There he totaled 14 goals and 24 assists (38 points) in 51 games. He’s a pretty good player for a flyer the Canadiens took in the seventh round (207th overall) of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

Evans is also a special young man. He was named Laval’s winner of the AHL Man of the Year, which “honors a player’s contributions to the community.”  Evans worked with others to raise $15,565 to fight pediatric cancer and was and participated in a reading program for elementary school children, carried over from a program he started when he was playing at the University of Notre Dame.

Jake Evans Montreal Canadiens
Jake Evans, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

Evans noted, “I felt lucky to be a part of a great program and wanted to give back, so I spent a lot of time at an elementary school there. I felt the same way in Laval. We’re so lucky to be playing the game that we love. That’s our job. So when we have spare time we should use it accordingly.”

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Welcome to the Canadiens, where goalie Carey Price and other players are well-known for their charitable work. By the way, Evans also plays the piano as the CBC article pointed out. There’s a solid chance he will become part of the Canadiens roster next season.

What’s Next with the Canadiens?

One thing the Canadiens have that other teams don’t is salary cap flexibility. They will emerge from the NHL pause with money to spend, and should the cap’s upper limit be tweaked in reaction to lost revenue, other teams might need to dump salary. That puts Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin in an interesting position. I’m certain he’s already making plans for such a possibility.