Eggs Bennett 22-07
May 20, 2022
Should any team have six problematic contracts? That status is obviously less than ideal, and yet this is where we are with the Montreal Canadiens. This is the sixth in the Killer Contracts series, and for this voluminous story we can thank former GM Marc Bergevin who left some challenging financial commitments for the new leadership duo of Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton (HuGo) to address.
Regardless of the findings from the HuGo window of assessment from the point of their hire to the end of the season, it is not possible to address every killer contract in one off-season. This process is a marathon, not a sprint. We can be sure that some contracts will be moved soon, and just as sure that some of them will be on the books and on the ice next season.
In five previous articles I addressed Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron and Joel Armia. You can find them all at habather.ca. For this article, I’ve got David Savard in my sights.
The Contract Background
David Savard will turn 32 just as he is beginning the second year of a 4-year, $14M contract that has an AAV of $3.5M. The contract has one small signing bonus to consider – $500K in the final year of the deal – and the most expensive years from a salary perspective are the two upcoming years. The contract does not have trade protection.
How did this killer contract come to be?
Savard was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the fourth round of the 2009 draft at 94th overall. He developed for another year in the QMJHL before signing his entry-level contract with Columbus. Savard spent a complete year in the AHL before splitting two seasons between Columbus and Springfield. He signed a one-year deal with Columbus in the summer of 2013 and made the permanent jump to the NHL the following season. Savard would go on to sign two additional contracts with the Blue Jackets.
At the 2021 trade deadline, in the final year of his contract with Columbus, Savard was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning before becoming an unrestricted free agent. In the summer of 2021, Bergevin signed Savard to his current contract.
Decline. That’s the killer. There was a time when this contract would have been favourable. Not so long ago, Savard was a big and mean stay at home defender who could be relied upon in his own end while also bringing a decent first pass and contribute offensively. Aging, and perhaps some questions surrounding his fitness after a summer of Stanley Cup celebrations, have contributed to a decline in his effectiveness.
Savard’s apparent decline may be influenced by the overall abysmal performance of the Habs last season, along with some questionable utilization. Injuries, followed by selling at the deadline, resulted in the veteran seeing a little too much ice in a questionable pairing with Alexander Romanov. If the departure of Jeff Petry results in the acquisition of a veteran right-handed defenceman, there may be hope for Romanov to land a new partner, and for Savard to be deployed in a manner that renders his ice time more profitable.
Before we get into trade partners, there are two options that frequently arise when discussing Savard. One option is the buyout. When the summer window opens, the Habs can choose to move on from Savard in a day’s work, but there is a significant price to pay in doing so. The move would mean no less than six years of dead cap.
The second option often promoted by fans is to retain salary in a Savard trade. This is technically possible, of course, but will give HuGo pause. At any given time, teams are only permitted to be carrying on their caps a maximum of three retained salaries. Last season, we saw HuGo retain on Chiarot, Lehkonen and Kulak. It was an effective strategy in getting a good return, and all three contracts are off the books this summer.
With so many contracts to move over the next 15 months, and perhaps beyond, HuGo would be wise to consider whether Savard’s contract is the best option for this tactic. The Habs may be better served to take back another problematic contract of lesser value and shorter term to get a deal done.
Unfortunately, this contract is less than ideal and finding a trade partner likely means being willing to add a sweetener for a team than can absorb the cap space in the present if assets for the future come with. There are several teams who fit in this category, but I’ll offer a couple of obvious examples.
The Seattle Kraken The Kraken have the cap space and use for a right-handed veteran defenceman in their line-up. With a wealth of mid-round picks in the next two drafts, they may be inclined to take Savard and a B prospect with upside for a one of those picks.
The Arizona Coyotes With Anton Stralman’s contract expiring, the Coyotes have the cap space and use for a right-handed veteran defenceman in their line-up. If paired with a young asset with upside, Savard could help the Coyotes get to the cap floor while only giving up a mid-round pick.
There is no urgency for the Habs to deal with this contract. On a team that is not expected to be super competitive next season, there may not be any rush to move on from Savard. If he can get his fitness on this summer, and if the coach can utilize him differently, it may increase Savard’s usefulness and go a long way to making this killer contract manageable for a while longer.
HuGo may be reluctant to add assets to move a player who may have a bounce-back year following a long off-season and on a less dysfunctional team. Next season will be another developmental year, and Savard is a local veteran player who can munch minutes and provide some leadership.
I expect Savard to play at least one more year with the Habs before HuGo makes a move to offload this killer contract.