Rem Pitlick represents a shift in depth spending for the Habs

Eggs Bennett 22-18

July 19, 2022

Rem Pitlick celebrates a goal with Nick Suzuki

On Saturday, after clearing cap space in the Jeff Petry trade, the Montreal Canadiens signed Rem Pitlick to a two-year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $1.1M.

Before free agency opened, it looked like Pitlick would be moving on from Montreal. The deadline for qualifying offers came and went without Pitlick receiving his. GM Kent Hughes was not prepared to risk going to arbitration, and getting stuck with a ruling that bound the Canadiens to a contract that was too rich for their cap structure. Pitlick became an unrestricted free agent and was available to sign with any team that came calling. A few days later, with a little breathing room under the cap, Hughes offered Pitlick a new contract with a modest raise from last season.

With this deal, the Habs retained a player that was one of last season’s bright spots, and did so in the most economic way possible.

Kent Hughes is neck deep in a case study about overspending on depth.  

When I think about the early days of the Bergevin era three moves come to mind: hiring Michel Therrien as coach, drafting Alex Galchenyuk with the third overall pick, and signing Brandon Prust in free agency. He didn’t exactly nail it.

After a strong playoff performance as a depth forward in a checking energy role, Bergevin locked Prust up to a four-year contract with a $2.5M AAV. A decade ago, that was a very good contract for that kind of player. Prust was shipped out of Montreal before finishing the contract.

Over the years, we saw Bergevin add a multitude of depth players, to the point that it had become a punch line. “Bargain Bin Bergevin” was the go-to whenever Berge added a bottom-six forward or third-pair defenceman. The thing is, he was pretty good at scouting out depth players that could add value. Paul Byron was a fantastic waiver claim. Monetizing his cap space to land Joel Armia was another brilliant move for the former GM.

Where Bergevin went off the rails was the contracts he gave those players after they performed above expectation. Both Byron and Armia were given reasonable first contracts, albeit both richer than that just received by Rem Pitlick. When he should have concluded that they had outpriced their worth to the Habs, Bergevin instead re-signed them to four-year deals with an AAV of $3.4M.

Hughes is currently sitting on a pile of overpaid depth players, and his desire to add good players is inhibited by the money tied up in depth.

It looks like Kent Hughes understands the right places to overpay.

I remember Bergevin being interviewed by Tony Marinaro on TSN 690 and Tony asking about some of the contracts and potential upcoming moves. Bergevin asked Tony whether a playoff team needs a player like Paul Byron. Of course, Tony’s answer was yes. He was too polite to ask Bergevin if he knew the other things a playoff team might need – like a top 6 centre, for example, or perhaps a top-pair defenceman.

In this new leadership era, fans are worried that Kirby Dach won’t live up to that 13th overall pick Hughes moved to get him, or be worth giving up Alexander Romanov to get the pick in the first place. Fans are fretting that Hughes might give a lot to get a proven top 6 centre who desperately wants to play in Montreal.

When you’re buying the right things, a big-spend is sometimes warranted.

In fact, the trick for a cap era team is finding that perfect balance between spending enough to land top-tier skill, while still having money to add complementary players. Cup winners have figured it out – the Toronto Maple Leafs, not so much. The bottom line is if you spend your cap on depth, you’ll be caught out when top-tier talent becomes available.

Kent Hughes was prepared to let a good depth player walk rather than overpay him. When Pitlick’s new contract is over, Hughes will have to make a similar decision. To this point in his tenure, it seems like he knows the smart places to use your assets.

Rem Pitlick will make this contract look like solid gold.

Of course, he will – it’s an absolute steal.

Pitlick scored nine goals and 26 points in 46 games after being claimed by Montreal, after scoring six goals and 13 points in 31 previous NHL games. He was a good fit who worked well under Martin St. Louis. His Montreal pace was a 16-goal, 46-point season. Pitlick was eligible for arbitration, and had Hughes allowed that to happen the AAV may have tripled.

The player gets to keep playing for a coach he likes in a market that likes him, and has a couple of years to continue rounding out his game before the next payday comes. It’s a great outcome for both parties. 

Fans will welcome Pitlick back with open arms, and if he falters when a high shooting percentage returns to the mean, that will be okay. His contract is appropriate for a depth player, and that’s who Pitlick is on the team Kent Hughes is building.

Published by Lori Bennett

Hockey is my hobby. I love a respectful hockey chat or debate, but it stops being fun if we're jerks.

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