Is a Joel Armia buyout smart?

May 10, 2023

The draft lottery is history and the Habs are selecting at five, neither worse nor better off after chance had its turn. Decisions about who they will select at five are not the only pressing issue for GM Kent Hughes. The wily general manager, half of two-headed beast we call HuGo, will try to whittle away at the bad contracts left behind by his predecessor. One strategy to do so is the buyout.

A couple of weeks ago I considered the wisdom of buying out Mike Hoffman. Most of you felt it would not be worth it, and I’m inclined to agree. Some proposed Joel Armia as a more suitable candidate, so let’s consider that option.

The Cost Calculation

Armia enters the season with three years left on a four-year contract worth $13.6M and carrying an average annual value (AAV) of $3.4M.


Should the Canadiens elect to buy Armia out this summer, they would be hit with a four-season cap hit. The first year would be the lowest hit at $33,333, which is helpful when they’re still carrying the hit for the Karl Alzner buyout. The second year comes in at just over a million and then two years of just under $1.5M.

The cost calculation for the Habs is more complex in Armia’s case than it was for Hoffman. There is no doubt that by the 2026-27 season they hope to be competitive again, and that cap hit might impede their ability to add actual talent.

A Lost Asset

Hoffman is a pending UFA, so a consideration in buying him out was that he might fetch an asset at some point between now and the deadline. This is unlikely where Armia is concerned, unless his production jumps enough this year to justify the relatively long-term commitment for a depth forward.

It would take considerable creativity for Hughes to find a worthwhile return for Armia. Perhaps something could be done revolving around the Canadiens taking on a very bad contract for a year. Instead of fetching the first à la Sean Monahan, perhaps they get a lesser asset and can offload Armia. It might be worth it.

Alternatively, the Habs could choose to add a sweetener for a team willing to take the Armia contract. Hughes has suggested he’d be willing to make a Monahan-type deal. If a first round pick were the return for such a favour, I suspect it doesn’t bother Hughes to give up a lower pick to offload Armia and not deal with the buyout cap hit for years.

Replacing the Production

Armia is a bottom-six forward who had the good fortune to reach free agency under a GM that loved to overpay depth. It doesn’t hurt that he takes it up a notch during the playoffs and this was fresh in Marc Bergevin’s mind when he made the deal.

The seven goals this year in just 43 games may not be as concerning once prorated… if three of those goals didn’t come in one game.

There are two worries with Armia – the production and the man games lost to injury in recent years. Armia is about to turn 30 years old, so it’s unlikely that either will improve going forward. Combined, they make it hard to justify that cap hit.

Is there any doubt that the production can be replaced from the farm or free agency at a much lower cost?

Delaying gratification

Is there really a rush to deal with Armia? The Montreal Canadiens are not shaping up to be contenders as early as next season, so retaining him as depth is not problematic as long as the coach plays him consistent with his performance. Waiting one year could change the landscape considerably.

If the Habs exercise patience with Armia and wait until next summer to buy him out, they can get out from under the penalty a year earlier and the maximum hit is also reduced. Perhaps while they’re busy being patient Armia improves his game a little and a trade becomes possible. Either way, the long term pain is reduced without throwing the plan for next season out the window.

Joel Armia does not have a future with the Habs but how soon his future is freed up may depend on how much pain Hughes is willing to absorb and how much creativity he can whip up. Without knowing what else Hughes has cooking, it appears on its face that a trade with a sweetener or delaying the buyout by a year are smarter options.

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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