Sunday, July 2, 2017

{allcanada} Canadiens finding it difficult to retain unrestricted free agents


BROSSARD, Quebec -- If defenseman Andrei Markov and right wing Alexander Radulov want to continue their NHL careers with the Montreal Canadiens, they will have to do so under general manager Marc Bergevin's terms.

Bergevin could not have made that any clearer Sunday.

He said he made offers to the two unrestricted free agents before they hit the open market Saturday. If they want to re-sign with the Canadiens, those are the offers they will have to take.

"There's no negotiation," Bergevin said.

Markov and Radulov are two of the most attractive unrestricted free agents who remain available, two players who would provide offense to any team that signed them.

If there is a team in the NHL in need of offense, it is indeed the Canadiens, who finished 15th in the League with 223 goals last season. Montreal scored 11 goals in a six-game loss to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Bergevin has a policy of not commenting on player negotiations. He made a huge exception to that policy Sunday, perhaps in an attempt to pressure Markov and Radulov to sign, but there was also some pretty clear frustration from Bergevin that it has reached this point.

"We made really, really good offers to these guys," Bergevin said. "We pretty much thought we had them locked up, but they decided not to."

Bergevin said it would be possible to sign both Markov and Radulov if they accepted the Canadiens offer, but he also made it clear that if one of them decides to sign, it will become more difficult to sign the other.

"First come, first served," Bergevin said. "That's the case here."

He pointed out that the acquisition of forward Jonathan Drouin in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 15 could help compensate for the loss of Radulov's offense should he choose to sign elsewhere. But it is also clear that having both Drouin and Radulov would be preferable seeing as the Canadiens are trying to increase their scoring, not maintain it.

"There's no doubt we want to bring Radulov back to Montreal, but not on his terms," Bergevin said. "It would be on the terms of the Montreal Canadiens in the short term and the long term."

Bergevin did not stop there, pointing out the lack of long-term contracts given out Saturday should have been a sign to Radulov that the market for one isn't there.

"My first conversations with Alex and his agent in January, what he was asking for would make you fall out of your chair," he said. "I think slowly he realized what he was looking for was not realistic. The market, often times we're in a better position to know it because we talk amongst ourselves as GMs. It was something I tried to explain to the agent, but in this case he didn't really want to listen. So today, he's still a free agent."

It might sound like Bergevin is taking a hard line, but this is his new reality. He no longer has a choice.

The Canadiens signed goaltender Carey Price to an eight-year contract extension worth a reported $84 million on Sunday. That $10.5 million salary-cap charge is 14 percent of the current NHL salary cap of $75 million, though Price's contract begins next season so it will take up slightly less space if the cap rises.

It will make negotiations to keep his own free agents far more complicated for Bergevin, with the expiration of captain Max Pacioretty's contract looming after the 2018-19 season. Center Tomas Plekanec's $6 million a year contract expires at the end of this season, but that money was largely allocated to Drouin, who signed a six-year, $33 million contract ($5.5M AAV) as soon as he was traded to Montreal.

Add to that the five-year, $23.125 million contract ($4.625M AAV) signed by defenseman Karl Alzner on Saturday plus a contract for restricted free agent center Alex Galchenyuk and things are tight in Montreal.

"It's a challenge, but every GM has different challenges," Bergevin said. "I'm no different. We'll manage it, and it makes the draft and our young players more important."

Price's contract will impact everything the Canadiens do for the next nine years. Markov and Radulov are just the first ones to feel that impact. 

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