MONTREAL, QC – JANUARY 15: New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) celebrates after scoring the 2nd goal of his team during the first period of the NHL game between the New York Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens on January 15, 2018, at the Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
On July 1st, 2019, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin tendered an offer sheet to Carolina Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho. The contract was worth $42.25 million over five seasons with a cap hit of $8.454 million. Aho signed the offer sheet, but it was matched by Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell. Unfortunately, Bergevin wasn’t able to fill that first-line center spot last summer and still hasn’t to this day. However, he’ll have a shot at redemption as soon as this offseason with restricted free agent Mathew Barzal.
Matthew Barzal is an excellent center. This season the 23-year-old put up 19 goals and 41 assists for 60 points in 68 games played. He is, without a doubt, a first-line center in the NHL; well-worth playing around 20 minutes a night. He’s a fast skater with incredible hands which allows him to make zone entries look easy. Like every elite centerman, he’s got an incredible vision that allows him to make extraordinary plays. Although he’s more of a playmaker, he can also shoot the puck sometimes and surprise the goaltender with his fast release. His great abilities allow him to be a threat offensively. He is excellent at creating scoring chances for his team with an xGF/60 of 2.81 this season.
On the other hand, his defensive game is not the best. Sometimes, it feels like he doesn’t put as much effort backchecking as he does when it’s time to go in the offensive zone. With an xGA/60 of 2.61, he’s considered to allow more scoring chances while on the ice than your average player. On January 18th, 2020, the Isles lost to the Washington Capitals 6-4 after entering the third period with a 4-1 lead. Barzal had a rough night making some questionable defensive plays and all-around, not being good defensively. The following game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Barzal was benched by New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz. Trotz wanted to show Barzal that the offense is not the only responsibility a centerman has and that a good defensive game is important. It’s an area where Barzal can definitely improve.
Another area where Barzal is struggling is in the faceoff circle. He won 42 percent of the faceoffs he took in his career with the Isles which is poor for an elite centerman.
How He Fits in With the Habs
It’s pretty simple. As discussed before, the Habs need a first-line center considering Phillip Danault simply isn’t one. While Danault is a great center, his point production isn’t good enough to be a first-line center in the NHL. Barzal would fill that role perfectly helping the Habs finish more plays. The Montreal Canadiens are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to puck possession, but they have difficulty finishing plays because of the lack of offensively gifted players. The Habs are 2nd in the league for CF percentage with 54.14 percent. However, their GF/60 is 17th in the league with 2.54. Barzal would help the Habs tremendously in that regard.
What Does the Offer Sheet Look Like?
There are a few things that need to bring up when talking about tendering an offer sheet. First of all, does it put the other team in trouble with the salary cap? Second of all, and most importantly, would the player sign the deal? Finally, what’s the compensation going the other way?
New York Islanders Salary Cap Situation
With reports saying that the salary cap will stay at $81.5 million for the next three seasons, the Isles will have around $10 million to work with this offseason. With that $10 million they will have to sign guys like Thomas Greiss, Devon Toews, Ryan Pulock, Matt Martin, Tom Kuhnhackl, and, obviously, Mathew Barzal. It’s safe to say it won’t be easy for New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello to get these players back for $10 million. This makes it easier for the Habs to tender an offer sheet to Barzal.
The Offer Sheet
Keeping in mind the salary cap issues the Isles will be facing, the Habs could give them a hard time. If Bergevin decides to offer Barzal a five-year deal with a cap hit of $10M, he would put Lou Lamoriello in trouble.
This is a deal that Barzal would sign for sure. A great comparable is Buffalo Sabres franchise center Jack Eichel who signed an $80 million deal over eight years in October 2017. Eichel is the same age and plays the same role as Barzal. Eichel has put up more points and is a more complete centerman, but the Habs will have to give Barzal more than what he’s worth to make sure that he signs the offer sheet. Also at the time of the signing, Eichel’s contract took 13.33 percent of the cap but Barzal’s would take 12.27 percent. Although the Habs would overpay a little bit, it’s not a big deal considering the talent they are getting and the fact that they have to make sure that Barzal will sign the offer sheet and that the Isles won’t be able to match.
The New York Islanders Would Be in Trouble
Knowing that Barzal would sign the offer sheet, this deal makes sense. Lamoriello won’t be able to match unless he makes some room under the cap by trading some players. Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews are two players the Isles will definitely want to bring back. It’ll be a challenge for Lamoriello to sign Barzal, Toews and Pulock with $10M in cap space and it’ll be impossible if Barzal signs a $10 million offer sheet.
The Montreal Canadiens Salary Cap Situation
This offer sheet would be perfect for the Habs as they would have the money to sign Barzal to this deal while still being able to sign restricted free agents Max Domi and Victor Mete the only roster players that have contracts expiring this offseason. The Habs will have around $18 million to spend this offseason which would mean Bergevin would have $8 million to sign Domi and Mete which will most likely be enough.
Finally, what would be the compensation? A $10 million AAV for five years would mean that the Habs would have to give the Isles two first-round picks, one second-round pick and one third-round pick. From a Montreal Canadiens standpoint, it would be worth it. It’s not cheap, but it’s a good deal for the Habs when you take into consideration the fact they get a first-line center. Also, considering the fact that it’s not known how high those picks will be and how good the players that are picked will end up being. The odds that one of those four picks is as good as Barzal aren’t very high. With Barzal, the Habs will surely make the playoffs, meaning these first-round picks would be well outside of the top 15.
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