There is a strong possibility that the Canadiens are going to look very different next season.
Shea Weber‘s future is in doubt, Carey Price could end up in Seattle after Wednesday’s Kraken expansion draft, and two-thirds of their best regular season line seem destined to exit via NHL free agency.
It goes without saying how significant Weber’s absence and the potential departure of Price would be, not only in terms of their on-ice contributions, but also the massive amounts of salary cap space it would open up for the front office.
You should also not overlook the importance of Danault and Tatar and what their departures could mean, because they have been excellent for the Canadiens over the past few seasons.
Tatar’s departure seems like a given seeing as how he clearly fell out of favor during the postseason, playing in just five games of their Stanley Cup Final run. Danault, meanwhile, also seems unlikely to return (via Sportsnet) and seems to be headed for NHL free agency later this month.
On his own, Danault is going to have huge value on the open market because he is an outstanding defensive center that can also chip in more offense than he is sometimes given credit for. While his offensive game went cold in the playoffs, he has proven to be capable of 50-point offense with minimal power play time. When combined with his defensive play (which has earned him a top-seven finish in the Selke Trophy voting three years in a row) you have a an extremely valuable player that almost every team will have an interest in.
He will probably not be cheap. Take, for example, the rumored contract for Barclay Goodrow with Rangers that is reported as being in the neighborhood of $3.6M over six years. Danault is better offensively, better defensively, and plays center as opposed to win. It is not a stretch to think that Danault could get north of $6M on the open market. He is coming off a three-year contract that paid him just over $3M per season.
Here is a suggestion for any team that has a serious interest in Danault: Try to sign Tatar as well and reunite them on a new team. You might overpay Danault a little, but you might get Tatar on a bargain given how his postseason went. He has proven to be an excellent top-line scorer and has been Montreal’s leading scorer since arriving with the team in the Max Pacioretty trade. It is also a ready-made line that you know works.
[Related: Shea Weber could miss entire 2021-22 season]
Over the past three years Danault and Tatar spent 1,931 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time together with the Canadiens posting dominant numbers. They outscored teams by a 111-65 margin, while controlling more than 60% of the total shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals, and high-danger scoring chances. That is an elite line.
The only concern would be the fact that Brendan Gallagher was also a part of that line, and he would not be joining them on their new team. And Gallagher did drive a lot of that success. But even when you look at Danault and Tatar when they were separated from Gallagher they still played at a high enough level to be extremely effective.
In an admittedly smaller sample size of just 440 minutes, the Danault-Tatar duo still controlled more than 56% of the shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals, and high danger chances. The goal differential dropped down to just 17-16, but if a line keeps controlling shot attempts and scoring chances at that rate it is likely that goal differential will eventually start to match that territorial advantage.
This also comes with the assumption that you can get both players to sign in the same place to play for the same team, which is not exactly a given. It is still idea worth exploring given how we already know they are a productive line. Gabriel Landeskog, Taylor Hall, and Zach Parise will be the forwards everybody watches this offseason, but signing this duo might make an even bigger impact.