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The NHLPA will contest the NHL’s decision about free agents, which could help Montreal

The players association is trying to get young free agent signings, like Montreal’s Alexander Romanov, to be immediately eligible

2018 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

If the NHL is able to “unpause” their season, we know that the Pittsburgh Penguins will benefit because Jake Guentzel will be able to play in the early part of the playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens, the Pens’ play-in opponent, is also hoping for an unexpected addition in the form of 20-year old defenseman Alexander Romanov. But it still remains unknown if the league will allow players like Romanov to be eligible to play immediately.

Here’s the long and short of it: free agent signings late in seasons happens occasionally in the NHL for players to join NHL teams for playoffs. Common examples of this would be Chris Kreider making his NHL debut in the 2012 playoffs, or Cale Makar joining the Colorado Avalanche for the 2019 playoffs. The team gets a young fresh player who can make an impact, the player gets the benefit of burning the first year of his entry level contract.

There are a few situations like that this year, notably with Romanov signing a contract with Montreal last month, as well as goalie Ilya Sorokin with the Islanders. The issue is that the league has already declared that due to the circumstances of the shutdown, all free agent contracts (including the Pens signing forward Drew O’Connor) won’t begin until the 2020-21 season and can’t participate in this season’s playoff.

This will be challenged from the NHLPA. Here’s a great writeup on the situation from Lighthouse Hockey that transcribed the Russo-Souhan Show podcast last week.

I can tell you that the NHLPA is going to fight it. Because the one thing is that this is an arbitrary decision by the NHL.

And we saw it last week. Again, the kid was signed last September but there’s really no difference between a Nick Robertson with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a Kirill Kaprizov, and an [Hab’s Alexander] Romanov and [Ilya] Sorokin and all these guys. They’re all reserve list players but suddenly, Robertson’s allowed to be part of the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup.

But I think the NHLPA is taking this on. And I think where the NHLPA gets offended, and this is why I keep on writing the word every time, my source and then coincidentally Bill Daly said it the other day, calling them “ringers,” it really is for lack of a better term. It’s hard to call Cale Makar a “ringer,” it’s hard to call Chris Kreider a “ringer” and they all started. I get where the league was coming from here but this is still, in a normal situation, these players - if they were signed - would be eligible to play.

And now, if the NHLPA wins this fight and the NHL goes back on its decision to make guys like Kirill Kaprizov eligible, just imagine how ticked a team like the [Minnesota’s qualifyijng round opponents] Vancouver Canucks will be. So it’ll be interesting to see where it goes right now.

Let’s put it this way: Where before I thought it was pretty much one hundred percent that the NHL would never go back on a decision its made, we just saw them fold on their desire to have the NHL Draft before the NHL playoffs. So maybe they’ll change their mind on this as well because the NHLPA’s gonna to to town on it.

Romanov was on the Canadiens’ reserve list all season being as he was a 2018 draft pick, just as players like Makar and Kreider were on their respective team’s reserve lists prior to signing and starting in the playoffs. In that vein, it’s a pretty valid case to make that he should be eligible to start his contract now and not have to wait, simply because the NHL made an “arbitrary” rule that no unsigned players contracts could begin in 2019-20. A player like O’Connor wasn’t on the Pens’ reserve list as an undrafted free agent, and not that Pittsburgh planned on using him, but his status probably wouldn’t be the same.

The note about the league bending from their initial plan on holding a June draft is pretty interesting and shows they’re willing to be flexible and rethink their initial plans to best serve everyone involved. It might be more trouble than it was worth given the league has so much on its plate to get all the logistics of the playoffs going rather than tie up time and resources on a minor issue.

Habs Eyes on the Prize had a little more on Romanov:

While Romanov had limited offensive output on his KHL team, CSKA Moscow, he has shown offensive potential in the two World Junior Championships he participated in, voted the defender of the tournament once, and to the All Star Team both times.

The left side of the Canadiens’ defence has been a weakness for several seasons, and that’s a hole that the team hopes Romanov will fill. He might need further development to become a stable top-four defender, so it is important for everyone to have patience as there will be some errors while he adapts to a faster and bigger league.

Given that Montreal’s left pair defense consists of Ben Chariot, Brett Kulak and Victor Mete (a player returning from a long-term injury of his own), it figures that Romanov will slot into the lineup somewhere. Being as he has no NHL experience, it remains to be seen just how well he would play.

At the same age of 20, Makar played 10 NHL playoff games last year and impressively scored six points (1G+5A), though he played 17:22 per game as mostly a sixth defenseman. Makar was also a higher draft pick and though Romanov is well-regarded, that feels like a pretty good ceiling for what Romanov could provide.

So Romanov shouldn’t probably make or break a series — he’s not going to be like a 2007 Scott Niedermayer or Chris Pronger jumping in — but then again in just a five-game series, who knows what could happen to tip the balance of the whole matchup. Romanov would be a positive addition for Montreal, and as we continue to wait to see how this whole situation shakes out, the league’s decision on this matter should be tracked and will be a point of interest for Pittsburgh as well.