When it comes to keeping or attracting players, the Montreal Canadiens have several things going for them. The team’s history is on display in the rafters of the Bell Centre with numerous banners commemorating Stanley Cups and retired players. The fans have been known to enthusiastically support a winner.
There are many factors under consideration by an unrestricted free agent in the NHL when reviewing his options. They include the team’s ability to win, salary, term, cost of living, coaching, management, teammates, weather, lifestyle and education for children.
Montreal isn’t going to be wowing anyone given their record this past season. I will argue that the result was a temporary setback. The Canadiens have traditionally been a budget team but they have been known to spend to the cap limit.
I would point a free agent to some measure of success that this team has enjoyed over the last six seasons. There are also well-respected, elite players on the roster such as Carey Price and Shea Weber.
It should be acknowledged that there are downsides to signing with the Canadiens. Fans can become very upset when their team is losing. Media and fans can be extremely vicious particularly to non-francophone players, never hesitating to manufacture lies and attack family members of players.
Language requirements and expectations affect the potential player as well as their family. Education for their children has different considerations in Quebec than any other destination.
Anyone who has been through this terrible winter north of the border knows that weather is also a factor for a player and their family.
Also, there is a major financial hurdle – both the cost of living and the extremely high tax rate in Quebec – that has to be considered by players who have choices.
When it comes to the tax rates in NHL cities, players take a financial hit to play in certain locations. An unrestricted free agent choosing to play for the Montreal Canadiens will be hardest hit with a combined income tax rate of 53.31 percent.
For the purposes of our discussion we won’t consider other taxes but there are significant differences there too.
The differences in income tax rates do vary widely among NHL team jurisdictions. If we look at a player making $15 million (the current individual pay cap), his take-home pay could vary from $7.02 million in Montreal to $9.1 million in Nevada or Florida.
So here’s the question, what advantage is there to living and playing in Montreal to offset a two million dollar per year pay cut? Now many fans will say that seven million is still a lot of money (and it is.) But it should be acknowledged that NHL careers can be very short and the threat of career-ending injuries are high. So players must maximize their earning power when they can.
This off-season, unrestricted free agent centre John Tavares is the big name that Habs fans are hoping will be signed by Marc Bergevin. signs is soon to be UFA center John Tavares. The New York Islanders captain will command a maximum dollar contract no matter where he signs, and that could include him remaining with the Islanders.
If Bergevin completes the Hail Mary pass bringing Tavares to Montreal, the 27-year-old star would be choosing to leave money on the table. It would mean a huge total salary difference over the duration of the term of the contract. If Tavares returns to the Isles, the dollar amount would be even greater as they are the only team who can sign their player to an extra year, eight rather than seven years.
In some respects, the NHL salary cap was designed to level the playing field among teams but the tax disparity is one that works against the Montreal Canadiens. And it is one that cannot be easily ignored when there are many other disadvantages at this point.
While Habs fans think with their heart hoping that Tavares will make the jump to the Canadiens, a player in his position must make the decision that will be the best for him and his family. It goes without saying that his next contract will be the most important one that Tavares signs and he must maximize his opportunity.
It would be wise for Geoff Molson and Marc Bergevin to have a secondary plan to fix the team because it is looking like Tavares coming to Montreal is a longshot.