Phillip Danault 'highly unlikely' to return to Canadiens: report

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TAMPA, FLORIDA - JULY 07: Phillip Danault #24 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the third period of Game Five of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on July 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Florence Labelle/NHLI via Getty Images)
Montreal's key defensive centre appears headed out the door in free agency. (Getty)

The Stanley Cup finalists could be unrecognizable next season.

With the futures of both Carey Price and Shea Weber in doubt in the lead-up to the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, it seems the Montreal Canadiens are almost certain to lose another major contributor through the middle of the ice: star defensive centre Phillip Danault.

Sportsnet's Eric Engels is reporting that it's"highly unlikely" that Danault, an unrestricted free agent, will strike a deal to return to the Canadiens next season and beyond. Engels also dispelled rumours that Danault is working towards a deal with the Kraken, who have exclusive rights to negotiate at current moment. 

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Danault turned down a lucrative contract extension worth a reported $5 million annually before the beginning of last season. 

It looked like a disastrous decision, as Danault was limited to five goals and 24 points in a mediocre regular season for Montreal. However it seems Danault not only recovered but strengthened his value throughout the Canadiens' run to the Stanley Cup Final, helping suffocate the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Mark Stone with brilliant shutdown performances.

This seems like a considerable blow to the Canadiens, who lean so heavily on Danault in order to make their systems work. It's further head-scratching given the fact that serious money could be coming off the Montreal payroll with Weber's playing future in doubt and Price being considered by the Kraken. 

Danault has earned just over $3 million in each of the last three seasons. He'll likely comfortably double his annual earnings with a long-term deal during free agency.

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