With the draft and free agency getting closer and closer, Marc Bergevin and his staff will be putting together their wish lists. As we like to do at this time of the year, we take a look at their situation at each position to see what positions the team should target. As always, we start with the goalies.
Signed: Antti Niemi, Carey Price
Without rehashing things too much, 2017-18 was a year to forget for Price. Forget about being one of the top starters in the league, his numbers weren’t even among the top backups. However, with his new eight-year, $84 million contract kicking in, he is Montreal’s long-term fixture at that position regardless of how well or how poorly he plays.
While it looked like Charlie Lindgren was going to slot in as the backup next year after he signed an extension, it appears the Habs have other plans with their decision to bring Antti Niemi back for another year at a $950,000 cap hit. Niemi fared quite well after Montreal picked him up off waivers and if he can play even close to that level, they’ll get decent value out of that deal. And if he plays like he did at the start of the season, his contract will be able to be buried in the minors with little cap penalty.
Needs Assessment: Very Low – They’ve got their tandem set for next season, a very expensive one at that. They’re not adding anyone else into the mix.
Signed: Charlie Lindgren, Etienne Marcoux (AHL deal), Michael McNiven
RFA’s: Zach Fucale
AHL Free Agents: None
Assuming Niemi sticks with the Habs, Lindgren will be sent back to Laval. That may not be a bad thing either as he didn’t exactly have a particularly strong second half. Granted, his supporting cast wasn’t good either but more time in the minors with more support in front of him would be beneficial for his development.
McNiven’s first pro season wasn’t anything to write home about. He didn’t play well in his brief time with Brampton and while he somehow did well enough to stay up with Laval for most of the season, he was very inconsistent. He had some good games but mixed in some real clunkers as well. He should slot in as the backup but spending some more time in the ECHL wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
The good news with Fucale is that he improved on his ECHL numbers from the year before. The bad news is that he spent more time in Laval where he continued to be wildly inconsistent from game to game. He’s no longer the quality goalie prospect the Habs thought they were getting and is now more organizational filler than anything else. There’s a legitimate chance he doesn’t get qualified.
A big reason for that is the addition of Marcoux on a two-way, minor league contract. Presumably, barring any other changes, he will be the ECHL goalie with Lindgren and McNiven in Laval which would leave no room for Fucale. Marcoux is coming off a strong first full season at the East Coast level where he was an All-Star while he also spent time briefly with four different AHL teams (including the Rocket).
Needs Assessment: Very Low – Unless Lindgren or McNiven get moved in the next few weeks, they’re pretty well set aside from deciding whether or not to give Fucale a qualifying offer. I’m sure another goalie or two will be brought in for their training camp but that’s about the only other addition they’ll be making between the pipes.
What a year it was for Cayden Primeau. After barely being drafted (remember, the Habs traded their seventh-round pick this year to get the seventh-rounder they used to pick him), he was expected to serve as the backup at Northeastern. That wasn’t the case for long as he took over the number one job and ran with it on his way to a stellar rookie season that saw him named to Hockey East’s All-Rookie Team plus their First All-Star Team while being named Goalie of the Year. If he can repeat that performance next season, he could be signed sooner than a lot of people expected when they drafted him.
Primeau’s performance wound up largely overshadowing Hayden Hawkey’s strong junior season at Providence. He improved on both his goals against average (2.19 to 2.04) and save percentage (.913 to .919) and while those numbers weren’t among the elite of the NCAA, they were still well above average. He has committed to playing his senior year which will mean that the Habs will be forced to sign him rather quickly following the season or run the risk of him deciding to go to free agency in mid-August of 2019.
Needs Assessment: Low – I’m of the mindset that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to draft a goalie every year. Not all of them pan out and with the need to have at least two extra goalies on NHL contracts, drafting one annually would go a long way to securing a decent pipeline long-term. Primeau and Hawkey both look like quality prospects so it’s not as pressing of a need this time around but considering they’ve had success going the college-bound route lately, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea to try that again.