As things stand, Charlie Lindgren is pegged to be the backup goalie for the Habs next season but should Montreal look to find a more proven option in free agency? Our writers offer up their thought on the state of the backup goalie situation.
Brian La Rose: A year ago, I’d have said that this was Lindgren’s job to lose. I wasn’t too worried about his struggles in Laval as pretty much everyone struggled with the Rocket in their inaugural season.
However, things weren’t much better this season for him. While his GAA dropped, his save percentage went down as well to .884, a number that doesn’t exactly scream NHL material. It’s worth noting that while Laval once again wasn’t particularly strong, they did quite a good job at shot suppression and just didn’t get great goaltending (or scoring, to be fair).
I still think Lindgren has NHL potential but I’m not as sold on the upside now as I was before. With a pair of unproven options in the minors in Michael McNiven and Cayden Primeau, it would be worthwhile to bring in another capable option, not unlike what Florida did with Michael Hutchinson last summer (before eventually dealing him to Toronto). However, given the presence of McNiven and Primeau, that’s going to be tough.
If they can find a veteran around the $1.5-$1.75 million range that has a track record of success, I’d sign him. The Habs can’t afford to lean on Carey Price as much as they did in 2018-19 moving forward and if Lindgren makes the team and struggles, they’ll be right back where they were this past season. However, if they intend to spend to the Upper Limit instead of leaving millions on the table again, then they’ll pretty much be forced to go with Lindgren either way.
Paul MacLeod: The Canadiens cannot afford to take a casual approach to their backup goaltender situation next season. It can reasonably be argued that Antti Niemi’s failure in the backup role was a significant reason why the Habs didn’t make the playoffs. As far as next season goes, they have to have a veteran backup to compete with Lindgren for the role.
Cam Talbot would be excellent but at this point, I prefer Curtis McElhinney if he is available. If neither of those options work out, I would look at Calvin Pickard.
Craig Scharien: This question would be a whole lot simpler if it wasn’t for the promising 2018-19 season the Canadiens put up – just play the kids. However, assuming that Montreal intends to remain competitive, they’ll need to get solid play from the backup position in order to manage Price’s workload effectively.
The options appear to be to either sign a veteran free agent, or go with Lindgren – I don’t think the Habs should be parting with any assets in order to fill this hole, so a trade is out. There are some interesting UFA options out there, including Talbot and Keith Kinkaid and I assume that Petr Mrazek will be looking for a starters gig. If Bergevin can ink one of them on a cheap, short-term deal (ideally 1-2 years), then it could be worth it. I’d much rather they see what they have in Lindgren. Despite a tough season last year, he has shown the ability to do the job in the past and is on a very inexpensive one-way deal. Now 25 and with over 100 AHL games in the books, it’s make it or break time for the young netminder and the Canadiens should give him a real shot.
Norm Szcyrek: The Habs should decide to give the backup role to the defacto option in Lindgren. Bringing in a veteran UFA goalie would be a step back for a few reasons. Lindgren has developed well enough in the minors, and when called up he has had an even higher success rate as a pro starter. Although Charlie was not a heralded prospect coming out of college after completing his degree, he has served enough time in the minors now for the last three seasons. People have to remember, Lindgren is at best a true backup goalie, not a netminder with potential to challenge for a starting role in Montreal (or elsewhere). He should be more than adequate in this role and be given at least 20 starting games.
The wildcard in his game is that Charlie is a southpaw, which is rare among goalies. That’s something most shooters are not used to seeing when they come down the ice with the puck and think about where to aim it but the goaltender’s blocker and glove are reversed to what they are used to seeing. That’s a small advantage, especially when most teams will not see him play very much in the backup role.
The worst case scenario is that Lindgren falters very badly. However, that has two options. Goalies are released or waived to the minors, so picking up a veteran in that situation is not a difficult one. It’s been done recently with Antti Niemi, and he did have some success in 2017-18. Also, the Habs have two younger goalies in the minors with McNiven, who outplayed Lindgren last season, his second as a minor pro at the age of 21. There’s also Primeau, who had an incredibly successful two seasons in college before turning pro. Primeau will be 20 at the start of training camp, and he may continue his upward trajectory to dominate the AHL immediately, which would be a pleasant situation for the Canadiens.
One last point to consider is the salary cap. Although the Habs have a reasonable amount of cap space, why commit money towards a stop-gap unrestricted free agent, especially when the Habs still have to capture $1.36M in 2019-20 from the buyout of the Steve Mason contract. Lindgren will be paid $750K for the upcoming season and the next one, regardless of whether he plays in the minors or the pros.
Dave Woodward: Given the age of Price and the length of his current contract, it is imperative for the Canadiens to have a backup goalie that is capable of playing 25-30 games. Price has seven years left on his contract and he is unlikely to be able to play at his current level that long even with a capable backup goalie. If he is asked to bear a workload like he undertook at the end of last season, the chances of Price’s body lasting to the end of the contract are slim indeed. Just as importantly for Habs’ fans, an extended playoff run for the Canadiens is very unlikely if Price is required to play over 60 games in the regular season and serve as a difference maker in any extended playoff run.
Lindgren has not played at the NHL level for 25-30 games in any single season and his AHL numbers over the last couple seasons have been underwhelming, albeit for a struggling and mediocre Laval Rocket team. Rather than rely on Lindgren, the Canadiens should investigate the cost of some of the available, proven NHL backups. With cap space available, there should be no reason why they cannot fill this need with an experienced NHL backup at an affordable price. If Lindgren proves to be ready in camp, the Canadiens can always waive the goaltender that they sign. Given the other young goaltending prospects in the system (McNiven and Primeau, the latter of whom may well become Price’s future replacement), it is quite possible that Lindgren might also be dealt if the right deal comes along.
This is one of the Canadiens’ key offseason needs (a top-four left-handed Defenceman and an elite offensive forward being the other two in this pundit’s opinion). With cap space and candidates like Brian Elliott, Cam Talbot, Anders Nilsson and perhaps Curtis McElhinney available, this is likely the easiest issue for the Canadiens to resolve.