The offseason is upon us and with the draft and free agency set for next month, it’s time to start our annual look at Montreal’s depth at each position. As always, we kick things off with the goalies.
Signed: Jake Allen, Charlie Lindgren, Carey Price
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. This is still Price’s team and a very strong performance against Pittsburgh and Philadelphia showed he can still be a top goalie in the league, one that can steal Montreal some wins. It’s quite safe to pencil him in the starting role for next season and for several more after that. Basically, the only question at this point is how many games he will play. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time this particular question has come up and the Habs didn’t have an in-house answer until just recently.
The addition of Allen gives the Habs a proven option behind Price and is one that can easily handle a backups’ workload and even a bit more which should come in handy in what will likely be a season with more back-to-backs than usual with the NHL insisting on trying to play 82 games. His $4.35M price tag for that role is certainly on the high side but for one year at least, it’s a luxury that they can afford.
The hope when GM Marc Bergevin signed Lindgren to a three-year extension back in 2018 was that he’d be Price’s backup for at least a couple of those seasons. Perhaps he wouldn’t be a 30-game goalie but even if they got 20-25 out of him, that would be good enough. That hasn’t happened and the Allen acquisition is proof of that. Instead, he was inconsistent in limited action in Laval this season and didn’t play particularly well when recalled. At this point, he’s no more than a third-string option and with what they have for the Rocket next season, Lindgren looks like he should be the odd man out. Unfortunately, his trade value at this point is next to nothing; at best, they’ll get a minor leaguer on a similar one-way deal but even that would be a move worth doing.
Needs Assessment: Low – The initial version of this article before the Allen trade had this as a high ranking with a note saying that Bergevin had to find a way to get a quality backup. Mission accomplished and there isn’t more to do in this area.
Signed: Vasili Demchenko, Cayden Primeau
RFA’s: Michael McNiven
UFA’s: Keith Kinkaid
AHL Free Agents: Connor LaCouvee
Primeau’s first professional season was mostly a solid one. He wound up playing himself into the strong side of the platoon situation (with Lindgren for most of the year, then McNiven down the stretch). However, fatigue seemed to be an issue with Joel Bouchard noting that played a role in his playing time which is a bit concerning his games played total was right in line with his college years. I’m not going to hold that against him though. His first tour as a professional did nothing to lower his stock as a potential starter of the future and he played well in his first NHL action as well. Patience will be needed here though. Don’t think about him as the backup when Allen leaves; give him another year or two instead to really get ready.
International signings often come out of nowhere but Demchenko’s was even stranger. An undersized 26-year-old coming off a decidedly mediocre year in the KHL that saw him get traded midseason usually isn’t on the NHL radar but this was someone the Habs were targeting for more than a year. Clearly, they see something in him and while he said he’d be willing to start in the ECHL, it’s not as if Montreal has their own affiliate to send him to which would guarantee him playing time. Next season feels like a trial run to replace Allen and for that to happen, he’ll need to be in Laval.
Someone that did well enough to be in Laval but didn’t get much of an opportunity is McNiven. He was shifted through multiple ECHL teams (where he played well) in an effort to get him some playing time and when that failed, he was recalled and forgotten about to the point where he was trying to rent ice to stay in shape before being permitted to join the Rocket. On the surface, this feels like a situation where a change of scenery is necessary but he was on Montreal’s playoff roster so perhaps not. There’s also expansion to consider as McNiven is probably their best option to expose but that means re-signing him when they don’t have an AHL spot for him. There is no ‘good’ option for his future.
Kinkaid was supposed to be Price’s backup but struggled mightily. He went to Laval and improved his save percentage by a whopping point (.875 to .876). He did better when he was sent to Carolina’s farm team but it’s safe to say he won’t be back.
LaCouvee’s second go-round with ECHL Maine was slightly better than his first but he didn’t get any AHL time. His presence is what sent McNiven on his little tour of the league and if they wind up re-signing him, that wouldn’t leave room for LaCouvee to return. (Instead, Montreal’s loaned goalie to Maine would be either McNiven or perhaps Demchenko if you think he starts there which would avoid last year’s fiasco.) If they go a different direction, he has done well enough to earn another deal but I think he suits up elsewhere.
Needs Assessment: Low – Two things need to happen. Lindgren has to be traded and then they have to decide on McNiven’s future. Beyond that, there isn’t much to do here.
While it seems like Montreal has more than enough goalies, they don’t have much in the pipeline here. As expected, they took a goalie at the 2019 draft but Frederik Dichow is a long-term project. He’s going to spend next season in the OHL which is good but he’s still a ways away from being ready for an entry-level deal unless he dominates in Sudbury. And that’s it for the rest of the goalie prospects…
Needs Assessment: Medium – Looking ahead, Primeau is still waiver-exempt for 2021-22 and could be in Laval but there isn’t anyone else yet behind him. If you’re like me and think that Dichow isn’t ready to be with the Rocket that season, there’s a spot that needs to be filled. It could be McNiven but otherwise, they need to look at the college free agent market or trade for another option (preferably an unsigned one if they address it now; if they wait a year, then it can be someone under contract). With a dozen picks to work with, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them pick another goalie next month as well.