When the Habs acquired Jake Allen last month, it caught many by surprise. The fact that they gave him a contract extension was even more surprising. Having had some time to digest the two-year, $5.75M deal, our writers offer up their thoughts.
Terry Costaris: There’s not a lot to say here other than this is yet another savvy move by GM Marc Bergevin.
Allen’s two-year extension provides the Montreal Canadiens with some additional insurance on the goaltending end for a few more years. The term will allow him to play a scaffolding role while Cayden Primeau is allowed to naturally ripen in this position.
If Primeau develops faster than anticipated, Allen can be moved. This deal also makes Allen more desirable in the expansion draft as both his salary and term were had at a discounted cost.
Once again, GM Bergevin has taken advantage of the COVID-19 crisis and its huge economic impact on NHL franchises. If this were July of 2019, I seriously doubt that Montreal would have been able to pull off this move along with the Brendan Gallagher, Jeff Petry, Joel Edmundson, Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson signings. It’s like the Habs were given an extra $10-12 million in yearly cap space per year to work with.
Allan Katz: Every time I write an assessment of a situation I make a conscious effort to find an angle no one else had. This one is tough. Please pardon my complimenting Bergevin but the guy does deserve some kudos so let’s get into it. For all of us, on the outside, our opinions are basically us playing checkers while Bergevin is playing chess. Playing checkers the opinions come easy; Allen is the best goalie since Halak to partner with Price. Allen will provide Primeau two extra years to develop. Allen will either be lost in the expansion draft… or not. If he’s lost Primeau or Vasili Demchenko might fight it out for #2, but the defence will be solid and deep. If he’s not taken the goalie situation will be talented and deep especially for injuries.
There are a lot of variables but this is where the chess comes in. Bergevin knows a lot more than we do about how he’s planning to play out the draft. There is a chance a nice prospect will be thrown the Kraken way to tilt them to pick who Berg wants. We can speculate all day, but the fact is he’s juggling players in ways that make sense to him and hopefully he’s a good chess player.
If it works really well, this upcoming season, Berg might win himself some awards. If it works “meh”, not so much. If it works horribly Berg might be promoted to President or something that will equal being kicked upstairs… or …. he could become a professional arm wrestler. Finally a personal note to Jake Allen from Allan Katz … Your last name is spelled wrong.
Brian La Rose: The UFA market in recent years has shown that the price of quality backup goalies has gone up. Look at James Reimer, Jonathan Bernier, and even Carter Hutton in past years. Look at Thomas Greiss and Anton Khudobin this summer. They’re all players that can be starters in a pinch and quality backups if the number one is healthy. All of them have price tags starting with a three while Allen’s comes in below that. As far as market value goes, this is probably a bit lower than that.
Now, there are still two questions to consider here. The first is whether or not the Habs should have given Allen this deal before he even played a single game for them. My first thought on that one is that seeing how he plays behind this team would have been beneficial but I offset that against the fact he signed for less money than what I think his open market value would be.
The second is more important. In this economic environment, can Montreal afford to have a high-end backup and still keep enough of this core together? I’d have said no to that. I think their plan back in May when they signed Demchenko was to have him as Carey Price’s backup for 2021-22 and maybe 2022-23 on a similar development path as his former KHL teammate Pavel Francouz. There’d have been a talent trade-off (I’m comfortable saying that before Demchenko even plays a game this season) but they’d have saved a bit of money as well. Clearly, that’s not the plan now.
I’m not worried about stifling Primeau’s development. He needs more time in Laval and the 2020-21 season isn’t going to give him much action. They’ll be playing an abbreviated season and with him, Demchenko, and possibly even Charlie Lindgren (to say nothing of Michael McNiven who also needs a place to play), no one is getting a lot of playing time. Two years as an AHL starter would be great for Primeau and those will probably line up with the two years of Allen’s deal. This is a good thing from a development perspective.
Having Allen for 2020-21 is a luxury they can afford. I’m not sure that could have been said for this contract but I like the value and while I don’t think he’s Seattle’s probable target (it should be a defenceman that goes), it shouldn’t be that difficult of a contract to move next offseason in advance of what could be another round of musical chairs at that position.
Kevin Leveille: My initial reaction to this signing was that I liked the idea of keeping a proven backup in Allen around the team for three seasons, but I wasn’t too fond of the price tag that came with it. I felt like the goaltending market in 2020 UFAs made it clear that quality netminders weren’t exactly this expensive. As I slept on that initial reaction, admittedly aided with seeing the Gallagher contract come in below what I thought it was going to be, I had flashbacks of watching Antti Niemi and Keith Kinkaid try to play net at the NHL-level which led to: to hell with the goaltending market, I want this proven commodity instead.
So, while I like the signing by itself, I also understand that its overage in monetary value likely means that the Habs will be losing an additional player at the end of the year. A quick look at the 21-22 roster shows roughly $16M available for seven contracts. The Habs may get relief in moving Paul Byron, and again with the Seattle expansion, but likely not enough to sign all seven players. An extra 1.2M could have potentially given both Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia a $600k raise each without touching the aforementioned money, making it more plausible to keep everyone. To sum up, I like the signing, understand why it was done, and am happy to have a proven backup while not being a huge fan of it costing a depth player as early as next season.
Norm Szcyrek: I said in the original Writers Weigh In article about the trade for Allen that I was not a fan of it. This contract extension for him is an even worse move. What was the rush to sign him to an extension and tie up that valuable cap space for two seasons before Allen even played a game for Montreal? This makes it more difficult to re-sign their pending unrestricted and restricted free agents after next season. Does everyone remember the meltdown Peter Budaj had for the Habs during the 2014 playoffs when he had to take over for an injured Price? If Price gets injured while Allen is his backup, I predict Allen will melt under the pressure in a similar way. The only way this move can help Montreal is if Seattle selects Allen in the expansion draft after next season.
Dave Woodward: This extension was not expected by this scribbler. However, after I thought it through, it makes sense. The Habs will have to make a goaltender available in the expansion draft. While McNiven is an option, I expect he will be with another organization by that time. While I assumed that Primeau would be Price’s backup in 2021-22, if Allen is not taken by the Seattle Kraken (and they most likely will be more interested in one of the Habs younger skaters), Allen can continue to serve as Price’s understudy, thereby allowing Primeau to play lots of minutes in Laval. That is more positive for Primeau’s long-term development than playing once every four games (or less) behind Price.
What if Primeau is ready before Allen’s contract expires? Assuming Allen performs as expected, his contract term and cap hit should not be too difficult to move.
Primeau is an elite prospect and may well be Price’s replacement. But goalies take time. This deal provides Price with a reliable backup (which will be needed more and more as he ages). This will give Price a reasonable number of nights off and will ensure that Primeau can develop at his own pace. And it does so at a reasonable price with a contract that should be portable. It’s a contract extension that makes sense.