While the offseason hasn’t arrived for the Habs just yet – there is a Stanley Cup Final to be played, after all – the draft and free agency are quickly approaching. Accordingly, it’s time to kick off our annual depth assessment series, beginning with the goalies.
Signed: Jake Allen, Carey Price
Let’s get the easiest part of this series out of the way, shall we? Price still has five years left on his contract at $10.5 million per. He has a full no-move clause. He’s not going anywhere so he can comfortably be marked in as the starting goaltender next season. There remains a question about how many appearances he should get over a full season – one that will be exacerbated by this playoff run (don’t get me wrong, that’s a nice question to have) – but that’s about the only uncertainty surrounding Price.
The same can’t be said about Allen. Of course, they’d love to have him back and he even starts a cheaper two-year contract next season, one that sees him take nearly a $1.5 million pay cut in the process. However, expansion is looming and with Price being the one getting protected, Allen will be made available. There aren’t a lot of good goalies that will be available. Frankly, Allen is one of the best ones out there and on a nice contract. It’s more than possible that the Kraken take him in which case the Habs will be shopping for another backup which at this point feels almost like an annual tradition. If they don’t pick him though, it’s hard to see Allen being traded for cap purposes so he slots in as the backup.
Needs Assessment: TBD – If Seattle takes Allen, the Habs will have to wade into the free agent waters and find a new backup. There are quite a few goalies to choose from but truthfully, Allen is a better fit than most of those would be if it comes to that. And if he isn’t picked, nothing needs to be done at this position.
Signed: Cayden Primeau
RFA’s: Michael McNiven
UFA’s: Charlie Lindgren
AHL Contracts: Kevin Poulin
Forget about the ugly end-of-season showing with the Habs. The fact remains that Primeau had a solid sophomore season with Laval and is still a couple of years away from being ready for any sort of full-time NHL duty. He went into the year as one of Montreal’s top prospects and he still is. The starting spot with the Rocket will continue to be his as a result and with it will be the question of how many games he should get? He has yet to play a full professional season so will they ease him into a bigger workload or try to give him a significant majority of the starts to make up for lost time?
McNiven is a particularly interesting case. He hasn’t exactly gotten much of a fair shake with the organization; how they handled him in 2019-20 was terrible. This season, he was the backup option most nights although the compressed schedule limited him to just 13 appearances. He has just 78 AHL games in four seasons. Normally, that’s a track record that would get a player released but it certainly feels like there’s some untapped potential still. They can keep him around for another year and he’d even move to fourth on the depth chart so there’s a case to be made to qualify him. However, if they let him go to give him a chance to catch on elsewhere, it’d certainly be understandable.
As for Lindgren, it seems pretty safe to think his time with the team has come to an end. He was basically a practice goalie all season long and with Primeau in the system, he can’t even be the third-stringer. I’m not sure there’s a number three job out there for him with how little he played this season but going elsewhere would be a good plan if he wants to have a shot at simply playing somewhere, let alone the NHL.
Poulin’s signing was an interesting one. He doesn’t seem like the type of goalie that would be signed to play in Trois-Rivieres next season but at the same time, he hasn’t been an AHL regular since 2015-16 (and that was as a backup). Could he hold his own as Primeau’s backup? Probably. But is he a better fit as a designated third-stringer with someone like McNiven ahead of him on the depth chart? Probably. He’s a nice depth option but his acquisition raises some questions.
Needs Assessment: Low – There is one spot to be decided on – do they keep McNiven in the number four role or bring in someone else behind Poulin that starts in the ECHL? That’s not a high-priority issue to resolve.
The Habs have two other goalie prospects in their system and they’re not anywhere close to turning pro. Jakub Dobes had a really nice year with Omaha of the USHL and was one of the top goalies in that league. But he’s only now starting in the NCAA next season so he’s still three or four years away from signing in all likelihood.
The other prospect is Frederik Dichow who had a tough year from a development perspective. He was supposed to be in the OHL with Sudbury where he’d have started and it would have been great. But that league didn’t play this season and instead, he played all of six games in Denmark. That’s called a write-off season. There are still two years before he has to sign with Montreal but at this point, he has a hill to climb to get there.
Needs Assessment: Medium – My same concern from a year ago is still there. Who replaces Primeau when he goes to become Price’s backup? It’s probably not going to be Dichow and Dobes will be too far away. (I like him as a decent prospect but he doesn’t fit the short-term timeline.) A CHL prospect that can turn pro in a year or two would be a worthwhile addition. Failing that, shopping the undrafted college free agent market in 2022 wouldn’t be a bad idea either. There’s a hole that needs to be filled.