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- January hasn't been a kind month for Lars Eller. He has just 12 points in 44 games, his lowest PPG average of any month.
With the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and free agency both less than a month away, new GM Marc Bergevin has a lot to ponder. What are the areas of need for the short term and long term, where should the priorities be? Part one of this series takes a closer look at the goaltending situation in Montreal.
The Habs appear to be well set in goal moving forward with Carey Price between the pipes. He has nearly 300 games of NHL experience under his belt already while his numbers have been good the past two seasons (including 2011-12 despite a not-so-pretty win-loss record). One of Bergevin's stated priorities is to get him signed long term this offseason, securing the teams' future in goal along the way.
As for a backup, Montreal finds itself heading into free agency actually knowing who their backup goalie will be in 2012-13. Though this may not seem like much, this will mark the first time in three seasons that this is the case. Peter Budaj will head into his second season with Montreal on the final year of his contract. With some good performances down the stretch with Price injured, his numbers weren't that far off of Price. He also showed that he can carry the load if Price has to miss a bit of time which is important.
Needs Assessment: Very Low - Although a GM should never summarily dismiss looking at upgrading any particular position, this is about as close as it gets. Price is undoubtedly the short and long term option while I'm of the opinion that Budaj is one of the better backup options out there. If a better, cheaper option than Budaj presents itself then it would be worth looking into but beyond that, these two should be penciled onto the opening night roster.
While the Canadiens are set at the NHL level, it's the exact opposite on the farm. Hamilton's oft-injured starter Nathan Lawson is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and while his numbers with the Bulldogs were better than his previous season, he didn't make too good of a case to be re-signed. There are always a lot of third string goalies available on the market and sometimes the grass is actually greener on the other side. In fact, his biggest argument to be kept around is the lack of options behind him.
Lawson's injury woes handed Robert Mayer an opportunity to show that he could at least be a reasonable AHL goalie. Unfortunately for him, he squandered that chance. Soft goals in particular hurt him and Hamilton throughout the season to the point where I'm not sure anyone would be that comfortable with him as the Bulldogs' backup next season let alone as the starter. Then there's Peter Delmas, who signed his entry level contract prior to the start of last season. He too took a step back, this time at the ECHL level as his GAA jumped by nearly half a goal per game. His starts in Hamilton did suggest that he still has room to improve but he certainly can't be counted on to be the number one goalie next year either.
Needs Assessment: Very High - Getting another goalie, one who can start for the Bulldogs and be a competent call up option if one of Price/Budaj get hurt is of paramount importance. Hamilton will have an incredibly young roster next year, gambling on a pair of youngsters who have yet to do much at the AHL level is a recipe for another year in the basement.
Out of this entire five part series, this is by far the easiest paragraph to write. Why? The Habs don't have a single goalie prospect beyond Mayer and Delmas. Their last two drafted goalies, Jason Missiaen and Petteri Simila, were both left unsigned. If anyone's wondering, Simila has seen very limited action these past two seasons in the second Finnish division while Missiaen played for the Rangers' ECHL affiliate. In other words, there's only one direction to go with whoever the next goalie drafted is, up.
Needs Assessment: Very High - If we all have our way, this will be the final year for Robert Mayer in the organization so the team would likely be wise to look at some of the NCAA or draft re-entry options for players that could step in for the 2013-14 season. In terms of junior prospects, it certainly would be beneficial to get one into the system. There is a good goalie class in June's draft, there will be quite a few options for players that at the very worst should have a good AHL career. The way drafting/signing goalies has gone lately for the Canadiens, even that would be a leap in the right direction.