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The Montreal Canadiens currently have a total of six goaltenders in their system: Cristobal Huet, Jaroslav Halak, Carey Price, Yann Danis, Cedrick Desjardins, and Loïc Lacasse. Of these six, only Danis is not under contract for the 2007-2008 season.

With Price’s continuing dominance in AHL throughout the Hamilton Bulldogs’ Calder Cup run, some are beginning wonder just how much more the 19-year-old can learn at that level. The problem is that as of now there are two goalies, Huet and Halak, ahead of Price on the depth chart.

With Huet, you have a veteran netminder with a successful international background as well as outstanding play in parts of the last two seasons for the Habs resulting in an All-Star appearance this past February. However, one knock on the 31-year-old is his injury trouble since joining to Canadiens in June of 2004 in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings. The trade also saw Radek Bonk come to the Habs while goalie Mathieu Garon and a third round pick went South-West.

Fans had to wait a year and a half to get their first look of Huet in action thanks to the loss of the 2004-2005 season to lockout and a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for the first 18 games of the 2005-2006 season. From there, Huet worked his way to the top spot, making it easy for GM Bob Gainey to move Jose Theodore in a trade that brought David Aebischer into the fold.

When the France native went down to a hamstring injury that kept him out for 20 games during the second half of last season, Jaroslav Halak stepped up to the crease and seized his opportunity to start while Aebischer did not. As he gained confidence, Halak – the AHL’s top goalie during the regular season – gained the trust of his teammates and the hearts of Habs’ fans everywhere.

With Aebischer surely gone elsewhere via free agency, it seems that Huet and Halak will be battling it out in the 2007-2008 season for the starting role. That is, of course, unless Carey Price has something to say about it.

While not many 20-year-old netminders crack the NHL on their first try, you have to believe that Price is the wild card next year. If he does manage to outplay either Huet or Halak in training camp, you can be sure that management will want to make room for him.

As good as Halak has been, Price is still the future of this franchise until proven otherwise. The rookie boasts a large frame as he’s 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 212 pounds heavy.

Not only does Price fill a lot of net, but he can work well around it too. He’ll often come out of his crease to play the puck like a third defenseman, giving his team plenty more options on exiting the zone.

While signing defenseman Andrei Markov was a must because he’s easily the best defenseman in the system, the possibilities are endless when you consider he’ll be receiving passes from Price en route to moving the puck up the ice to a forward more quickly.

Most will tell you that teams are built from the goaltender out. If Bob Gainey follows this philosophy, the safe bet is that he’ll build from Price out. While Huet and Halak have provided evidence that they can be number one netminders in the NHL (Halak on a lesser extent), Price has the big game experience and shown an ability to remain calm and focused under high-pressure situations at a young age.

Many will have the 2007 U-20 World Junior Championship win etched into their memories for life thanks to the heroics of Carey Price and Jonathan Toews in a shootout win over the US, a win that placed Canada in the Gold Medal game to face Russia. While Toews scored in a number of different fashions in the shootout, it was Carey Price who made the final save, his arm-pumping celebration matched only by the millions of Canadiens watching from their televisions as it happened.

Now Price finds himself writing a new chapter in his young career, one that will hopefully end with yet another championship win. Should Price add the Calder Cup to his growing collection of awards, a collection that also includes the tournament MVP at the 2007 U-20 WJC, you can be sure that the Stanley Cup will be next on his wish list, and potentially even a Gold Medal at the Olympics somewhere down the line.

While it isn’t fair to evaluate and set expectations so rich for a goaltender that has yet to start a regular season NHL game, it’s something Price will have to get used to know that he’s so close becoming a major league player with the Canadiens. Montreal has proven to be a true pressure cooker for the likes of even the best goalies.

Price seems to have a good head on his shoulder, so success and pressure that comes with it shouldn’t pose to be a problem. It may have shocked a lot of people that Price was picked fifth overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but something tells me that the scouting staff and Gainey alike were surprised that such a talented goalie with character was still available for the choosing.

While the team won’t want to rush Price, if there isn’t anything more he can learn at the AHL level and he’s qualified to make a few NHL starts as early as next season, Gainey will find room for him one way or another.

There is always a chance that Cristobal Huet or Jaroslav Halak is moved out, especially if it means that the Canadiens have an opportunity to improve one of their weaker positions.

Still, if you move Halak, there’s always a chance you’ll regret it in hindsight if he develops into an above-average netminder. On the other hand, if you move Huet, you lose a veteran player who would not only support, but help teach either of the young goaltenders he would be sharing the crease with.

As usual, there are plenty questions moving forward. However, only Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau know what the answers might be at this time. With the draft and free agency looming, there is always the possibility that Gainey makes a move before the pre-season. Though, it might be best if you allow the three goalies to battle it out in September and have either Halak or Price start he season in the AHL.

Should Price or Halak find themselves starting in goal for the Bulldogs next year, there will be yet another lock jam in net among the lower ranks.

While Gainey has shown some interest in re-signing Yann Danis for next season, it is hard to believe that the netminder, who once played six NHL games for the Habs with Jose Theodore out with an injury, would be interesting in coming back to play as the Habs’ third string goalie behind Price, Halak, and Huet.

Danis as already been relegated to the bench to back-up Price in the AHL playoffs this year. While money talks, the 25-year-old would probably like to play for a club with less depth in goal in hope of a better chance at the NHL.

Behind Danis on the depth chart are two young goaltenders by the name of Desjardins and Lacasse. While neither seems to have an NHL career in the cards, both could be valuable depth players for Montreal’s system.

Desjardins won the Memorial Cup with Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts in 2006 and was also named the top goaltender in the tournament. Meanwhile, the 21-year-old was also named to the ECHL’s All-Rookie Team after a strong season with the Cincinnati Cyclones. The goalie also saw three games in the AHL this season and should win a spot with Hamilton next season, especially if Yann Danis does not return.

Lacasse has become somewhat of a journeyman through his career in the juniors, which doesn’t bode well for his future in hockey. However, if he does find some consistency, there’s a chance that he’ll win a spot with the Cyclones next season and potentially work his way up to the AHL one day.

All in all, the Habs have plenty of goaltenders in the system, especially close to the NHL level. Thus, something’s got to give.

While it will already be an interesting off-season with a number of quality players hitting free agency, one of the biggest questions for the Habs moving forward is in goal – a question that some general managers wish they had the luxury of having to answer.