With the draft and free agency now less than a month away, Marc Bergevin and
his staff will be busy putting together their wish lists for who they want
to draft and sign. Where should their priorities be in terms of position?
In order to answer that, their depth needs to be reviewed to see where the
biggest needs are. Let’s start with a closer look at the goaltenders.
Signed: Peter Budaj, Carey Price
Just like last year and the few before that, this is a position where there are very few question marks for
the Habs. Price had a strong bounce back campaign after a rough 2013-14
season. Not only was his regular season performance improved but he played
a key role for Team Canada at the Olympics and had a couple of strong rounds in
the playoffs before a lower body injury took him out of action in Game 1 against
the Rangers, an injury that has since healed. Price remains entrenched as
Montreal’s starter for the foreseeable future.
For the second straight year, Budaj was solid for the most part but stumbled
down the stretch. The lingering memory of his year will be getting passed
over when Price went down in favour of Dustin Tokarski (who will be covered
momentarily). That last bit notwithstanding, I don’t think there would be
too many in the organization that would be unhappy if Budaj were back in the #2
role next season for the final year of his contract.
Needs Assessment: Low – The Habs aren’t going to be looking to add to
their goaltending depth here. If anything, they’ll potentially be
subtracting from it. The main decision to be made is who to keep between
Tokarski or Budaj and depending on their decision, making a trade to clear any
Signed: Mike Condon, Dustin Tokarski
RFA: Peter Delmas
UFA: Devan Dubnyk
Though Tokarski finished in Montreal, I’m listing him here as he spent most
of the year in the minors. He had a strong season with the Bulldogs,
earning himself an All-Star nod although he did fade down the stretch during the
regular season. That changed in the playoffs as he was forced into action
with Price’s injury and Tokarski acquitted himself rather well. The odds
of him returning to Hamilton next year are lower than they were when he signed
an extension. He may have done enough to convince management to keep him
behind Price and if not, his contract (two years at the league minimums) will
increase the likelihood that he gets plucked off waivers.
Condon had a strong first pro season at the East Coast level and has done
more than well enough to earn a full-time promotion to the AHL next season.
Whether that will be as the starter or the backup remains to be seen depending
on how the rest of the goalie situation plays itself out. Delmas played
just ten games last year and isn’t expected to receive a qualifying offer while
Dubnyk has already stated his intention is to find an NHL job for next year so
he likely won’t be back with the Bulldogs.
Needs Assessment: Medium – I was tempted to put high but minor league
goaltending can’t be of the highest importance to management. At the very
least, the Habs would be wise to get another goalie in to take Delmas’ role as
the ECHL-based injury call-up. If they decide to keep Tokarski up or trade
him, then they’ll need to replace him at the minor league level as well.
I’m not sure Condon’s ready to be an AHL starter yet so a veteran replacement
would be wise via free agency…and there are quite a few options to choose
Unlike last year at this point, Montreal has a prospect in the pipeline in
Zach Fucale who was picked in the second round (36th overall) last June.
Although the end of his season was disappointing, he had a solid year as a whole
with another lengthy postseason run and a quality effort at the World Juniors.
He was drafted as a potential goalie of the future and his performance this past
year has done nothing to change that.
Needs Assessment: Somewhat low – While the Habs feel they have their
heir apparent to Price, there are other holes that need to be filled.
Beyond 2014-15, only three goalies are under contract (Price, Tokarski, and
Fucale) so there’s a case to be made to try to get another goalie in the system.
There are some older goalies that could realistically be selected towards the
back of the draft that could get into the minors in the not-too-distant future.
While not a pressing need, picking up another goalie late in the draft wouldn’t
be a bad idea.