With the draft nearly a month away and free agency approaching soon after, it’s time for our annual look at Montreal’s depth at each position. As always, we begin with the goalies.
Signed: Carey Price
UFA’s: Antti Niemi
After a tough 2017-18 season both in terms of performance and health, there were some question marks surrounding Price heading in 2018-19. He answered them with flying colours. He was strong out of the gate and he maintained that level of play all season long. He played nearly every minute down the stretch and aside from a couple of clunkers, he held up pretty well. There should be lots of optimism with Price heading into the summer.
Niemi had a year to forget. While he stole the Habs a couple of games, he singlehandedly cost them more than that and although Marc Bergevin said after the deadline that the team still had confidence in him, the fact that Claude Julien played him once (a throwaway start on the road in San Jose) over the final six weeks said otherwise. It has already been announced that he won’t be back for next season which should have come as no surprise.
Needs Assessment: Medium – Price is fine but they have to decide whether or not to promote from within or look elsewhere for the backup. Given the internal options, they’ll probably kick the tires on some external options. With the team stating that they want to scale Price’s playing time back, the decision will wind up being pretty important.
Signed: Charlie Lindgren, Michael McNiven, Cayden Primeau
AHL Free Agents: Connor LaCouvee, Etienne Marcoux
With a much-improved defensive structure, Lindgren had a chance to improve upon what was a rough 2017-18 season. It didn’t really happen. Yes, his goals against average went down but so did his save percentage which checked in at .884. That’s well below average for an AHL goalie let alone an aspiring NHL backup. When Niemi signed an extension last year, the obvious succession plan was Lindgren taking his place for 2019-20. That seems like much less of a certainty now.
McNiven didn’t have a great start to his year and was even briefly sent back to the ECHL to get some playing time. He was a fair bit better after that and while he didn’t show enough to suggest he’s worthy of the number one job next season, it was still a step in the right direction. Goalies often take a long time to develop so there’s no reason for concern yet.
There’s certainly no reason for concern for Primeau. He followed up a stellar freshman year with Northeastern with another stellar campaign, one that also saw him fare well as the eventual starter for the Americans at the World Juniors. Even though he had two years of college eligibility left, the Habs opted to sign him and have him in Laval next year. He and McNiven will share the workload in 2019-20.
LaCouvee was a really nice surprise. He signed when there were injury troubles between the pipes in Laval and arguably was their best goalie (aside from a couple of rough performances). He’s certainly worth bringing back on a two-way minor league deal at the very least to serve as insurance once again. That was the role that Marcoux was supposed to fill but he didn’t play well when he got his chances in Laval. He played quite well with Brampton of the ECHL but if they get their choice of who to keep between the two, it should be LaCouvee getting the nod quite easily.
Needs Assessment: Low – They’ll need to sign one more goalie to be their injury insurance but beyond that, there’s nothing needed here.
One year ago, this was a strong point for the franchise. Primeau was still viewed to be a couple of years away from turning pro and Hayden Hawkey was coming off a strong junior campaign with Providence. Today, Primeau is under contract and Hawkey was basically given away at the draft in a trade with Edmonton (though it’s notable that he hasn’t signed yet – perhaps the Habs had an inkling that this would be the case). The cupboards are now empty.
It’s safe to pencil in Primeau and McNiven as the tandem in Laval for two more years (McNiven has two seasons of waiver exemption left) so there isn’t a pressing need. However, it’s something they’ll need to address sooner than later.
Needs Assessment: Medium – At the very least, I’d suggest there’s a pretty good chance that the Habs will draft a goalie at some point in June. Someone from the CHL will be two years away from turning pro which fits in well with the above timeline in Laval.