While there are some question marks surrounding Montreal’s goaltending situation, things are much stabler across the rest of the organization. As always, we begin our look at the team’s depth with their netminders.
Signed: Jake Allen, Samuel Montembeault, Carey Price
It’s unfair to say that a lot hinges on Price’s availability but let’s face it, a lot hinges on Price’s availability. If he’s healthy to start the season, the Habs need to get cap-compliant fairly quickly barring someone else being LTIR-eligible. If he’s not, any cap questions go away for as long as he’s hurt.
Of course, even if Price is healthy, there are legitimate questions as to how much he’ll be able to play. I know some are saying 45-50 games but that’s a straight up guess at this point. He could be able to handle that type of workload or he could show wear and tear quickly and need to be scaled back or load managed throughout the year. How things go in 2022-23 will go a long way towards determining their future needs at this position.
Montreal likely could have received a nice trade package for Allen this summer with the way the goalie market was but with Price’s situation, they’ve opted to hold onto him for now at least. But as a pending unrestricted free agent, it sure seems that he’s a likely trade candidate in February unless an extension can be worked out by then. But at this point of Allen’s career, is a rebuilding team where he wants to stay? Similarly, does a rebuilding team want a veteran backup goaltender?
Then there’s Montembeault. He struggled mightily last season but to be fair, so did most of the team. Despite some ugly numbers, he showed enough to earn a two-year, one-way extension worth $1 million per season. That’s not a bad payout for someone that goes into training camp as a third-string insurance policy for Price. Sure, he could be the backup if/when Allen moves but if Price is healthy, Montembeault is in the press box or the minors (barring waivers). But with Price’s health being such a big if, an insurance policy is a wise plan for the Habs.
Needs Assessment: Low – There’s nothing much Montreal can really do until they have a better idea of Price’s health or lack thereof. They can’t find that out until he tries to play next season. With Allen and Montembeault, they have a tandem that can get through next season if they have to or a pair of backup options that can allow them to limit Price’s workload. They’ve done what they can on this front until they find out what Price can or can’t do.
RFAs: Cayden Primeau
AHL Contracts: Phillipe Desrosiers, Kevin Poulin, Joe Vrbetic
Last season was a rocky one for Primeau. Montreal’s goalie situation didn’t help things but he was overmatched in the NHL when he played while Poulin outperformed him for most of the regular season which cut into Primeau’s playing time. In the end, he only played in 45 regular season games which isn’t ideal for their top goalie prospect.
But then the playoffs came along and after Poulin lost the opener, Primeau carried the Rocket on his back all the way to the Conference Finals. There were a couple of blips but for the most part, he was extremely sharp and stole some games along the way. Still just 22, this was the type of performance that showed he still has NHL upside and that there’s a reason that goalies often take longer to develop. Primeau has one year of waiver exemption left and the Habs need to make it an organizational priority to give him as many games as possible next season.
Poulin did a nice job last season and was with Laval for most of the year, finishing in the top ten in GAA and SV%. At 32, there’s no NHL upside but there’s no harm and plenty of value in having a capable second option. If Montembeault ultimately gets sent down, it’ll be interesting to see what would happen with Poulin – would he become the third-stringer, go to the ECHL, or be loaned out?
The decision for Montreal to turn Vrbetic pro next season is interesting. He could have gone back for his overage year but management has decided that starting him in the ECHL is more beneficial; he’s not starting in Laval unless something changes with their goalie situation. The 19-year-old started last season strong before tailing off in the second half and barring a change of heart, his major junior career wraps up with less than 100 games played (including playoffs). That’s not a lot for a goalie prospect which is a bit concerning. The Habs have until June to sign him and obviously, how he performs with the Lions will determine whether or not he gets an NHL deal.
Desrosiers led all Lions goalies in games played last season while on loan from Winnipeg. I have to think Vrbetic gets the starting job simply from Montreal’s decision to put him there instead of back in junior but Desrosiers is certainly a capable second option.
Needs Assessment: Low – There will come a time when Laval will need to bring up one of the two Trois-Rivieres goalies and that means the Lions will need another goalie. But that’s not a move you worry about in the offseason. They’re as set as they can be right now.
It was a good year for Jakub Dobes as he quickly grabbed the starting job at Ohio State and never looked back, becoming that division’s Top Goalie and Rookie of the Year in the process. He needs at least one more year before turning pro and honestly, another year after that probably doesn’t hurt. There’s a long way to go but Dobes is showing some NHL upside if all goes well. That’s a good outcome for someone picked in the middle of the fifth round.
The middle of the fifth round is also where the Habs landed Frederik Dichow a year earlier. After a disastrous 2020-21 where he hardly played, Dichow saw regular action in Sweden’s second division while also getting named to Denmark’s Olympic and World Championship teams. Now he’ll move up to the SHL where playing time will once again be hard to come by. That’s not particularly ideal from a development standpoint and the Habs only have one more year to sign him as well. Chances are that they’ll only want to sign one of him or Vrbetic at most.
Emmett Croteau was the ‘dart throw’ of the 2022 draft class as a tall, long-term development project. He was the starter for USHL Waterloo and now will head to college hockey where he’ll battle for the backup role with Clarkson. As is typically the case with these types of picks, let’s see where he is in a few years before really assessing what upside he has.
Needs Assessment: Medium – This part of Montreal’s prospect pool is well-stocked in terms of depth but the highest-picked goalie in this group is Dobes at 136th overall. While there’s strength in numbers and the approach that one in every few will pan out, there’s also no one that has been billed as a future NHL goalie as well. Dobes could get there but with the uncertainty with Price’s situation, it stands to reason that at some point, the Canadiens are going to need a longer-term option between the pipes. There’s never a guarantee with goalies but if they want a starter of the future, they’re going to need to go for someone earlier than the fifth round of the draft at some point.