It would be fair to say that Cayden Primeau’s time as a pro has had its ups and downs to the point where he’s on the borderline of being an NHL goaltender. Unfortunately for the Habs, there are about to be even more questions for him next season.
While goaltenders get a longer period of waiver exemption than skaters, Primeau has now used that up. Starting in the fall, he will have to get through waivers unclaimed to make it back to Laval. While his stock has dipped, there are enough teams that could plausibly put in a claim as either an upgrade on their current backup, to allow a younger second-stringer to play more in the minors, or for a different reason entirely. Here’s a rundown of some of those options:
Anaheim – If John Gibson is traded without a goalie coming back in return
Philadelphia – Cal Petersen can easily be sent to the minors if Philly wants to take a flyer on a young backup
Seattle – Current backup options Joey Daccord and Chris Driedger aren’t the most confidence-inspiring and have safely cleared waivers before
St. Louis – Prospect Joel Hofer is waiver-exempt; if they want him to play more, it’s possible that they look at another goalie
Tampa Bay – Jonas Johansson is their current backup. You might remember him as the goalie the Habs scored 10 goals on at the end of the 2021-22 season.
Vancouver – Spencer Martin struggled mightily as the backup last year and is currently slotted as their number two once again; he can definitely be upgraded on.
Meanwhile, there is always the possibility of an injury in training camp, something that Montreal fans should be quite familiar with as that situation resulted in them picking up Samuel Montembeault, a player whose improvement last season only complicates Primeau’s situation even more.
When the Canadiens gave Montembeault a two-year deal worth a million per season, I was among those who thought the intention of the second year was a poison pill to deter teams from claiming him on waivers. The plan would be one more year of Primeau starting in Laval (in 2022-23) and then he takes over behind Jake Allen with Montembeault’s contract scaring teams off from claiming him, allowing him to play for the Rocket in 2023-24. Instead, Montembeault took a step forward last year and Primeau didn’t. Now, it’s Montembeault who seems like he could be part of at least the medium-term future while Primeau’s future with the franchise is up in the air.
Last year, Primeau finished 34th in the AHL among qualifying goaltenders (those with enough games played) in GAA and 21st in SV%. In 41 games, he had a SV% of .880 or lower 18 times, or 44% of his appearances. That’s hardly ideal, even though he was playing behind a team that was decimated at times by injuries and recalls.
Now, you might be wondering why would a team consider claiming Primeau coming off the year he had. It’s a fair question. But he’s still young (he turns 24 next month) and has a strong enough prospect pedigree that a team or two might have seen enough in him in the past to think that he’s worth giving a chance to. Frankly, having watched him carry Laval through the playoffs in 2021-22, there’s a scout somewhere saying he’s worthy of a look. While Primeau’s contract is a one-way agreement, there were several third-stringers that landed one-way deals this summer as that market starts to escalate so even that might not be enough to dissuade a claim.
What also doesn’t help the Habs is that there isn’t enough of a market to have any shot of trading him for value. Of the six teams above, not all of them will add another goalie and not all of them will necessarily be looking at Primeau. If enough teams are interested in a particular player, a GM can generate a decent enough market but that won’t be happening here. Short of being a throw-in as part of a bigger trade, there isn’t a viable trade for the Canadiens to pursue.
Of course, there is another option as well – Montreal keeping Primeau on the NHL roster. They don’t have to take the risk with waivers, they can just carry three goalies. Of course, there are all sorts of problems with that idea, including a significant lack of playing time for Primeau (which is a killer for development) and the fact that it would force a skater off the roster. This has been tried with other prospects on the fringe before in Montreal and it historically hasn’t ended well. The player struggles, his value goes down even more, and he’s eventually out the door for next to nothing at most.
It’s one thing if it was a short-term plan, carry three goalies for a week or two until other teams have their situations settled, then go ahead and waive him when the odds of him clearing might be more favourable. But all it takes is one injury of note around the league to mess that plan up.
At this point, you might be thinking the solution is getting rid of Jake Allen, either through trade or waivers. I don’t think that’s an option for management. There could be a veteran skater on waivers in training camp (it might even be probable) but I don’t think they’re going that route with Allen so that’s not the solution here.
The problem for the Habs, frankly, is that there is no true solution to Primeau’s situation. There are a bunch of bad options and, well, that’s about it. They have a little less than three months to figure out which one of them is the least bad. For someone who not long ago was viewed as a viable piece of the future puzzle for the Canadiens, this is certainly a pretty lousy situation they now find themselves in.