On Tuesday, April 21st, the Montreal Canadiens announced that they had signed 26-year-old netminder Vasili Demchenko. The Russian goaltender spent the last six seasons in the KHL and is now deciding to make the jump to North America. The signing, however, is quite peculiar. Despite the need for an NHL calibre backup goaltender, the Canadiens crease is quite crowded with questionable options. Demchenko can now be added to that list.
Analyzing the Vasili Demchenko Signing by the Canadiens
So what do the Canadiens get by signing Vasili Demchenko? Well, at first glance we see a 6’1”, 165 lbs netminder who spent his entire playing career in the KHL. His numbers up until his final season where he was traded from the Chelyabinsk Traktor to the Magnitogorsk Metallurg were excellent. This, despite playing for very mediocre teams over his career. Demchenko managed to secure a career 2.37 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. Those are outstanding numbers and would be even better had there not been a blemish on his career last season.
Now entering his prime, he is deciding to take that talent to the NHL and could not have picked a better team to do it with. The Habs are currently in need of a backup goaltender to Carey Price. Demchenko clearly believes he can take over that position and will look to take some of the load off the Habs workhorse. If he succeeds, he will certainly earn himself a nice raise from the one-year, $700,000 contract that he just signed as well as have other teams calling for his services.
No Such Thing As Too Much Depth
One thing that some fans will question is why did Marc Bergevin sign yet another questionable netminder. The Habs need a sure thing to take some of the load off of Price. The quick answer is depth. You can never have too much depth. Especially at the goaltender position. This will create some friendly competition for goaltenders such as Charlie Lindgren, Michael McNiven and top prospect Cayden Primeau. Before this signing, it looked pretty well set that it would be Price and Lindgren in the NHL and Primeau and McNiven in the AHL. Now, all these goaltenders know their jobs are on the line (besides Price). Giving them extra motivation going into next season.
No Trust in Lindgren?
It would appear that way, wouldn’t it? Lindgren was signed to a three-year contract extension on February 13th, 2018. It was then that many thought the Canadiens were gearing up to make him the team’s backup goalie moving forward. However, Lindgren just could not secure the position. After signing the contract, Lindgren posted a shutout in a 1-0 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. He would go on to win one of his next five starts that season and was sent back to the AHL to close out the year.
Since then, he has played in just seven games total over the last two seasons. Antti Niemi, who was claimed off waivers by the Canadiens during the 2017-18 season, secured the backup role entering the 2018-19 season after ending the previous year on a high note. After the Canadiens elected to move on from Niemi after the 2018-19 season and the job looking like it would be handed to Lindgren, the Canadiens elected to sign Keith Kinkaid to a one-year deal. This left Lindgren on the outside looking in once again.
Now, Lindgren is faced with the same scenario, granted a little different as he is not being challenged by someone who has any NHL experience. However, if Demchenko can translate his KHL game to the NHL, Lindgren will most likely be placed on waivers and headed back to Laval if he clears them again. It could also be a signal that the Canadiens are ready to cut bait on Lindgren and it would not be a surprise if he is part of a trade before next season begins (whenever that might be).
Demchenko Signing Allows More Development Time for Primeau
One big take away from this signing is that it allows the Canadiens to leave Primeau in the AHL to be the starter in Laval and play more meaningful games. This alone is huge for the Canadiens moving forward. Primeau is expected to be Price’s successor. So to have him riding the pine watching Price start between 55-65 games and him not even getting to play in 30 would be detrimental to his development. Bringing over a goaltender of Demchenko’s calibre will allow Lindgren and Demchenko to fight it out for the backup position, and allowing Primeau to focus on Laval without any extra pressure. No matter who wins that battle, even if the Canadiens were to have an injury, the other would be the fill-in. Allowing Primeau to continue focusing on the task at hand.
Habs Hoping to Have the Next Pavel Francouz?
One interesting thing that comes with this signing is where Vasili Demchenko came from. Demchenko spent most of his KHL career with Chelyabinsk Traktor. Which, also used to sport current Colorado Avalanche backup Pavel Francouz. Demchenko and Francouz split goaltending duties for three seasons from 2015-2018. Both posting excellent numbers during that time. Although Francouz was the better of the two, they served as a 1A/1B duo, much like what Francouz seems to be doing with the Avalanche. Although Francouz got most of his starts while starter Philipp Grubauer was injured, he proved his ability to be a viable starter in the NHL. He may even challenge Grubauer for the role next season.
This is not to say the same thing is going to happen with Demchenko. As history has shown goalies stats are far superior when playing in the KHL rather than the NHL. Just take a look at goalies such as Mikko Koskinen, Jhonas Enroth, and Ben Scrivens just to mention a few. Their save percentage, in particular, was a lot better in the KHL. However, if Demchenko can put up similar numbers, or even if the stats are slightly worse like Francouz, the Habs will have picked up a quality backup goaltender at next to no cost. Something they desperately need. At the very least, they have another name thrown into the hat to battle for the vacant job.