Despite the NHL season currently being on pause, teams around the league still need to focus on next season. Especially considering this season may be a wash. That’s no different for the Montreal Canadiens. Much like last off-season, one of the Montreal Canadiens’ biggest needs was a backup goaltender they could trust. The team tried to fix that issue by signing Keith Kinkaid to a one-year deal. The goal was to bring in a quality backup to give star goaltender Carey Price some much-needed rest. This plan failed, as Kinkaid put up some disastrous numbers. He had a record of 1-1-3 with a 4.24 goals-against average and a .875 save percentage. He was literally the exact opposite of what they needed.
As Price ages, a quality back up becomes more and more important. The proof is in the pudding. If you look at the top teams around the league, all of them have two quality goaltenders. The Washington Capitals have Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov. Pittsburgh Penguins have Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry. The Boston Bruins have Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. The Dallas Stars have Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. You get the picture.
The Habs need to have a goaltender that can be trusted each and every night. Fortunately, there are some quality options available.
Potential Candidates to be the Montreal Canadiens Backup Goaltender
We’ll start with the current backup goaltender, Charlie Lindgren. Lindgren was not chosen to be the Habs backup to start the season. However, he was forced into the role after Kinkaid failed to produce for the Canadiens. Much like Kinkaid, Lindgren has failed to secure the job himself. He has been with the Canadiens organization since the 2015-16 season and is entering the final year of a three-year contract extension he signed on February 13th of 2018. He has only been okay for the Habs during his time with the club, posting a record of 10-12-2 with a goals-against-average of 3.00 and a save percentage of .907.
Despite this, Lindgren says he is ready to take on the position and he believes his teammates feel the same.
When asked if he was ready to be a fulltime NHL backup next season by Jean-François Chaumont, Le Journal de Montréal, Lindgren said “One hundred percent, I fully believe that. I know if you asked the guys on the team, they would fully believe that. I think I’m a great teammate, I think I can give the team a chance to win every single night I’m in the net, and I work hard, so I fully believe that I am and my teammates do, too.”
Next, we’ll look at the recently signed former KHL goaltender Vasili Demchenko. Demchenko had some solid seasons in the KHL. Over his career, he posted a 2.37 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. These are solid numbers despite playing for some very mediocre teams. The interesting thing about Demchenko is he spent three seasons from 2015-18 playing 1A, 1B with current Colorado Avalanche backup Pavel Francouz in the KHL. While Francouz’s number were better, they weren’t by much. Francouz has come over to the NHL and has been extremely solid and will push Philipp Grubauer for the starting position next season. Demchenko certainly won’t be pushing for Carey Price’s minutes, however, he could potentially win the backup role. At the very least, he would push Charlie Lindgren to be even better.
We can’t write an article about goaltenders in Montreal, without mentioning Cayden Primeau. While I 100% believe Primeau will be starting in Laval next season and is not an option for the backup role right now, that does not mean he is not capable. He played two games for the Canadiens last season going 1-1 with a goals-against-average of 2.52 and a save percentage of .931. Primeau even managed to secure a victory in his second game. He looked very composed in the two games he played. He has all the making of a starting NHL goaltender in the future.
The reason I do not see him as the backup goaltender next season is that playing more games in Laval will be much better for his long term development. Primeau is setting himself up to be Carey Price’s successor. Rushing him to the NHL just to have him ride the pine for most of the season is certainly not the best way to accomplish that. He had a very successful first year as a pro posting a record of 17-11-3 for the Laval Rocket with a goals-against-average of 2.45 and a save percentage of .908. Groom him, let him develop properly in the AHL, and bring him up in after a few years when he has nothing left to prove in the AHL.
Looking Outside the Organization
Now we will dip into the free-agent market. Arguably the best amongst those names has to be the aforementioned Anton Khudobin. Khudobin has been absolutely terrific as a backup over his career. Over the last three seasons serving as the backup between the Boston Bruins and the Dallas Stars, Khudobin recorded a goals-against-average of 2.46 and a save percentage of .922. These numbers are solid as it is, let alone for a backup goaltender. Khudobin is essentially a 1B option at the moment for the Stars as he has played 71 games for the club over the last two seasons. Starter Ben Bishop has played 90.
This is what the Montreal Canadiens need from their backup goaltender. A goaltender who can be trusted every single night. Can handle playing 25-35 games and give you a chance to win every night. Khudobin would be able to do just that. While he would be a more costly option than the goaltenders currently with the club, he would certainly prove to be worth every penny.
With Semyon Varlamov locking into a four-year, $20 million deal with the New York Islanders last offseason and Ilya Sorokin set to sign his entry-level contract with the club, Greiss is the odd man out. This is good news for teams in the market for a quality backup goaltender. Thomas Greiss is exactly that. Outside of the poor season he had 2017-18, Greiss has put up outstanding numbers as the Islanders netminder. While going back and forth between starter and backup, Greiss appeared in 193 games for the Islanders over the last five seasons. During that time, he has accumulated a record of 101-60-17 with a goals-against-average of 2.70 and a save percentage of .915. Not as strong as Khudobin’s numbers, however, very solid and would most likely come a little cheaper than Khudobin would.
This option is extremely interesting. Corey Crawford has been an outstanding goaltender all throughout his career. He has been the starting goaltender for the Chicago Blackhawks for years and has won two Stanley Cups as the club’s starter. However, last season, he took a backseat to Robin Lehner for a while, until Lehner was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights. Now did this mean that the Blackhawks were saying they were moving forward with Crawford and would sign him to an extension? It’s possible. However, with the recent concussion issues and because of the fact he is set to turn 36 in December, there’s a strong chance the Blackhawks may want to go younger. Especially with quality starting goaltenders in the market such as Braden Holtby, Jacob Markstrom and the aforementioned Robin Lehner.
What makes this so interesting? Well, how about the fact that Corey Crawford’s home town is… Montreal. He has said on numerous occasions how much he loves to play in Montreal. He has a ton of family who comes out to support him every time he plays there. Would it not be even more excited for him to be a part of the organization and the team he grew up cheering for?
Tons of Quality Options for the Habs
As you can see, there is a ton of different ways the Montreal Canadiens could go about fixing their backup goaltender issue. What route will they choose is the real question. Will they go the cheaper route and go internal? Or do they go on the hunt and dip into free agency in the offseason. The lack of trust in Charlie Lindgren has been showing. We should not be surprised to see them go out and sign someone. However, as of right now, it is Lindgren’s job to lose. And rest assured, he will fight for it.
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