Since the Montreal Canadiens traded Peter Budaj in 2014, the backup goaltender position has been a revolving door. For the Canadiens, it’s been a case of trial and error. We’ve seen a different goalie tandem every single year. And every year, we’re met with the same question. Who’s next? Since 2014, we’ve seen eight different goaltenders besides Carey Price play for the team. One of these names was Cayden Primeau. We won’t consider Primeau as one of the goaltenders who fought for the position as he is the future and came in as a callup when Keith Kinkaid failed to secure the role. However, the other seven have all tried and failed. Only Charlie Lindgren was able to lock in on a multi-year deal with the club. He was expected to secure the backup position by now, however, he too has not been able to earn the trust of the coaching staff. So who do the Canadiens bring in to help Carey Price? As I sat back and analyzed the options the Canadiens had entering next season, one name in particular stuck out to me. That name was Corey Crawford.
Corey Crawford is the Answer to the Montreal Canadiens Backup Goaltending Woes
Before we jump into this let me be clear, Corey Crawford is still a capable starting goaltender. He had an overly strong season for a mediocre Chicago Blackhawks team posting a record of 16-20-3 with a goals-against-average of 2.77 and a save percentage of .917. However, Crawford is ageing. He is set to turn 36 before the end of the calendar year. His best days are behind him. He is also set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this paused NHL season. It is very possible that the Blackhawks may look to sign one of the younger starting netminders who are set to hit the market such as Braden Holtby, Jacob Markstrom or the former Blackhawk Robin Lehner. This would push Crawford to a backup or 1B role with the Blackhawks if they elected to re-sign him. Given the fact that the Blackhawks are already tight against the cap and have quality players like Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik to sign, the Blackhawks just don’t have to money to spend on two goaltenders.
However, the Canadiens do. The Canadiens have roughly $21 million in cap space entering next season. Max Domi, Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen and Jake Evans are the only significant names to sign. Of those, only Domi is expected to get a large raise. Crawford will surely be taking a pay cut from the $6 million he is making now. The Habs would like to be able to bring in a goaltender to be a stop-gap while they await Cayden Primeau to make the jump to the NHL. Corey Crawford is the perfect candidate.
Would Crawford Consider Being a Backup?
This is the big question. Would Crawford even consider being a backup? In an article published by the Chicago Tribune, this topic came up. Crawford responded by saying; “We’ll have to see what the situation is. I’m a pretty competitive guy, feel like I could still make a difference on a team, to make a run at a championship. That’s where my head’s at. Never really had a role of sitting on the bench and being part of that situation. So I don’t know.”
So as of now, it’s up in the air. If the situation is right and he feels he could be a part of another competitive team, play a sufficient amount of games and make a run at one more Stanley Cup before he retires, then yea, he might be accepting of the role of a backup.
Is Montreal the Right Situation?
Given the response by Crawford, would Montreal be the right situation? As Crawford mentions, he is a competitive guy and feels he could make a difference. While Price would certainly be the starter, that does not mean Crawford could not make a huge difference for the Canadiens. We’ve seen each year how valuable backup goaltenders can be. Just look at some of the top teams in the league. The Boston Bruins were the top team in the league before the season went on pause. They have arguably the best goaltending duo in the league with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak.
The St. Louis Blues, who were the top team in the Western Conference, have Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen. Not to mention teams like the Washington Capitals, Colorado Avalanche, Pittsburgh Penguins and Dallas Stars all have two quality goaltenders.
At this point in his career, it’s doubtful any team is going to sign Crawford to a multiyear deal to be their starting netminder. However, a team like Montreal could sign him on a multiyear deal to play somewhere between 25-40 games. Price has made it clear he does not want to have to babysit the backup goaltender. He wants someone he can relate to and someone he can work with. They thought they had it with Keith Kinkaid this season, however, that failed miserably. Corey Crawford is a lot more decorated and proven than Kinkaid. He would certainly be someone that Price could certainly work with.
Lessening the Workload on Carey Price
The biggest reason the Canadiens need to target Crawford is to lessen the workload of Carey Price. Last season, Price appeared in 58 of the teams’ 71 games before the pause. The year before, he appeared in 66 of the clubs 82. This is far too many games for any goaltender to play over the course of two seasons. Price is ageing and with that, his body will eventually not be able to handle this heavy workload. Continuing to play Price extensively will only hurt his play towards the end of his contract. It will also make him less effective should the club make the playoffs. It’s a long gruelling season. And as we’ve seen, giving goalies proper rest is key to success. Bringing in a guy of Corey Crawford’s stature would allow Price to get extra nights off and appear in anywhere from 45 to 55 games in a season. Essentially giving him 10 plus extra games off. All while still having an excellent goaltender to throw into the crease and give the team a win every night. It’s a win/win situation any way you look at it.
Adding a Proven Winner
Adding Crawford to the equation would give the Canadiens a proven winner. Crawford has a career record of 260-162-53 with a goals-against-average of 2.45 and a save percentage of .918 along with 26 shutouts. This is bolstered by two William M. Jennings Trophies as well as two Stanley Cup rings. One of these Stanley Cup wins was under the watchful eye of current Canadiens goaltending coach Stephane Waite, who spent a great deal of time grooming Crawford and helping him become the goaltender he is today.
Adding a player with this type of winning pedigree would be huge for the Canadiens. Currently, neither player on the Habs roster has won the Stanley Cup. Having someone that’s been to hockey’s biggest dance and knows what it takes to win is invaluable. With the Canadiens having such a young team, this mentorship that Crawford could provide to go along with Price and Shea Weber would be a huge plus for the Habs.
Expansion Draft Issues?
One issue that would present itself if the Canadiens did, in fact, sign Corey Crawford to a multiyear deal is the expansion draft. The draft rules only allow you to protect one goaltender. Carey Price would obviously be protected by choice and even if it was not by choice, he has to be due to his no-move clause. So that would leave Corey Crawford exposed to the draft.
As it stands, the Canadiens do not have another goalie they can even expose at the moment. So they need to get one under contract. The best bet for the Canadiens would be to re-sign Vasili Demchenko during the season for an extra year or re-sign Michael McNiven now to a multiyear deal so that they could be exposed to the draft. That way, the Canadiens could make a handshake deal with Crawford to sign him to a one year deal this season and re-sign him again next offseason so he does not have to go into the expansion draft. If not, they would have to hand over an asset to Seattle much like teams’ did with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, in exchange to not select Crawford.
Bring Crawford Home
One of the biggest reasons I believe Crawford would think about joining the Canadiens organization is the fact that he is from Montreal. He has mentioned how much he loves playing in Montreal and has a ton of family and friends who come out to support him every time he comes to Montreal. And boy does he show up. Over his career, Crawford has posted a 6-0-2 record in Montreal with a goals-against-average of 1.12 and save percentage of .971 with two shutouts. These numbers are absolutely ridiculous. If he loves playing there as a visitor, can you imagine how much he would love playing there as part of the organization? Play in your hometown and having 21,273 screaming fans cheering you on as you backstop the most storied franchise in the NHL. It has to be something that Crawford, who grew up as a huge Habs fan, has dreamed of his entire life.