By JD Lagrange – In hockey, you are sometimes faced with devastating news and the Montreal Canadiens were hit with two of them in a short period of time. First, they knew after the 2021 playoffs’ run, that team captain Shea Weber had been playing through several serious injuries. In his post-season press conference, a devastated Marc Bergevin announced to everyone that his star defenseman’s career was likely over. While a few fans like to downplay the value of Weber, Bergevin knew what this meant for his team, leaving them with Jeff Petry as their number one, a role he has never been able to fill in his career.
Then, while they knew that Carey Price needed to get his knee scoped, the team wasn’t expecting him to miss all but the last five games of the season. We know now that Price’s career is very much in jeopardy, he who won’t be playing for a second season in a row.
Fans like to praise the new management for “finally doing a rebuild” but really, what option did they have without the team’s two stars? The fact is that this rebuild was handed to them on a silver platter. Without their two best players, arguably their only two star players (at the time), and with the reset and accumulation of quality picks since the summer of 2018, Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes couldn’t ask for a better scenario to walk into. To top it up, they were handed the first overall pick at the 2022 NHL Draft. This is not to discredit the work that they’re doing, but simply setting the table.
Price to pay
Pun intended, the Canadiens’ organization is paying the price for the loss of… Carey Price. Because goalies often seem to come out of nowhere to become good NHL goaltenders, it fools many fans into thinking that it’s easy to find quality keepers. Teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs, who have tried to address the position for years, are only three examples clearly showing that it’s not the case.
Price had four years remaining on his contract and he proved to everyone that he still had it in the playoffs, bringing his team all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. As we know, the Canadiens eventually ended up losing to an experienced team, a team $18 million over the cap. The Canadiens weren’t expecting that they would not only need a new number one defenseman, but find a new starting goaltender as well. Those two quality and key positions aren’t filled easily.
In the system
I’ve been doing a weekly newer feature this season called In the System. It really opened my eyes to the fact that while they are deep at other positions, the Canadiens aren’t doing so well in net within the organization.
Up until this season, I still had reasonable hopes that Cayden Primeau would develop into a potential good number one goaltender but a slow start, combined with a fluke injury that has kept him out of the line-up the past couple of weeks, have brought my hopes way down. He still may reach that level, but I’m not so sure anymore.
Perhaps the Canadiens’ best hope sits on the shoulders of Jakub Dobes, who plays in the NCAA for Ohio State University. The 21 year-old was a fifth round pick by the Canadiens in 2020. He stands at 6-foot 4-inches tall and tips the scale at 201 lbs. This is his second season with the Buckeyes and he’s having another good season. But Dobes is a few years away from the NHL.
Frederik Dichow was selected in the fifth round in 2019 and plays for Frölunda HC in the SHL. His numbers aren’t great but at 21 years of age, he can still develop into a decent prospect. Big guy as well, standing at 6-foot 5-inches and weighing in at 192 lbs.
Then you have Joe Vrbetic, a 6-foot 6-inches 20 year old monster who has just turned pro this year. He has started the season in Trois-Rivières and has played three games with the Laval Rocket since Primeau’s injury. He was a seventh round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, so he is another project.
Then you have 19 year-old Emmett Croteau, whom the Canadiens selected in the sixth round this past summer, who is having a decent season in the USHL for the Waterloo Black Hawks. The 6-foot 4-inches, 194 lbs Bonnyville, Alberta native has a lot of work to do and will need several years before knowing if he will pan out or not.
As you can see, the Canadiens didn’t ignore the goaltending position but they didn’t put a serious emphasis on it either, knowing that they had Carey Price. But now, they are forced to put their hopes on two fifth round picks, a sixth round pick and two seventh round picks for their future in net. That is far from ideal.
A couple of days ago, a few people started talking about a rumour stating that Kent Hughes is talking to the Buffalo Sabres to acquire goaltending prospect Devon Levi. It’s funny as a week prior (December 14th), I got some information to the effect that Levi had let the Sabres know that he had no intentions of signing with them and that he wanted to sign with Montreal.
Native of Dollar-des-Ormeaux (by Montreal), Levi is in his third year playing for Northeastern University where he’s posting some very good numbers. It is important to note that he plays with Jack and Riley Hughes – Kent Hughes’ sons – so the Canadiens’ GM knows Levi quite well.
Is he the solution though? A seventh round pick by the Florida Panthers in 2020, Levi was traded to the Sabres along with a first round pick in the Sam Reinhart trade to the Panthers. He will turn 21 years of age on December 27th.
Another option would be to seek a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA). We must keep in mind that the bidding war for the top goaltenders is something to keep in mind, even if the Canadiens appear to be set to shed substantial cap from trade deadline to the off-season. I encourage you to go look at the entire list on Capfriendly, but here are some of the younger pending UFAs in net.
As you can see, there isn’t much of interest in there for a team that’s looking at building for the future. Unless they go get a young veteran AND a quality prospect, but then again, they have that in Jake Allen, whose two-year contract extension doesn’t start until next year. And how confident are they in Samuel Montembeault to become a number one goaltender?
In my mind, there is no doubt that the Canadiens either uses a high pick to Draft a top-goalie prospect, or trade for one who is almost NHL-ready.