Four Goaltenders, One Net

By JD Lagrange – Remember the old saying? Quantity is never a substitute for quality. Well, the Montreal Canadiens used to be thin in quantity when it came to NHL goaltenders. But they didn’t lack quality.

When you have Carey Price as your starter, you have one of the best in the game and when they got Jake Allen to back him up, the Habs thought that they were set in goal for a while. That was before the world came crashing down on Price… and we know the rest.

TVA Sports journalist Anthony Martineau recently tweeted (can we still say that?) having information to the effect that the Canadiens are “open for business” when it comes to their goaltenders. The team hasn’t made a decision yet, but they are attentively listening and it seems like they’re looking for the option that would bring them the most in return. 

That should come as no surprise for a couple of reasons. For one, they have four goaltenders who will need to clear waivers if sent to the AHL. The second reason is that none of them is a proven starter at the NHL level… yet.

Jake Allen

Too many fans seem to have forgotten that Allen was acquired to back up Price. That he was forced into this starter role and they are now judging his performances as a starter. They also make the mistake of thinking that because his numbers as a starter are not up to par, he is not a capable back up. They are wrong! He had an injury-filled season, sitting in a chair that wasn’t his.

Jake is entering the first year of a two-year contract extension. An extension that he signed with current GM Kent Hughes. And as we’ve seen a few times already, Hughes does good by his players. For that reason, I find unlikely (although possible) that he trades him. And that, in spite of many fans wanting to see that happening.

Samuel Montembeault

Ah, the new fan favourite to many in the media and in the fan base. Montembeault has been a good (not great) waivers pick up from the Florida Panthers. Some people look at this performance at the World Championships, a B or C level tournament, and act like he’s won the Olympics. It’s not the case folks. A couple of tournaments ago, Joel Armia was a dominant forward at that tournament, remember?

Monty isn’t young either. He turns 27 in October. This is the “make or break” season for him. All the pressure is on him to establish himself. Some seen him as a starter, many of us see a career back up in him. He is entering the final year of his contract and he is scheduled to become a UFA at the end of the season.

Casey DeSmith

Acquired in the Erik Karlsson deal, which saw Mike Hoffman and Rem Pitlick find new homes, DeSmith is a veteran goaltender who has never been able to secure a starter’s position in the NHL. He only has 31 more games under his belt than Montembeault, although with better numbers. But he was on a better team too.

In his press conference earlier this week, Hughes mentioned that DeSmith wouldn’t be sent to Laval. This leaves two options: he stays in Montreal or he’s being traded. Don’t expect much in return if the Canadiens send him packing again though.

“I’m told that Casey DeSmith and his girlfriend live through a lot of anxiety right now. She will be giving birth in the next hours/days and is still in Pittsburgh. The goaltender is waiting to know under which circumstances he will have to move his young family.”

Cayden Primeau

The Canadiens’ prospect just turned 24 on August 11th. Considering that fans are willing to give 27 year-old Montembeault all the slack, it is mind boggling to see how many have given up on a goalie prospects who was 23 the last time he played. Most goalies don’t have their break out season until they turn 25-26. Unless he’s involved in a deal to get an improvement in net or picked off waivers, Primeau should be in the Habs’ organisation this upcoming season.

Questioned about his starting goaltender last season, Laval Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle was asked if Primeau is NHL-ready. He told TSN 690:

“I’d like to think so”, said Houle. “He’s been in the AHL for three years. He had a really good run in the playoffs two years ago. He also had a good run to make the playoffs with us last year. I think Cayden knows, he needs to be a bit more consistent and string more better games in a row. He’s proven that he can play at a high level. I’m all for a healthy competition and that’s what’s happening in Montreal right now where there’s a lot of good goalies and may the best ones make it. […] I think he showed some promising steps with the Laval Rocket and I hope that he stays and sticks in Montreal this year.”

For the fan of statistics, here are the four men’s numbers in their career, and last season.

CAREERAGEGPWLOTGAASv%SO
Allen33395183150382.70.90924
DeSmith321345844152.81.9129
Montembeault261033345123.49.8961
Primeau242131224.11.8710
2022-23GPWLOTGAASv%SO
Allen42152433.55.8911
DeSmith38151643.17.9050
Montembeault40161933.42.9010
Primeau (NHL)30203.46.8520
(AHL)41191563.04.9093

The pipeline

Recognizing the team’s lack of depth in goal, Hughes and the Canadiens drafted three goaltenders at the NHL Draft this past June:

  1. Jacob Fowler (3rd rd, #69 overall)
  2. Quentin Miller (4th rd, #128 overall)
  3. Yevgeni Volokhin (5th rd, #144 overall)

These young men are years away from the NHL, if they ever make it. So it’s not going to address a team’s need for a starting goaltender for the immediate future. The Canadiens’ only hope is either for Montembeault to really step up, or for Primeau to show more maturity and consistency.

Here’s what the organizational depth looks like at the time of writing this:

It is important to point out that the Canadiens still don’t have a goalie prospect selected in the first two rounds of the draft. In fact, all but one (Fowler) have been drafted in the fourth round or later. Basically, it’s a roll of the dice, even with a new management group in place. As quantity doesn’t replace quality, Hughes should be looking for a solution outside the organization, to avoid repeating the same mistake the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers have made: being ready to contend but unable to find a suitable goaltender.

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