By Bob Trask – With the acquisition of Casey DeSmith, general manager Kent Hughes has created some options for the Montreal Canadiens when it comes to the goaltending position. The final decision on who remains with the NHL club depends on a number of factors. What is almost certain is that the club will not begin the season with three NHL goaltenders and with Cayden Primeau in the mix, there are four candidates.
It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Primeau will not be one of the two starting goaltenders for the Canadiens. He has the least experience and in the past few seasons, he has missed substantial playing time because of COVID and injuries. With goaltenders typically taking longer to develop than forwards or defensemen, he will probably end up starting the season in Laval or he will be lost on waivers.
Comments gleaned from social media indicate that DeSmith would prefer to be with an organization other than Montreal. It may be because of perceived lack of opportunity with the Canadiens or other personal reasons beyond the Canadiens’ control. In his favour are his relatively inexpensive contract and the consistency he has displayed over the past four seasons when compared to the other candidates. Of the three goaltenders with significant NHL games played, DeSmith seems the most likely to be playing his trade with a franchise other than the Montreal Canadiens during the upcoming season.
Allen is the mirror image of DeSmith in that he enjoys playing in Montreal and understands what his role with the club could be. In keeping with the mirror image analogy, his contract is not inexpensive and he has not been as consistent as DeSmith. Perhaps Allen’s biggest assets are his leadership and his professionalism, but the question remains, will it be enough to keep him in Montreal?
Sam Montembeault is the real wildcard in the mix. He has been the least consistent from year to year of all the goaltenders but has also shown the most improvement. In fact, his goals saved above expected ranked among the best in the NHL last year but his rebound control ranked very low. On that note, he was working with Carey Price, someone who excelled at rebound control. Montembeault at 26 year old (turning 27 on October 30th) is about 6 years younger than DeSmith and 7 years younger than Allen; he should be entering the prime of his career but is he a starter, a 1B or a backup? Only time will tell.
Setting aside the personal preferences of where each goaltender would like to play (i.e. DeSmith), the best combination from a statistical, contract and age point of view is probably Montembeault and DeSmith. That would mean moving Jake Allen, who is highly popular among his teammates. But DeSmith seems less than enthusiastic about playing in Montreal.
The more likely outcome is Montembeault and Allen with the Canadiens trying to move DeSmith in a trade. The least likely outcome is Allen and DeSmith.
Regardless of the outcome, if Primeau goes unclaimed, it gives Kent Hughes a full season to monitor the development and play of Montembeault, Primeau and Jakub Dobes. He can then make a decision whether he needs to aggressively pursue a quality goaltender or not as the window of opportunity for the Canadiens begins to open.
Even if Primeau is claimed, Hughes will have a better idea of what he has with Montembeault and Dobes between the pipes by the end of the season.
It all makes for some interesting speculation of who will be starting in goal for the Canadiens when the puck drops on the 2023-24 season and whether Kent Hughes needs to hunt for an upgrade for the 2024-25 season.