Three Keepers: One Net

The year: 2005. As a lockout cancelled the games of the 2004–05 NHL season, the draft order was determined by lottery on July 22, 2005. One by one, teams were eliminated and we were down to five teams still in the hunt to get the grand prize: the number one overall pick, franchise player Sidney Crosby. When NHL assistant-commissioner Bill Daly pulled out the next card, the disappointment of Habs’ fans could be felt around the world.

That year, Canadiens’ General Manager Bob Gainey took the hockey world by surprise by picking, at number five overall, goaltender Carey Price. Many were hoping that they would pick Anze Kopitar and others wanted… Gilbert Brule. But why pick a goaltender at number five when you had, in your net, Jose Theodore, only a couple of years removed from a Hart Memorial and Vezina Trophy? The hockey world was baffled. Not so much today with perhaps the exception of Theodore himself, who seems to carry (no pun intended) a grudge against the organization to this day, but that’s a whole different story.

Jump ahead to today and with Price entering the second of an eight-year, $84 million contract, there seems to be a line-up of quality prospect goaltenders within the Canadiens’ organization trying to make a name for themselves in hope to, one day, take over from the winningest goaltender in the history of the NHL’s most successful franchise.

Log jam in Laval

With the Habs signing veteran backup Keith Kinkaid, the oldest prospect of this group, Charlie Lindgren, will have an uphill batter if he wishes to pierce the Canadiens’ opening day roster. While Kinkaid had a lackluster season with the NHL’s 28th overall New Jersey Devils last season with a 3.36 goals against average and a .891 saves percentage, the 30 year-old veteran is only a year removed from a couple of good seasons as a backup. It is highly unlikely to see the Canadiens go with three goaltenders at the NHL level, which means that Lindgren would have to clear waivers in order to report to the Laval Rockets in the AHL.

Charlie Lindgren’s days with the Habs are likely counted.

However, the Rockets already have two young, promising prospects in Michael McNiven and newly signed NCAA star Cayden Primeau. The problem? Players need to play in order to develop, and that applies to goaltenders as well. But there’s only one net on any given night. The AHL season consists of 76 games so sharing the duties with two prospects will result in each one starting about 38 games. Add one more goalie and you’re down to around 25 starts each, which is far from enough for any given prospect goaltender to properly develop.

We’re only in mid-August but the Canadiens’ rookie camp will be starting in a few weeks, followed by the team’s main training camp with the first pre-season game scheduled for September 16th against Kinkaid’s former team, the New Jersey Devils. A lot can happen until then and Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin isn’t afraid to go against tradition in making trades in the Fall, even major ones, as we saw a year ago when Max Pacioretty was sent packing to Vegas. Could Lindgren find a new team by training camp? It’s entirely possible. Would he clear waivers if sent down? At 25 years old and with the statistics that he has had, one would think that he would. But the net in Hamilton must belong to McNiven and Primeau. There’s simply no room for Lindgren who should be the odd-man out. Go Habs Go!

Advertisements

Habs Patiently Waiting to Pounce

We’re closing in on the end of the month of July and many Montreal Canadiens’ fans are getting fidgety about what they consider the lack of action surrounding their team. After all, not every hole in the line-up has been filled and some will make a strong argument that the team hasn’t improved from last year, or not enough to push them over the hump to make the playoffs… let alone become Stanley Cup contenders.

Heading into the off-season, the Canadiens had three big needs:

  • A top-4 left handed defenseman to play big minutes against the opposition’s top lines.
  • A scoring winger, preferably right handed, or a quality offensive centre.
  • A backup goalie worthy of being in the NHL.
Ben Chiarot

Team General Manager Marc Bergevin, so far, has signed two unrestricted free agents: Ben Chiarot and Keith Kinkaid. The jury is out if Chiarot is the solution as a top-4 defenseman but he is, without a doubt, an improvement over departing Jordie Benn. Kinkaid had a horrible season last year, with numbers comparable to what Antti Niemi put up with the Habs… although on a weaker team. If he can return to form, he should be good for 20-25 games this season if Carey Price stays healthy.

Salary Cap Crunch

With the news that the salary cap is not going up as high as teams expected, there are a few teams finding themselves in a tight spot, too tight for comfort. According to CapFriendly.com, there are currently three teams “in the red”, with no cap space at all:

  • Vegas Golden Knights
  • New York Rangers
  • Pittsburgh Penguins

Three other teams are within a million dollar to the salary cap ceiling:

  • Arizona Coyotes ($178,099)
  • Washington Capitals ($935,706)
  • Dallas Stars ($970,001)

Then you have the Florida Panthers, the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes, all within $2.5 million of the cap, followed by the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs – who have yet to sign RFA Mitch Marner – with less than $4 million available.

Where does Montreal sit? They are listed with just over $4 million of cap space but Cap Friendly has them with a 25 men roster. Most teams carry 22 or 23 players at any given time. Assuming that they can’t find takers for Karl Alzner ($4.625M) and Dale Weise ($2.35M) and they send them down to the AHL, the maximum they can save by doing so is $1.075 million each. So this would add $2.15 million to the existing $4 million cap space, meaning that Bergevin would have about $6 million to play with, and that’s not counting any salary going the other way if he completes a trade.

Waiting to pounce

Whether you want to admit it or not, Bergevin is a wise man and he knows what he’s doing. When he takes a risk, it is usually a low risk, as attested by the signings of Alexander Semin (who the Hurricanes are still paying by the way), Mark Streit and Ales Hemsky. Alexander Radulov was a bit more of a risk but very much a calculated one. He only signed him for one year so had he not panned out, he wasn’t tied long term with a troubled son.

There is no doubt that Bergevin isn’t done his shopping and that he’s waiting in the weeds for the right time to pounce. Like a feline, he is in hiding, patiently outwaiting his prey to come out and when it does, he will pounce into action. Like a predator, it is possible that he misses but as time goes on, teams will get more desperate to make their move. The waiting game is in Montreal’s favour, believe it or not.

Who, on the Golden Knights, Rangers and Penguins will be made available and at what price? What are the Coyotes (who aren’t usually near the top), Capitals and Stars willing to part with? With only 37 players under contract, how will the Hurricanes and Tom Dundon be willing to spend on their cap after the matched offer sheet to Sebastian Aho? How are the Maple Leafs going to squeeze Marner under their cap? Some will come knocking and that’s when Bergevin will try to make the most of it. As a hunter, the first two things you learn is patience and putting the odds on your side. The Canadiens have done that and they’re on the prowl. Be patient, Habs’ fans, and stay tuned. Go Habs Go!