The Montreal Canadiens have had a busy offseason with many roster moves. Recently, they traded goaltender Casey DeSmith to the Vancouver Canucks for forward Tanner Pearson and a third-round pick. On the outside, this looks like another good move by general manager (GM) Kent Hughes. He picked up a draft asset and a solid bottom-six winger on an expiring contract who can be moved at the deadline. However, it also creates an issue with the team’s goaltending depth. By moving DeSmith, the Habs now have a hole that could get worse before the season starts.
Canadiens Lack NHL-Ready Goaltending
The Canadiens will start the season with Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault. They have Jakob Dobes set to play with the Laval Rocket of the American Hockey League (AHL) and, hopefully, Cayden Primeau. Dobes has yet to play in a professional game at any level, leaving the team with just three goaltenders with any NHL experience.
If Allen were to get hurt — which has happened often over the past two seasons — the only experienced goaltender available is Primeau, who would be the first call-up to back up either Allen or Montembeault if anything should happen, unless Dobes outplays him in Laval.
Furthermore, if Primeau is called up to the NHL, the Canadiens would no longer have an experienced goaltender in Laval. They had veteran journeyman Kevin Poulin the last two seasons, but he retired at the end of last season, leaving a massive hole in the Rockets’ lineup.
They do have Joe Verbetic, who signed a one-year AHL contract last season, but he spent most of his time with the Trois-Rivires Lions of the ECHL and still needs a contract for this season. They also have Strauss Mann, who has an AHL contract, and Zachary Emond, who has an AHL/ECHL contract, but both are expected to play for the Lions this season. With only two goaltenders signed to NHL contracts, Montreal could have a lot of trouble in net if injuries pile up.
Canadiens’ Primeau Needs to Clear Waivers
The other issue is Primeau’s status. Last season, he was waiver-exempt and could be called up from Laval and returned without issue. This season, however, he will need to clear waivers before he can be sent to the Rocket. He hasn’t had the most incredible start to his career and has been inconsistent at both the NHL and AHL levels, but he has high potential. Other NHL teams with goaltending depth issues could quickly grab him off waivers to plug holes in their own organization and have an adequate goaltender if they need a backup in the NHL.
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If Hughes decides that the risk to send Primeau to the Rocket is too high, he could keep him in Montreal as a third goalie. But there are significant issues with doing this. The biggest is that it will stunt Primeau’s development because he will likely sit in the press box most of the time.
Also, keeping three goaltenders shortens the bench for forwards and defensemen, and the Habs already have too many of those to fit on their roster. Keeping Primeau in Montreal makes no sense, and the third goalie scenario was one of the reasons DeSmith was traded. Still, losing Primeau on waivers would be a massive blow to the Canadiens, leaving them with one goaltender to cover for injuries, and that’s Dobes, who has no professional experience. It would also leave Laval shorthanded, with two rookie goaltenders on a team that could be very competitive.
Canadiens Have a Solid Goaltending Prospect, Depth
The Canadiens do have solid goaltending depth in their prospect pool, but the problem is they mostly play in the NCAA, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) or in Russia. Jacob Fowler and Emmett Croteau are in the NCAA and have not yet signed an entry-level contract (ELC). Quentin Miller is in the QMJHL, and Yevgeni Volokhin is playing in Russia with the Junior Hockey League (MHL); all but Croteau were selected in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. Miller appeared in the rookie showcase this year and played very well in a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins.
So, despite the depth within the pipeline, most of these goalie prospects won’t be ready for another two to three years. Both Fowler and Croteau will begin their first season in college; Miller will become the starter for the Quebec Remparts for the first time in only his second season of junior, and Volokhin could be in North America next season or three seasons from now; he is only in the Russian Junior system and still needs time to develop. The future of the Canadiens’ goaltending looks bright, but it’s the future, and they need goalies now.
This could be all for nothing. Primeau could clear waivers, and the Canadiens would have solid depth at the NHL and AHL levels. Allen and Montembeault could stay healthy, and life would be good. Hughes is an intelligent man. He knows his situation and will adjust accordingly. The likelihood of Primeau getting picked up off waivers is low but possible, and there are probably more moves that he will make before Oct. 10 — maybe one will involve adding a veteran minor league goalie.