Marc Bergevin has spent his seven seasons as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens building his team around, who he deemed to be, the franchise player, goaltender Carey Price. Regardless of whether you agree with Bergevin’s approach, he’s been unable to provide his superstar with the proper support at the most crucial position, backup goaltender. An argument can be made that Bergevin’s inability to find Price a reliable partner is his biggest failure to date, and that trend needs to change if the Habs want to be a playoff team.
At 32 years old and with a history of injuries, Price has been in net for 58 of his team’s 71 games this season, the most appearances by a goaltender in the NHL. He also leads the league in minutes played, well ahead of the Winnipeg Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck who is second. Since making his debut in the 2007-08 season, only Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-André Fleury have started more games than Price.
Charlie Lindgren and Keith Kinkaid Can’t Get the Job Done
Charlie Lindgren’s 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 29 was only the fourth victory by a Canadiens goaltender not named Price this season. Keith Kinkaid, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason, made six appearances before being placed on waivers; he is currently being loaned to the Charlotte Checkers, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes. Cayden Primeau, 20, was given a look and handled his first taste of the NHL well, but he needs more time with the AHL’s Laval Rocket before becoming Price’s full-time backup.
The Canadiens haven’t been able to count on a reliable backup goalie since Peter Budaj shared the net with Price from 2011 to 2014. During that time, Budaj appeared in 54 games with 23 victories. Since then, it’s been a revolving door behind no. 31.
With 11 games left in the regular season and the Habs all but eliminated from the playoffs, Lindgren, who has 24 games of NHL experience and 134 in the AHL, will get a chance to prove he belongs alongside Price next season, an opportunity he knows he must take advantage of:
“I’ll just be honest, there’s not a doubt in my mind I can be the guy for that,” Lindgren said after his win over the Hurricanes. “People asked me the last few days, but I have no intention of being the No. 3 guy again. I want to be the No. 2. I’m going to continue working hard to be that, and I know I’ve got to earn it. Just any time I’m on the ice, I’ve got to play like a true NHL goalie.”
Free Agent Target: Corey Crawford
If Lindgren can’t make it work there will be several interesting veteran netminders on the free-agent market this summer, starting with 35-year-old, Montreal native Corey Crawford who is in the final year of a six-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. Price would benefit from Crawford’s experience as a two-time Stanley Cup champion, not to mention the two were teammates when Canada won the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 2016. This season, Crawford has 15 victories in 39 games, bringing his career total to 259.
Crawford could have a similar impact to Ilya Kovalchuk’s arrival this season. Even though it’s hard to imagine him playing for a team other than the Blackhawks, coming home to Montreal would be the feel-good story this market needs.
Free Agent Target: Thomas Greiss
If Bergevin is looking for a reliable backup, he should be aggressive in his pursuit of Thomas Greiss. The 34-year-old has appeared in at least 25 games in each of the past five seasons with the New York Islanders, earning 101 wins. He has also been the team’s no. 1 option for long stretches. In 2016-17, he started 49 games and won 26 of them. Last year he split time with Jaroslav Halak and posted a career-best save percentage (.927) and goals-against average (2.28). This season, his record is a very respectable 16-9-4 playing alongside Semyon Varlamov. Greiss’ consistency and dependability make him a prime candidate for the job.
Trade Target: Jonathan Bernier
There are a few goalies under contract next season that could be on the trading block this summer. Jonathan Bernier could be of interest to the Habs if they come up empty on the free-agent market. Bergevin shouldn’t be looking for a career backup goalie, but rather someone who can put up strong numbers while starting 30-35 games and collecting double-digit wins. That’s why Bernier should be a top target. This season, playing for a Detroit Red Wings team that sits last in the NHL standings with 39 points, he has collected 15 wins and managed to keep his save percentage above .900 (.907) and his goals-against average below 3.00 (2.95).
The Laval-native would be a great fit and could eat up a lot of minutes to help ease Price’s workload. He’s also well equipped to face the media pressure in Montreal. He will be tough to pry away from the rebuilding Red Wings after a solid year, but the GM should be tempted to make an offer Steve Yzerman can’t refuse.
It seems like every season Bergevin insists his no. 1 goaltender needs to play less, and he can no longer afford to avoid that promise if he hopes his most prized asset will play out the remaining six years of his contract at the elite level Price has played throughout his career.
While there is no shortage of possible solutions for him to explore to fix the problem, Habs fans can only hope that the option he does choose can contribute to the team’s success next season.