This offseason, the Montreal Canadiens have a few areas they need to improve on, including finding a top-six forward, a puck-moving, left-handed defenceman and most importantly, a reliable backup for Carey Price.
There will be an abundance of quality NHL goaltenders available as unrestricted free agents (UFAs) on July 1 and general manager Marc Bergevin should seriously look at signing one of them. Here are some of the top goaltenders the Habs should consider.
The Vancouver Canaucks will probably want to re-sign Markstrom, however, he is an intriguing option for the Canadiens. This season, he won 23 of 43 games played (GP) and posted a very good .918 save percentage (SV%). He helped with the development of Thatcher Demko and gave the Canucks some quality goaltending this season.
At 30, he is still in his prime and has shown he is capable of handling a solid workload, in case anything happens to Price. The downside is he will want a raise from the $3.6 million he made this season, and will probably be looking for a starting job or at least to split duties position as he did in Vancouver. If the Habs are willing to spend and Markstrom doesn’t mind playing the backup role, he would be a nice fit in Montreal.
The New York Islanders also used a two goalie system for most of this season. Thomas Greiss eventually took a second seat to Semyon Varlamov, but he has been a mainstay in the Islanders’ crease for the last five seasons, only once playing less than 30 games.
Greiss has a career .915 SV% and has never had a losing season in his 11-year career. Like Markstrom, he has shown he can handle a starter’s workload but is also comfortable playing 25-30 games. At 34, he has peaked and will be looking for a bigger and more secure contract. The Habs are not looking for a long-term solution, so Greiss may not be the best fit in terms of a contract, but if he’s willing to sign a two-year deal, he could be a nice stop-gap before Cayden Primeau’s arrival.
This would be very exciting and controversial signing if Bergevin could pull it off or is even interested. Jaroslav Halak helped guide Price when the latter joined the Canadiens while at the same time leading the Habs to the Eastern Conference Final and becoming a somewhat local hero in 2009-10. Over the 2010 offseason, the Canadiens traded him to the St. Louis Blues for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. After successful stints with the Blues, Washington Capitals, and Islanders, he has been a successful backup for the Boston Bruins.
In the past two seasons with the Bruins, Halak has a .921 SV% and has won 40 of 71 GP mostly splitting time with Tuukka Rask. At the age of 34, like Greiss, he is at the backend of his career and looking for a solid contract. Bergevin would be smart to sign Halak. He already knows what it’s like to play in Montreal, and fans would enjoy having him back.
He made $2.7 million this season, so he could be affordable with a slight increase. A two-year deal would be perfect for both parties and he would provide the Canadiens with a goalie who could be exposed in the upcoming expansion draft.
Anton Khudobin has been a career NHL backup. He’s played for five different NHL teams with two stints in Boston, Khudobin is the backup that every team needs. In 218 career games, he has 99 wins and a .919 SV%. He can split duties and be counted on to provide solid goaltending even after sitting for long periods.
The Dallas Stars don’t have a lot of talent in their system, so it will be interesting to see if they make a push to re-sign him. Khudobin could get more out of his contract in Dallas, due to the tax situation, and he would also be in a familiar environment. To get him, the Habs would probably have to overpay, however, it would be worth it because he could be the backup the Canadiens so desperately need.
The trend with the goalies listed above is that each one plays at least 30 games a season or is part of a 1A/1B system with their current club. This will be very important for the Canadiens when they are thinking about signing a UFA backup because the goal is to reduce the number of games Price plays. As of now, the Habs don’t have a player in their system that management is confident can take over the backup role on a regular base, even after signing Vasili Demchenko of the KHL.
The Best Options
The smart move would be to sign Halak or Khudobin; both have the experience and will be more affordable than the others. The Canadiens can’t afford to sign a backup for more than $4 million, especially with Price’s $10.5 million salary. No team wants to be paying their goaltenders over $14 million. These two should sign for a decent salary even with Montreal overpaying plus both can sign a short two-year deal that will allow the Habs to protect Primeau in the expansion draft while providing quality goaltending.
The money will be the main reason why Bergevin will stay far away from other UFAs like Braden Holtby, Robin Lehner, Craig Anderson, and Corey Crawford. Not only will these players want big money but they will also likely want to be starters.
Trege Wilson lives in Nova Scotia and is a member of the RCN. He is a life long Habs fan and is creator and co-host of the popular Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered.