The Montreal Canadiens have been busy locking up players to contracts for the upcoming season. Not only are they signing players for their NHL team but also their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Laval Rocket. So far this offseason, they have signed four goaltenders with two others already under contract and one still waiting for his. When all is said and done, the Habs will have seven goalies under contract, ensuring they have depth at every level of the organization.
Canadiens Solidify Minor Team Goaltenders
The Canadiens have three goalies on AHL deals for the Rocket. Kevin Poulin, who had a tremendous season for Laval, was re-signed and will undoubtedly be back again as a complement to Habs prospect Cayden Primeau. They also signed prospect Joe Vrbetic who played last season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) for the North Bay Battalion, and Phillippe Desrosiers, who played with the Trois-Riviere Lions of the ECHL but was the property of the Manitoba Moose of the AHL, who are the Winnipeg Jets’ minor team.
With these three signed, the Canadiens will have goalies at all levels of their minor system, Desrosiers and Vrbetic with the Lions and Poulin and Primeau with the Rocket. All but Primeau are signed to two-way AHL contracts meaning they can play in the ECHL or AHL but not the NHL. This will give the Rocket flexibility to have goaltending depth if Primeau needs to be called up to the NHL during the season and not have to worry about losing one to another team like they did last season with Desrosiers when he was called up to play with the Moose.
Canadiens Still Need to Sign Primeau
Primeau is the closest goaltending prospect the Canadiens have to the NHL. He has spent time with the parent club the past few seasons and hasn’t had a chance to concentrate on improving his game as a starter thoroughly. He played two games during the 2019-20 season and had a 1-1 record with a .931 save percentage (SV%). He looked excellent in both games, but it was a minimal sample size the following season in 2020-21; he played four games and didn’t have as much success, going 1-2-1 with goals against average (GAA) above four and an SV% of .849. Last season was even worse as he was shell-shocked, backstopping a poor defensive team and winning only one of his 12 appearances with a GAA of 4.61 and SV% of .868. Many fans thought that was it for Primeau, and he was nothing but hype.
Primeau may have been mismanaged in the NHL, but his numbers in Laval have been reasonably good in 82 games. He has a .909 SV% and has won 44 games with eight shutouts (SO). He has proven, at least at the AHL level, that he is a capable goaltender. He demonstrated that when he almost single-handedly helped lead the Rocket to the Calder Cup, falling one series short of making the final. During that playoff run, he had a SV% of .936 and won nine of the 14 games he played, losing to the Springfield Thunderbirds in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games.
Primeau doesn’t only need an entire season in the AHL, but he also needs to get a contract, and with the Canadiens only having a little over $200,000 of cap space, they will have to free up some money before they can sign him. When and how much will be determined, but after his play in the NHL the last couple of seasons, it will most likely be a two-way contract at the league minimum.
Canadiens Sign Montembeault as Insurance
Sam Montembeault was brought in off waivers last season to backup Jake Allen and allow Primeau to be a starter in the AHL, while Carey Price recovered from surgery and personal issues. It was never expected that Allen would also have injury issues, and Montembeault would end up starting most of the games. He started 30 games, playing in 38 with a record of 8-18-6 with a .891 SV% and GAA of 3.77 – not a great stat line, but the Habs were not a great team and as the more defensive-minded players were traded, the more porous the defence of the group became.
Montembeault was re-signed to a one-way contract ensuring the Canadiens have insurance in case Price isn’t ready for the start of the season. It could also allow them to move Allen if they wish to, as there have been rumours that they want to trade him to a team needing a goaltender. He is in the final year of his contract, and with Montreal expected to be a bottom team, odds are he will at least get moved at the trade deadline and with Montembeault in the fold, it gives them the freedom of potentially moving Allen and keeping Primeau in the AHL.
Everything Depends on Price
The entire goaltending structure for the Canadiens will depend on the health of Price. If he is not ready to play or doesn’t play at all, then the goalies in place now will be exactly where they should be. Allen and Montembeault in Montreal, Primeau and Poulin in Laval with Desrosiers and Vrbetic in Trois-Rivières. It would end up being the perfect setup, as every goalie is where they should be and would only move if they needed to fill in for an injury at a higher level.
The goalie placement, of course, will all depend on Price and whether he starts the season or not. If he is healthy and returns to play at the beginning of the season, Canadiens general manager (GM) Kent Hughes will have to decide what to do with Montembeault. They could keep three goalies in Montreal or send him to Laval and hope he passes waivers; if he is grabbed on waivers, it might not be an easy decision to trade Allen at the deadline without trying to get another goalie to keep Primeau in Laval.
Another option would be to trade Allen before the season starts and allow them to use that money to at least sign Dach or Primeau. This entire situation again, all depends on Price’s health, and no one will know how that will go until just before the season starts – if it’s like last season, that is. The Canadiens have great depth in their minor leagues, and they have a great backup plan if Price isn’t available. The team is not supposed to be all that good; they could be better than we think, but that is all contingent on Price.