The Montréal Canadiens are at a bit of a crossroads right now. Franchise goaltender Carey Price has taken a leave of absence from the team to enter the NHL’s player assistance program, proving once again that personal health and well-being should take precedent over anything else. While Price receives the help he needs, the Canadiens must now answer some questions about the future at the goaltending position.
For now, the plan remains solid. Jake Allen will be the starting netminder going forward, backed up by new signee Sam Montembeault. However, this means the goalie once regarded to be the future between the pipes for the Habs, Cayden Primeau, has been relegated to the bottom of the Canadiens’ goaltending hierarchy. While it was basically assured that Primeau would spend the bulk of his time this season further developing by playing regularly in Laval, the Montembeault signing makes it seem like the Canadiens aren’t willing to stick it out with Primeau. Primeau has already proven himself to be more than capable of holding his own in the crease,
Different Perspectives on Primeau’s Development Timeline
Primeau is not NHL ready quite yet. He hasn’t fared well in the small amount of NHL time he’s received so far. This has resulted in differing opinions on his future from both inside and outside the organization. His development process was outlined recently by Habs’ goalie coach Stéphane Waite during his appearance on 98.5 Montréal’s Amateurs des Sports .
“I love Cayden Primeau. I still think he needs to play 100 more games in the American Hockey League (AHL). Cayden reminds me of Corey Crawford. He has the same physique and character. Crawford played 250 games in the AHL, and I told Marc Bergevin to let him [Primeau] play 200 games in the AHL. He will reach his full potential when he’s 25 or 26.”Montréal Canadiens’ goaltending coach Stéphane Waite on Cayden Primeau’s development path.
From outside the Canadiens organization, TVA Sports broadcaster Éric Fichaud expresses the opposite opinion on Primeau’s development in contrast with the Montembeault signing:
“It [the Montembeault signing] isn’t like they tried to find a 34 year-old veteran near the end of his career. He’s 25, Primeau’s 22. This tells me, even though Primeau played well in his last game, he won’t be the goaltender of the future in Montréal. I don’t think he’ll become a starter in the NHL with what I’ve seen so far […].”TVA Sports’ Éric Fichaud on what the Habs’ signing of Samuel Montembeault means for Cayden Primeau (Cayden Primeau: «Ce ne sera pas un gardien régulier dans la LNH», dit Éric Fichaud” Journal de Québec. 04/10/2021).
Primeau Has Shown Glimpses of What He Can Become
Despite comments like those from Fichaud, Primeau has demonstrated his potential already. As the main man in the crease for the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate last season, Primeau became a key piece in the Laval Rocket’s run to the division title. He posted an 11-4-0 record with a 2.10 goals-against average (GAA), a .910 save-percentage (SV%), and two shutouts in the pandemic-shortened season. He helped backstop the Rocket to an impressive 12 game point streak, including 13 straight games without a loss in regulation. He himself had won seven straight starts with the Rocket up to that point, pitching two shutouts in three games.
With his seven victories in a row, Primeau tied his teammate Michael McNiven for the franchise mark. He also set franchise marks in SV% in consecutive seasons, posting .908 and .911 in 2019-20 and 2020-21, respectively. These numbers saw him in the top ten in SV%, and his 2.07 GAA saw him ranked fifth in the AHL at the time he was first called up to the big club in early April of 2021. These numbers prove Primeau has what it takes to play competitively and play well under pressure.
Montembeault Has Very Little NHL Experience
The main reason the Habs signed Montembeault is to provide Allen with an experienced NHL backup goaltender. The issue is, Montembeault’s NHL resume isn’t incredibly impressive. Having spent his entire career thus far in the Florida Panthers organization, his career statistics amount to a mere 25 games with a 9-8-3 record, a 3.20 goals-against-average (GAA) and an .892 save percentage (SV%). Expected to be a starter when he was drafted 77th overall by the Panthers in 2015, his stats do not show him in that light.
Montembeault’s time in Florida was also extremely short-lived, as it quickly became evident that the combination of Panthers’ massive offer extended to Sergei Bobrovsky in 2019 (seven years, $70 million), the arrival of highly-touted prospect Spencer Knight, and the surprising play of Chris Driedger resulted in a three-layered wall that he was unable to climb.
Montembeault Hasn’t Received Much Praise For His Performance
Having only appeared in a single preseason game for the Canadiens to date, there isn’t exactly a large sample size to work with. However, analysts have pointed out what seem to be some glaring flaws in his game. 98.5 Montréal’s Dany Dubé has pointed out that for a big goalie, Montembeault doesn’t play large in net. Dubé singled out a specific play from the Canadiens’ penultimate preseason tilt with the Toronto Maple Leafs: on the sixth Leafs goal by Brett Seney, Montembeault seemingly refused to challenge Seney and allowed him unimpeded access to the front of the net.
His overall performance was nothing to smile about, either. Playing the entire game, he allowed six goals on 44 shots behind an exasperated defence which failed to keep up with the high-flying Maple Leafs at every turn. After only 25 minutes of play, the shots on goal were 32-7 in favour of the Leafs and Montembeault looked utterly befuddled in his seemingly foolhardy attempt to keep the Habs in the game.
While Montembeault undoubtedly has more NHL experience than Primeau, his numbers tell a different story. Primeau, meanwhile, has proven to be one of the most consistent goaltenders in the AHL and has the statistics to show it. If the Canadiens still believe in what Primeau can become, they’d be wise to slot him in behind Allen.
Covering the Pittsburgh Penguins and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.