In today’s NHL, the starting goaltender plays fewer games than they ever had before. Among 26 starters last season, each averaged a little over 53 games played, with only eight playing 60 or more.
Compare that to the 2008-09 season, where 10 goaltenders reached the 60-game mark, with Henrik Lundqvist, Niklas Backstrom, Marty Turco and Mikka Kiprusoff playing over 70 games. Kiprusoff played an absurd 76 games that season.
With the current trend, backup goaltenders are more important than ever, as teams need to have two exceptional goaltenders in order to have success. That’s what the Montreal Canadiens were looking for when they signed Keith Kinkaid this past offseason to a one-year, $1.75-million contract. However, the plan has not worked, as Carey Price has had to carry the bulk of the Canadiens’ workload so far this season. The question remains, what are the Canadiens to do about their backup situation?
It was not that long ago that Keith Kinkaid almost single-handedly dragged the New Jersey Devils to the playoffs. In the 2017-18 season, Kinkaid was placed into the starting role after Cory Schneider’s play declined. He went 26-10-3 that season, posting a 2.77 goals-against average (GAA) and .913 save percentage (SV%)
The following season his numbers declined, along with the rest of the Devils, but the Columbus Blue Jackets wanted a reliable backup for a deep playoff run, in result trading for Kinkaid before the trade deadline. However, Kinkaid never saw the ice as a Blue Jacket, watching on the bench as Sergei Bobrovsky led the Blue Jackets to the second round.
Kinkaid came into the fold with expectations that he could give the Canadiens a chance to win whenever Price had the night off. Many thought the lesser role would take the pressure off of Kinkaid. So far, it has not paid off.
Kinkaid has only played in four games, giving up 17 goals on 150 shots. He is 1-1-2 this season, with an abysmal 4.23 GAA and .887 SV%, both stats well below the league average. The only victory he earned was a 5-4 overtime win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 30, where he “outdueled” Marc-Andre Fleury.
If there was any trust head coach Claude Julien had in Kinkaid, it was noticeably thrown out after Price started back-to-back games on Nov. 19 and 20, an unheard-of task in today’s game. That was three days removed from Kinkaid’s last start where he allowed four goals against the Devils, his old club. Price has started 10 of the last 11 games for Montreal.
With all of the injuries the Canadiens are suffering right now, they will need to rely on goaltending to win for the time being. Unfortunately, they are stuck in the middle of a five-game skid. If Kinkaid stays at a rate of playing four games for every 24, Price would play close to 69 games this season. That would be the most Price has ever played in any regular season during his career.
Look at Laval
An easy option would be to look within the organization. While the Laval Rocket have not had a whole lot of success over the past couple of seasons, they have some talent in net at the AHL level.
Charlie Lindgren would be a solid first choice, as he has an adequate amount of NHL experience. When Price missed the majority of the 2017-18 season, Lindgren played in 14 games that season, posting a 4-8-2 record with a 3.03 GAA and .908 SV%.
Remember, that was on a Canadiens team that finished 28th in the league. It would be interesting to see how Lindgren would play under Price, as the 25-year-old would have an opportunity to learn from the former MVP.
Rookie Cayden Primeau has been impressive so far this season in the American Hockey League. The former Northeastern standout is 7-2-1 in his first 10 games, with a 2.08 GAA that is fifth among AHL netminders, and a .926 SV% that is ninth.
In the month of November, through Tuesday’s action, Primeau has gone 4-0-1, and his lone mark against him was a 6-5 overtime loss to the Belleville Senators. That game was the first time all season where Primeau had allowed more than three goals in a game. Having a great goaltender in Price paired with a great prospect in Primeau could be a great duo in Montreal.
Find Options Elsewhere
One option for general manager Marc Bergevin would be to look around the NHL, and its respective farm teams, for an option. Granted, the Canadiens do not want to give up valuable pieces simply for a backup, but there are options out there for the Canadiens.
The waiver wire is a place that Bergevin can keep his eye one. Michael Hutchinson of the Toronto Maple Leafs was recently placed on waivers, but cleared and seemed to have found his game with AHL’s Toronto Marlies, earning the chance to be called up by the Maple Leafs. Goaltenders get placed on waivers throughout the season, and depending on the talent that becomes available, that may be where the Canadiens find their next backup.
While trading for an AHL goaltender sounds risky, there are plenty of goaltenders with NHL experience in the minors. Casey DeSmith, Anthony Stolarz, Calvin Pickard, Andrew Hammond are just a few goaltenders that have the ability to still make an impact at the NHL level. Maxime Lagace has been exceptional this year with the Providence Bruins, going 8-2-2 to start the season. (from ‘Jack Studnicka gets his chance with Bruins shorthanded,’ Boston Herald, 11/26/2019)
Yes, trading with the Boston Bruins sounds crazy, but it would be worth a shot since the Canadiens are desperate for a goaltender. The Canadiens need to find a way to give Price a break. In an 82-game season, your starting goaltender needs to be fresh and at the top of his game if you want to make the playoffs, and you need a capable backup to play well when called upon. Kinkaid has clearly not filled the position well for the Canadiens, and they need to find a solution, fast.