According to reports, the Montreal Canadiens intend to play goalie Cayden Primeau in one of their upcoming back-to-back games against the Calgary Flames this weekend. Why stop there, though?
Obviously, Primeau is slated to dress as Jake Allen’s backup with starter Carey Price out with a concussion. With the Canadiens in the middle of a stretch run to the playoffs (hopefully), they obviously need all the points they can get. From that perspective, head coach Dominique Ducharme probably feels as though he has no choice but to play the most experienced goalie he’s got available and that’s Allen. No argument here.
However, here’s the other side of the story: Despite having played fairly well this season (2.52 goals-against average, .914 save percentage entering Wednesday night action), Allen simply isn’t getting the results the team needs (7-8-4). Case in point, when Price was last out with a nagging lower-body injury just last week, Allen went 2-4 with a .900 save percentage.
Primeau vs. Allen
Now, this is nothing against Allen. While his performances haven’t been otherworldly recently, they have passed the eye test. He’s been good, and, more importantly, good enough to win, assuming the team in front of him had been on its game. The Canadiens simply haven’t been, though. Perhaps Ducharme needs to change it up a bit and see how the Habs respond to another goalie in net.
All that said, one other argument against putting Primeau in is clear. Why would the Habs risk messing with his development by playing him when the team is struggling to such a great extent, having gone 5-7 since they returned from their time away due to NHL COVID-19 protocol? Why subject their prized goaltending prospect to all this?
Well, there may be a point there, but the fact is the decision has already been made, that the Canadiens are going to anyway. Allen shouldn’t be forced into playing two back-to-back games. So, his backup, Primeau, is going to get one. Instead, the question surrounds the amount of games the Habs should play Primeau. Do they stop at one?
Potentially, if his performance isn’t up to par. However, if he can play the one game and he fares well, the Canadiens have a real opportunity to give Primeau the chance to earn more NHL experience (with him having played two games in December 2019).
Primeau Needs to Play
Secondly, if the Canadiens truly feel that Primeau should be kept as far away from this dysfunctional situation as possible, what’s the point of playing the remainder of the schedule? If that’s the case they should a) just forfeit the remaining 13 games on the schedule and forego their very realistic shot at a playoff spot and b) ask themselves why the hell Primeau is here to begin with, having shuttled back and forth from the taxi squad since Price first got injured.
True, those have been paper transactions and Primeau hasn’t physically gone back and forth anywhere. However, he also hasn’t been playing, with his American Hockey League page documenting his last game as having been April 2 (for the record, a shutout against the Stockton Heat, the Flames’ AHL affiliate coincidentally enough).
Obviously, with the need for a taxi squad this season, the development of prospects has taken somewhat of a hit. For example, Charlie Lindgren has spent the vast majority of the season in limbo, unable to play. Having failed to catch on with the Habs up to now after parts of six seasons with the team, Lindgren was seen by many on the outside looking in as collateral damage, all due respect to the utmost professionalism he has displayed this campaign. A pending unrestricted free agent, the 27-year-old is likely on his way out of the organization and has spent the season acting as little more than a contingency.
Canadiens’ Prospect Development in Question
Consider the following: With Price out, the Canadiens have re-assigned Lindgren to the taxi squad. They will be flying him out to meet the team, potentially to do little more than sit out games as the team’s third-stringer, behind Allen and Primeau. So be it. That’s his job and he’s getting paid to do it. This whole pandemic has obviously been professionally catastrophic for him, but, from the organization’s point of view, better he sit than Primeau, right?
You would think anyway. However, the team’s decision-making recently has been curious. Sure, the Canadiens are flying Lindgren out on a private charter so that he won’t need to quarantine. That makes sense, right? Keep simply that one fact in mind.
The Habs opted to bring top-prospect Cole Caufield out West with them on their road trip. In theory, the idea of promoting him from the AHL to help boost the team’s beleaguered output is a good idea. However, they actually can’t play him due to cap constraints and they know it too. In effect, per Ducharme at a recent media-availability session, the Habs only brought Caufield with them to spend time with the team and see how it all works.
It was a nice gesture on their part, but odd all the same. There wouldn’t have been anything wrong with keeping him with the Laval Rocket, even with a fairly light schedule ahead of him. Now that several AHL games have been rescheduled to give them three games in four nights, i.e., ample playing time, it makes even less sense. Seeing as Lindgren flew out on a private plane, the option exists for Caufield to do the same the other way, but no announcement to that effect has been made, at least not yet before Wednesday night action.
Obviously, Caufield’s development won’t be shot as a result of missing a few games, but these are all signs of a trend and a troublesome one at that. Remember, in Primeau’s case, as previously mentioned, he hasn’t played in weeks. With Price now 33 and cracks in his game showing, Primeau’s place with the Canadiens should be clear in that, like Caufield, he’s an incredibly valuable asset. To a certain extent, yes, treat him with kid gloves, but, please, put him a position to succeed. You can’t succeed if you don’t play.
Sure, as the Canadiens have proven in spades recently, you can lose as well. That’s all the more reason to try something new, or try someone out new to be more accurate. Getting Primeau in one game is certainly a start. Leave it to him and how he plays to determine whether or not he gets another before Price comes back. Take it one game at a time. At this point, with the Habs struggling as much as they have been, the concept holds true in general. Extend its application from the net out, even if only for the long-term sake of the franchise.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.