Only in Montreal could the role of the backup goalie become so heavily debated. After spending last season as Carey Price’s backup, Dustin Tokarski looked like a safe bet to return to that role again. Except no one told Mike Condon that. Tokarski has struggled mightily in the preseason while Condon has been excellent. In Montreal, Price obviously will get the lion’s share of the starts but the Habs need a reliable backup on the nights Price isn’t playing, especially tough starts on the road or on the second game of a back to back. And the man who is proving to be the best option for that job is Condon.
Dustin Tokarski vs. Mike Condon
As a full time rookie goalie in the NHL, Tokarski was average at best. There were some games he looked really good behind a Montreal team that had trouble scoring. Other nights were forgettable as it seemed all his weaknesses were revealed all at once. At 5′ 11″, Tokarski is small for a goalie, especially in an era where goalies on average are a lot bigger than they were a decade ago. Price is 6′ 3″ but fellow goalies such as Pekka Rinne, Mike Smith, Devan Dubnyk and Ben Bishop are all 6′ 4″ or taller. You can argue height isn’t everything in net as former Hab Jaroslav Halak is the same height as Tokarski but the difference is one is a number one starter while the other struggles to be a backup.
Dustin Tokarski motions as if that's not his fault because of the tip. Come on.
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) October 3, 2015
Tokarski relies heavily on his athleticism to get the job done and while that’s not a bad thing, it does get him into trouble. He will kick out long rebounds right to the opposing team and NHL players are quick to pounce and before you know it, the puck is in the back of the net in mere seconds. Tokarski has been excellent and a winner at all levels of hockey leading up to the NHL. However, just because you won in the minors, it doesn’t mean it will translate to the best league in the world.
Since signing as a free agent out of college, Condon has done nothing but impress. He worked his way up from the ECHL to be the clear number one in the AHL. He has the size advantage over Tokarski at 6′ 2″ and reads the play pretty well which leads to solid positioning. Tokarski is a goalie that needs to play constantly in order to be good and in Montreal, that opportunity simply isn’t there. With Condon, he appears more suited to the backup position as he can come in cold after sitting for a few games and still turn in a good performance.
The difference between salaries should not be close to significant enough to alter the Condon/Tokarski decision. Mike is way better. #Habs
— Brian Wilde (@BWildeMTL) September 30, 2015
The Need for Consistency
Quite simply, the Habs need a backup they can trust to turn in a good performance even after sitting on the bench for several games at a time. At this stage, the Habs need Price to be fresh for the playoffs and if a guy like Condon can come in and play 15-20 games and be a reliable option, than he deserves the spot as the understudy to Price. There were times last season where Price was playing both games in a back to back scenario and in games late in the season that really didn’t matter.
Tokarski needs waivers if he is going to be sent down but Condon does not. However, it should have no impact of who makes the team. Tokarski has given no reason why he should start the year in Montreal especially since Condon’s play dictates he deserves to be on the team. Roster spots are meant to be earned and not given and Condon has given the Habs every reason to believe he is the man for the job.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from Ryerson University. I am a freelance journalist and a Montreal Canadiens writer for The Hockey Writers. I previously wrote for Simcoe.com and Last Word on Sports as well as interned at TSN.