It was a surprise when the Habs coaching staff opted to go with Dustin Tokarksi after Carey Price went down in the 2014 playoffs. Calling the youngster up over the veteran Peter Budaj, who had faltered in the playoffs the year before in relief, the Canadiens were hoping to conjure up some playoff magic from the ghosts of Montreal's past.
They almost did.
The Habs went on to lose the series in six games, but Tokarksi had firmly supplanted Budaj, and the vet was traded prior to the beginning of the next season.
Now Tokarksi finds himself in a similar position: his role as the incumbent backup threatened by Mike Condon, with Zachary Fucale waiting in the wings. It's unfair to call a backup goalie logjam a controversy, but it's certainly a point of interest. As outlined in our season preview, Tokarski started only 17 games in the regular season last year, and was rather average in doing so.
But these are the Montreal Canadiens, and average goaltending isn't enough to protect a team that desperately needs saving on the regular. Tokarski doesn't need to be Carey Price, but if Montreal is going to contend, they need a backup that can provide Price the rest he requires to be fresh and healthy for a deep playoff run.
Seventeen starts was not a tall order, but starting fourteen of those games on the road certainly made it tougher. Tokarksi is a likeable player and a serviceable backup, but the fact that he's an average second-tier goalie makes him replaceable.
Listed at 5'11'', Tokarski would have been an average-sized goalie in 1994, but now he's well below the 6'2'' league average. Those goaltenders on the smaller side — your Jonathan Quicks and Henrik Lundqvists — rely on superior athleticism to overcome their size disadvantage, or, in Lundqvist's case especially, playing deeper in the net. Goalies at the opposite end of the spectrum, like the 6'7'' Ben Bishop, can usually rely on size when their athleticism is lacking.
Well, most of the time.
So when you've got some healthy competition like Montreal does, it makes sense to look beyond Tokarksi to Condon. If you've got two goalies who are relatively equal in terms of talent, go with the bigger one. Tokarksi is a superb athlete, but he's got a tendency to allow rebounds that require him to rely on that athleticism, and his angles are harder to cover due to his small frame.
There's an ideal size to athletes in general, hockey players included, and that's never as apparent as it is among goaltenders. That incremental increase in size over the past few decades favours Mike Condon.
As a bigger goalie, the 6'2'' Condon has more to learn from Price's example and is used to shorter seasons thanks to his college experience. He's an ideal backup to Price and can give the Canadiens a reliable, big body presence in net that they need.
If the Habs are looking to trade the waiver-eligible Jarred Tinordi, Tokarski can sweeten the deal for a team also in the market for goalie depth. The Canadiens already have that depth, and should take advantage by giving Mike Condon the opportunity he's earned.