First, we projected what the Canadiens' forward lineup might look like this fall. Then, we took a look at the potential defensive pairings behind them. The final position left to talk about for the 2016-17 Habs is the ever important one of goaltender.
Of course, Carey Price is back to good health, so the only conversation worth having is who might be playing behind him.
And in that regard, no assumptions can be made. It was assumed that after the last few seasons of serious playoff runs, that last season the Montreal Canadiens would have been just that much closer to the Stanley Cup. Look how that turned out.
It was assumed that since Dustin Tokarski took over for Carey Price during the 2013-14 playoffs, after Chris Kreider crashed the crease and knocked Price out of the playoffs, that he would back Price the following season. Instead, he was left in Mike Condon’s wake, was sent down to the St. John’s IceCaps, and ultimately traded out of the organization altogether.
After relying on Condon for the majority of the 2015-16 season due to another season-ending knee injury for Price in November 2015, it was assumed that Condon was a lock to help guard the Habs net for the start of the 2016-17 season. That is, until with just five games left to the regular season, the Canadiens signed NCAA top goaltender Charlie Lindgren.
Linden versus Condon is where things got interesting, but the game wasn't over there. Enter veteran Al Montoya of the Florida Panthers who signed a one-year contract with the Canadiens during the free agent frenzy on July 1.
This week, the Canadiens development camp was in full swing from July 3-7 with the Habs biggest prospects showing what they’ve got. Four of them are goaltenders. Lindgren was there, along with Zachary Fucale, Michael McNiven and Hayden Hawkey.
McNiven can slide his contract and play in Junior for one more year, and Hawkey doesn’t have to sign until 2019. So it is safe to say that neither of them will be joining the pro ranks this year, not even at the AHL level.
Fucale, who was meant to be Tokarski’s backup last season, ended up sharing net minding duties with Eddie Pasquale after Tokarski’s trade to the Anaheim Ducks in January. He performed fairly well last season, playing 42 games with a 3.13 GAA and .903 SV%, so it was assumed he would be the head honcho this season for the IceCaps.
But with Lindgren, Montoya, and Condon set to compete for the backup job in Montreal, there is a good chance that one of them goes down to St. John's and takes Fucale's spot. But the question still remains; who wins the last remaining job with the Habs?
Experience wise, there is a pretty clear advantage for Montoya. He has a big advantage on Condon, and a massive leg up on Lindgren's one game of NHL action. If they want to go with the guy that knows the most about what it's like to be in an NHL crease, he's the guy.
In terms of cap hit, advantage Condon. Though it seems unlikely that the Canadiens would choose Price's squire just to save a few hundred thousand against the cap, it is something they might factor in. If he and Montoya look very close together at camp, perhaps this helps him edge out the experience factor.
If I was a betting gal - which I'm not - but if I was, I'd put my money on Charlie Lindgren to be the one to watch. He'll be breathing down Montoya's neck for the opportunity to sit on Price's bench. If that doesn't work out, Fucale has to watch his back and battle hard for a starting position with the IceCaps.
But there is also the issue of waivers. The advantage here goes to Condon and Montoya. Both of them would need to be exposed to other teams to go down to St. John's, whereas Lindgren does not. But since only one of them can win the job behind Price, one of them is on borrowed time with the Canadiens.
It would not be surprising in Marc Bergevin looked to deal one of the two to avoid losing him for nothing. He can't carry three goaltenders on the roster during the regular season, so it almost seems like a matter of when and with whom he does so.
After all, Michel Therrien is going to choose who he thinks gives the team the best chance to win on Price's nights off. Whether it's Lindgren, Condon, or Montoya, that is the only consideration he should make. Unfortunately, that means that one of the two latter names will be either traded or waived. Should make for a very interesting camp, if they all even make it that far.
At any rate, Price is going to need a reliable backup on the nights when he needs a breather. To whoever is lucky enough to acquire that spot, I hope to not see much of you, because a rerun of last year's disaster without Price is not something that anyone wants to see.
And after the year we punched last season, most Habs fans will be quite content to watch Price steal the show on most nights.