Charlie Lindgren went unselected in two years of entry draft eligibility, but that never stopped him from pursuing his dream of playing professional hockey by working hard and leaving a trail of success along the way.
In 2012, he was ranked the 30th-best available North American goaltender by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau, but was passed over by all 30 teams. Receiving the top honour as U.S. Junior Goaltender of the Year that season with the Sioux City Stampede probably helped soften the blow of not finding an NHL home.
For the 2013 entry draft, Lindgren climbed up to 19th, but still had no luck getting drafted. He was, however, invited to the Winnipeg Jets’ development camp on a tryout basis that year, but headed to his freshman season with the St. Cloud State Huskies of the NCAA as an undrafted free agent.
An NHL contract would have ruled out finishing his NCAA career, which perhaps played into the situation. He played 10 games that season for the Huskies, putting up some promising numbers for a backup, with a 2.42 goals-against average, and a .905 save percentage. He got credit for the win in two of those games, one coming via shutout. His performance allowed him to be named to the NCHC Rookie Team.
Despite his promise he did not attend any NHL development camps in the summer of 2014. He did, however, earn the starter role for the Huskies for the 2014-15 season, and excelled in his sophomore campaign, earning accolades for his 2.26 GAA, .919 save percentage, and winning 19 of his 38 starts. He was named to the 2015 NCHC Frozen Faceoff All-Tournament team by leading his team to the final.
Heading into his junior season in 2015-16, Lindgren started garnering some momentum, and was invited to two development camps.
“I was going to the Rush concert at Xcel (Energy Center) and I got a call that they wanted me to go to camp. It was either going to be them or Winnipeg and I had gone to Winnipeg’s (camp) a couple summers ago. I wanted a new experience. (Minnesota) Wild camp was phenomenal.” - Lindgren (SCtimes.com, Sept 29, 2015)
Lindgren returned to St. Cloud State empty-handed for his junior year. Perhaps the Wild should have secured their hometown kid prior, because Lindgren had a remarkable season for the Huskies in 2015-16.
He played 40 games, improving on his statistics yet again with a 2.13 GAA and a .925 save percentage. He ranked first in the NCHC for wins, saves, and shutouts, and was voted the NCHC Goaltender of the Year, named to the NCHC First All-Star team, and named to the NCAA 1st Team All-Americans. He capped off the season, and his college career, with a Frozen Faceoff Championship.
Merely a week after the Championship win, news circulated that Lindgren would forego his senior year and turn to pro hockey. After being passed over in two drafts, Lindgren had increased his stock to the point that 10-15 teams originally showed interest in him, but it quickly got whittled down to three.
Where oh where will he go?!? Huskies junior goaltender Charlie Lindgren is @NHL bound but the team is still unknown. pic.twitter.com/SoTH7PUbgV— HUSKY MAG (@UTVS_HUSKYMAG) March 29, 2016
Ultimately, the Montreal Canadiens won the bidding war and signed him on March 30, 2016 to a two-year entry-level contract; the maximum allowable duration for a 22-year-old player entering the NHL.
What tipped the scale in Montreal’s favour is that they were the only team willing to let Lindgren burn a year of his contract immediately, and he did so by making his NHL debut on April 7, 2016, three weeks after capturing the Frozen Faceoff crown.
He won his debut game with the Canadiens, and immediately became a bright spot for the team in an absolutely dismal season, as a promising young goalie in the organization that seemed to be, at least at that position, very well stocked.
Last night was the best night of my life. That was truly a dream coming true. Thanks to everyone who watched and supported me #1stNHLWin— CharlieLindgren35 (@CharlieLindgren) April 8, 2016
Burning a year of his entry level contract allows Lindgren to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018-19 season, which is where the trick lies with the handling of Lindgren going forward.
Lindgren is currently already on his second contract, a one-year deal that expires at the end of this season, leaving him one year of restricted free agency, but with arbitration rights. This poses a problem for Marc Bergevin.
Will the general manager try to buy some unrestricted free agent years to avoid losing the goaltender for nothing? If Lindgren doesn’t like the offer, he can always take the team to arbitration where a one-year deal is the option, walking away as an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018-19 season.
With Carey Price secured long-term to a huge contract, how many of Lindgren’s UFA seasons can the Habs afford? The answer is not many at all if the young goaltender continues to shine like he has thus far.
And this is why Canadiens fans shouldn’t get too used to Lindgren. He will be moved, possibly as early as this season, because the contractual leverage is not in the Canadiens favour in the least.
The situation is in fact untenable for the long-term, as he risks being an expensive backup for the Canadiens, and the team has many other options that could come cheaper to back up Carey Price. Al Montoya, dependable for a few starts a year, has a contract that extends for another season after this, giving either Zachary Fucale or Michael McNiven time to develop into the role.
One thing is for certain: this is Carey Price’s team, and there won’t be room for two starting goaltenders.
Lindgren clearly hedged his bets and so far he has proven himself at the AHL level and, more importantly, at the NHL level where he won his first five starts, looking like a star while doing it, and even having impressive performances in what was a losing streak to end his most recent NHL stint.
The goaltender who worked hard in order to prove himself will cash in, and soon. But Lindgren’s future lies with another franchise.