Meet the Goaltenders
Carey Price, Charlie Lindgren, Cayden Primeau, Keith Kinkaid, Michael McNiven, Vasili Demchenko, Frederik Dichow. These are the names of the goaltenders currently under contract or within the Montreal Canadiens organizational depth chart. Throughout this article I will go through each player and project and analyze their role with the Canadiens for the 2020-21 season and beyond.
Barring any unforeseen scenario (who knows in 2020 anymore), Keith Kinkaid will no longer be part of the Canadiens organization. In 19 appearances split between the Canadiens and the Laval Rocket, Kinkaid managed only 4 wins, with a disappointing 0.875 save percentage in the NHL, and a 0.876 save percentage in the AHL. Prior to the AHL season shutting down, Kinkaid was reassigned to the Charlotte Checkers and had better success in 4 appearances (0.924 SV%, 2.24 GAA). This shows he may still have good hockey left in him, however I anticipate it will be as an AHL goaltender with another organization, as there is no room for Kinkaid in Laval.
Projecting Carey Price's role within the organization next year and moving forward is incredibly simple. Simply put, Carey Price is the Canadiens starting goaltender for the foreseeable future. There are many people who have understandable concerns in regard to Price's contract, but the fact remains that Carey Price will continue to be the starter for years to come. While Price is certainly overpaid when looking at his seasons under his current contract, given the cap space that the Canadiens have, it hasn't hindered the team as much as many people in the media make is seem. The Canadiens haven't missed out on top free agents for lack of cap space, and Price is still the best goaltender in the organization by a wide margin. The bigger concern moving forward is determining who is playing behind Carey, as the backup position has long been a rotation of below average goaltending.
Cayden Primeau is an easy projection to make, as he will likely play a very similar role in 2020-21 as he did this past season, as part of a goaltending rotation in Laval, with a bulk of the starts. Following a decorated NCAA career, the former 7th round draft pick impressed as a 20-year-old rookie in the AHL. He boasted a 0.908 SV%, 2.45 GAA, and had a record of 17-11-3, and was recognized as the AHL's most outstanding rookie goaltender. In addition to his AHL play, Primeau made his NHL debut, and in 2 appearances had an impressive 0.931 SV%, notching his first NHL win in the process. While it is easy to be encouraged with his NHL play and believe he is the best goaltender not named Carey Price in the organization, given his age, it is still in his best interest to have another season in the AHL, and continue his upward trajectory and become the eventual heir apparent to Price.
While not the exact same scenario, Charlie Lindgren had a similar excellent start to his professional career. Signed as an undrafted NCAA free agent in 2016, Lindgren won each of his first three NHL starts boasting a 0.929 SV% in 2015-16, and a 0.949 SV% in 2016-17. Lindgren had similar success playing for St John's in 2016-17 with a 0.914 SV% and 2.56 GAA. Since then unfortunately, Lindgren's overall play and statistics have regressed. He has yet to tally a save percentage of 0.900 in the AHL in each of the previous 3 seasons, and his NHL play leaves much to be desired (0.908, 0.898, 0.888 SV% in each of the previous 3 seasons respectively). While a complete analysis of Lindgren can't be derived by simply looking at his stats, his age suggests he should be playing his best hockey, and that just has not been the case. Still under contract for the 2020-21 season, Lindgren will likely be in competition for the NHL backup position. If he does not win the job, it is my opinion that he should be moved to another team. This would give him an opportunity to still compete for an NHL job, and if the Canadiens prioritize Primeau as the AHL starter, Lindgren deserves a bigger role than AHL backup.
The next name to discuss is Vasili Demchenko. I will admit I have never seen Demchenko play, thus I can only base my opinion on what is available online and people who watch KHL far more frequently than me. Demchenko had 4 consecutive above 0.920 SV% seasons with Chelyabinsk Traktor prior to 2019-20. In 2019-20 Demchenko split the season between Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk, with a 0.908 SV% with Chelyabinsk and a 0.906 SV% with Magnitogorsk. Given his relative success in a top professional league for the past 6 seasons, it is likely Demchenko was brought in to compete for the NHL backup position. Many teams have brought in KHL goaltenders with varying degrees of success. The best method to analyze Demchenko is through Colorado Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz. Francouz has become a reliable option for the Avs boasting a 0.923 SV% in 36 NHL games. Prior to joining the NHL, Francouz was teammates with Demchenko for 3 seasons. In 2015-16, Demchenko was the primary starter, making 48 appearances to Francouz's 18. In those appearances, the pair had similar statistics, though Demchenko had the better win percentage. The pair split starts for each of the next 2 seasons, with Francouz outplaying Demchenko in roughly equal number of starts. It is my estimation that the Canadiens management sees this as the best-case scenario with Demchenko. It is important to note Francouz is 4 years older than Demchenko, as well as spending a season with the Colorado Eagles of the AHL before joining the Avalanche. In a perfect world Demchenko makes the transition to the NHL right away, however Demchenko has stated his willingness to play in the AHL if necessary. While he and Lindgren are only separated by a few months in age, I believe Demchenko would benefit far more in the AHL than Lindgren as it would help him adjust to North American hockey, as well as many of the top KHL goalies that have come to North America have used a year in the AHL to become more comfortable (Francouz, Ilya Samsonov, Igor Shesterkin). By no means am I predicting the same level of success for Demchenko compared to these 3, I just believe their route is one the Canadiens may mirror, as the AHL season has proven to aid in the development of KHL goaltenders. Demchenko in the AHL means Lindgren would likely be the NHL backup.
Frederik Dichow is similarly preparing to make the adjustment to North America, as he is prepared to play with the OHL's Sudbury Wolves following spending the past season in Sweden. As a 5th round draft pick, the Canadiens see potential in Dichow, and his upcoming play in the OHL will prove to be important in deciding whether or not he is worthy of a contract. The Canadiens still have time on their side with Dichow, and he will more than likely be competing for a contract with other future draft picks given the Canadiens 25 picks in the next 2 drafts.
The last, and most difficult goaltender to predict his future is Michael McNiven. Seemingly all options are on the table for McNiven, as he could play in the AHL, ECHL, be loaned to another team, or not re-signed at all. Prior to playing professionally, McNiven played for my hometown Owen Sound Attack in the OHL and was a prolific goaltender in the league taking home numerous OHL and CHL accolades. McNiven made the shift to the pros in 2017-18, opting against playing alongside Nick Suzuki for one more year as an overeager. While I understand there wasn't much more for McNiven to prove in the OHL, playing another season for the Attack may have greatly benefitted him in the long run, as he would have had the opportunity to make a run for the Memorial Cup on an incredibly strong Owen Sound team, as well as keeping him under contract for this upcoming NHL season. Nevertheless, McNiven spent nearly the entire 2017-18 season splitting time with Lindgren and Zach Fucale. 2018-19 continued largely the same way, as McNiven largely split time again with Lindgren and Connor LaCouvee, as well as short stays with the Brampton Beast of the ECHL. Due to the signing of Cayden Primeau as well as Lindgren and Kinkaid still under contract with the team, that left little room for McNiven in Laval for 2019-20. It wasn't until injuries within the Hurricanes organization opened the door for Kinkaid's exit, allowing McNiven to start and win 3 games for the Rocket with an impressive 0.919 SV%. Before then, McNiven bounced from team to team in the ECHL, logging 22 games for the Adirondack Thunder, Jacksonville Icemen, and Norfolk Admirals respectively. Despite all the movement, McNiven managed a very successful season all things considered, and I believe worthy of a contract extension. Given his status as former CHL/OHL goaltender of the year, I believe giving up on McNiven at this age could prove to be a mistake. There is very little risk associated with extending him, and he could still prove to be a solid goaltender. McNiven has yet to be given a true shot to show he is an NHL caliber goalie with just 58 AHL appearances over 3 seasons. To get an idea of how staggering that number is, Charlie Lindgren appeared in 118 games over his first three full professional seasons, and 17 NHL games. The biggest issue that exists for McNiven is finding an opportunity to play in the AHL. Since the Laval is likely to be fairly logjammed behind Primeau, one scenario I have considered is similar to the route the St Louis Blues took with Jordan Binnington in 2017-18. Similar to the Rocket, the 2017-18 San Antonio Rampage were logjammed in goal, especially considering the Colorado Avalanche and St Louis Blues shared affiliation for the season. The Blues opted to prioritize Ville Husso, and the Avalanche's Spencer Martin left no room for Binnington to get any starts. Binnington refused to report to the ECHL and found himself splitting starts for the Providence Bruins. Binnington had a successful season and has gone on to have a very successful career with the Blues. While no team wants to lose control of a player, loaning McNiven to another AHL team would allow him to get the playing time he deserves, and if he were to play well, the Canadiens would still own his rights for many years. While I don't have an idea on which AHL team may be a fit, the fact is McNiven deserves to play in the AHL, and this could be a way for him to do so, while still being a part of the Canadiens organization.
Three Possible Scenarios
Simply put, the most unpredictable organizational goaltending positions to predict for the 2020-21 season are the backup goaltending positions. Carey Price and Cayden Primeau will be the NHL and AHL starters respectfully, however who plays behind them is yet to be seen. As much as it is possible for either Lindgren or Demchenko to become the full time NHL backup, given the cap space available, Bergevin may opt for a high-priced backup. Keith Kinkaid was supposed to be this type of player, but for various reasons it did not work out that way. The backup position has become more and more valuable, and teams like Boston and Washington have proven that having a big-name goaltender like Rask or Holtby shouldn't restrict you from valuing your backup. Washington is a great example of this as Philipp Grubauer and Ilya Samsonov have allowed the team to remain competitive when Holtby regresses. Contract aside, Holtby and Price have had very similar careers, but quality backups have helped the Capitals always have solid goaltending when Holtby isn't at his expected play, whereas the Canadiens had just 4 wins by backup goaltenders in the shortened 2019-20 season combined. Targeting a proven NHL goalie with the cap space available may thus be a wise choice. There is no shortage of quality goalies available that may be willing to play a role similar to what Jaroslav Halak plays in Boston. A few names that come to mind are: Anton Khudobin, Cam Talbot, Corey Crawford, and Thomas Greiss. Any one of these goaltenders should help shoulder some of the load from Carey Price, and help bridge the gap until Cayden Primeau or any other goaltenders transition to the NHL.
Given everything stated, I have mapped out the following 3 scenarios that may occur for the 2020-21 season. I limited the scenarios to Price as the NHL starter and Primeau as the AHL starter as I believe these are the most likely and logical outcomes. Let me know which scenario you would prefer and provide any feedback in the comments below!
NHL Starter: Carey Price
NHL Backup: Charlie Lindgren/Vasili Demchenko
AHL Starter: Cayden Primeau
AHL Backup: Charlie Lindgren/Vasili Demchenko
(In this scenario, Michael McNiven would either be loaned to another AHL/ECHL team or not re-signed)
NHL Starter: Carey Price
NHL Backup: Proven NHL UFA Goalie
AHL Starter: Cayden Primeau
AHL Backup: Vasili Demchenko/Michael McNiven
(In this scenario, Charlie Lindgren would likely be moved to another team as he serves little value as AHL backup over Demchenko/McNiven)
NHL Starter: Carey Price
NHL Backup: Vasili Demchenko
AHL Starter: Cayden Primeau
AHL Backup: Michael McNiven
(In this scenario, Demchenko makes the jump directly to the NHL, McNiven is re-signed, and Lindgren is traded)