When Al Montoya was traded to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin set in motion a plan that would clear the path for Charlie Lindgren to ascend to the role of backup goaltender by next season.
Congestion in the goaltending depth was a good problem for Marc Bergevin this year, with Carey Price firmly entrenched in the starting role, Montoya the incumbent backup, Lindgren the heir apparent, and Zachary Fucale and Michael McNiven fighting for playing time with the Laval Rocket in the AHL.
The depth was tested early on when Price was shut down due to a lingering injury and everyone got moved up one notch, with Lindgren and Montoya guarding the nets in Montreal.
Lindgren claimed the starting role from Montoya with his performances, the young lion taking over the pride from the older, wiser one.
But then the Canadiens unexpectedly claimed Antti Niemi off waivers, and people started wondering why this move was necessary. As it turned out it became necessary as Montoya suffered a concussion against the Winnipeg Jets and was to be out of action for a while, so the Canadiens were left without an experienced goaltender to backup Lindgren, or Price for his eventual return.
In Montoya’s absence, Niemi provided solid support for the team’s starter. In four appearances, he managed a 2.79 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage, all while facing an uncertain future with the organization.
Now with Montoya ready to return from injury, the team found itself with three goaltenders at the NHL level, and three goalies in the AHL ranks, causing quite the predicament that needed a watershed moment.
Common logic dictated that Montoya would reclaim his spot, and that Niemi would once again be put on waivers, however it was Montoya who was moved out once Bergevin found a trading partner offering a decent return, with Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli accepting the offer.
It felt like Montoya was on borrowed time with the Canadiens organization ever since he signed his current two-year contract extension. The team needed a goaltender that would meet the exposure requirements for the expansion draft, and Montoya was the only viable option, so a deal was struck, probably for a longer term than Bergevin would have wanted.
In return for Montoya, the Canadiens obtain a conditional fourth-round pick, contingent on Montoya playing 30 minutes or more in at least seven more games this season, otherwise the pick becomes a fifth-rounder in 2018. Bergevin has been creative with the draft picks attached to his trades, and the conditions have helped to facilitate the moves of late.
Just as he won his draft-pick gamble in the Jonathan Drouin-Mikhail Sergachev trade by retaining a second-round pick, Bergevin appears poised to once again pull it off, as the Oilers have eight back-to-back sets left this season, which would be prime opportunities for Oilers coach Todd McLellan to start Montoya.
As it stands, the Canadiens have four picks in the first two rounds, another one in the third, and two conditional picks in the fourth.
The Canadiens obtain absolvance of the second year of Montoya’s contract next season, and add another $300K to this season’s cap space by choosing the slightly cheaper Niemi to backup Price for the remainder of the season. It’s doubtful that Niemi is retained after this season, so the path is clear for Lindgren to be annointed as Price’s understudy.
As for the rest of the goaltending depth, Fucale was rumoured to be on the trade block, but for the time being, rather than getting playing time with the ECHL’s Brampton Beast, Fucale remains with the Rocket in a three-goaltender rotation. His contract also expires at the end of this season.
With the Beast signing Laval Rocket tryout Patrick Spano to a contract to backup Andrew D’Agostini, it looks like the team is not expecting Fucale or McNiven back any time soon, raising the possibility that there are further moves to be made within the goaltending depth to resolve the congestion at the AHL level.
The Canadiens also have two other unsigned goaltending prospects in the NCAA: Hayden Hawkey and Cayden Primeau. Primeau has been getting recognition already in his freshman season at Northeastern University.