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Managing the Canadiens’ goaltending depth is not as simple as it looks

Photo Credit: Shanna Martin/EOTP

Keeping three goaltenders on your NHL roster is not a viable season-long strategy. It is almost impossible to manage, and the reason the Montreal Canadiens would be doing it – no goalies can go to the American Hockey League without waivers – means they cannot just send someone down for regular playing time.

On the surface, it seems like the best long-term solutions for the Canadiens is either to make room for Cayden Primeau, trade him, or to put him on waivers and hope he clears. Some have claimed that even if Primeau is claimed on waivers, it’s no big loss. In terms of the player himself, maybe not.

Primeau would not be the only goalie in his situation to be placed on waivers, after all Samuel Montembeault was acquired by the Canadiens because he was in the same spot with the Florida Panthers two years ago. It would be unfortunate to lose him for nothing after investing years into his development, but they would be far from the only team to have that happen.

However, if the Canadiens lose a goaltender from their NHL roster, either by trade or waivers, without replacing them, it can leave them in a very tough situation.

There are currently, per CapFriendly, 160 goalies under NHL contract who are not slide-eligible (20 years old), and whose contract will count against the 50 contract limit every team has. If you do the quick math for 32 teams, it comes to a clean five goaltenders per team.

The Canadiens have exactly that amount: Montembeault, Jake Allen, Primeau, Jakub Dobeš, and Carey Price. Yes, Price counts on the limit even on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). On the surface, that seems fine, but it’s not. Take the Toronto Maple Leafs. With Matt Murray expected to be on LTIR for the season, they have eight goalies under NHL contract. The Vegas Golden Knights, with Robin Lehner on LTIR to start the season, have seven goalies under NHL contract.

You might be asking yourself why this matters. If the Canadiens lose one of their goalies through trade or waivers, they will be left with three healthy goalies under NHL contract. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, Primeau gets claimed. Then let’s say that in a few weeks, one of the Canadiens’ goalies gets injured. That would mean that Dobeš, yet to even play a single professional game, would be the only option to be recalled to the NHL.

We have seen what has happened to Primeau’s development when he has been forced to play in the NHL. The Canadiens were forced to recall an injured Michael McNiven and play him in a period of a loss against the Minnesota Wild. That is not a situation you want to put Dobeš in. The same thing would apply if two goalies out of the four get hurt. The Canadiens have Strauss Mann and Zachary Émond in the organization, but they are on AHL contracts and not eligible to be recalled to the NHL.

Now, this isn’t a problem that can’t be resolved: The Canadiens can trade for a goalie, like they did with Andrew Hammond two years ago. They can simply sign a goalie to a NHL contract when needed. They can even trade for a goalie who has cleared waivers and keep them in the minors in case of emergency. The Canadiens have the space, with only 47 contracts (Owen Beck and David Reinbacher would make it 49, but they are exempt from the limit after being sent to the OHL and NL respectively).

It’s not a problem without a solution, but it’s yet another thing to consider when Kent Hughes ends up making a decision. Three goaltenders on the NHL roster may be a crowd, but it can quickly turn around.