by Gregorio Lentini, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine
Have the Canadiens finally begun to turn their season around? Montreal has won six of their past ten games, averaging just under three goals per game in that span. Recently, however, it’s been the play of third-string goalie Charlie Lindgren that has led the Habs to three wins in their past five games.
Frankly, Lindgren has been phenomenal.
In his NHL career, he’s won six of eight games. This season, he has a .957 save percentage which is extremely impressive for any goalie, let alone for a rookie goaltender. He’s been making important saves and he appears very confident in the process. In truth, he looks like he belongs in the NHL.
Granted, he’s only played eight NHL games, but Lindgren’s poise and positioning are indicative of a starting goaltender. The fact that he is only twenty-three years old means he’s most likely going to improve beyond his current form, which can only mean good things for the Habs.
The Canadiens’ roster has a few deficiencies, including the lack a No. 1 left-defenceman and a bona fide No. 1 center; however, the one department that isn’t lacking is their goaltending.
First and foremost, the Canadiens have Vezina and Hart Trophy winner Carey Price, who is arguably the best goalie in the NHL. They then have a proficient backup goaltender in Al Montoya and newly acquired Antti Niemi. After him, the Habs have a slew of promising goaltending prospects, including Zach Fucale (22), Michael McNiven (20), Hayden Hawkey (22), Cayden Primeau (18) and Lindgren.
The only question general-manager Marc Bergevin has to answer is: what should he do with all these goalies?
Since 2010, Carey Price has been not only the best player on the team, he is one of the best players in the league. On average, he’s posted a .923 save percentage and was one of the sole reasons the Habs have won four division titles.
However, this season, he’s posted an abominable .877 save percentage. He is also thirty, has been injured several times and is about to make 10.5 million dollars a season for eight years staring next year. This is why, considering the amount of up-and-coming goalies in the organization, some have speculated about trading him for a massive return.
While it would be intriguing to see if the Canadiens could resolve their other issues by trading Price, I am against the idea.
Firstly, Price has a no-move clause which makes any trade highly unlikely. Secondly, trading him now, when his value is at its lowest in years, is a recipe for disaster. Thirdly, and most importantly, Price still has a lot a hockey left in him.
Goalies peak at different times then forwards. In fact, most prominent goaltenders, such as Dominik Hasek, Thomas Vokoun, Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur, played competitively until they were thirty-five. Therefore, it’s safe that Price has at least four years of stellar goaltending left in him.
Price’s poor play this season may have been caused by bad luck or his mysterious injury, but either way, Price has shown repeatedly that he can bounce back. He’s done it twice before, once after the 2013-14 playoffs and after the 2015-16 season, so there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it again.
It’s also worth mentioning that Lindgren, whom many presume would take the starting role, is still very young and needs to play more games before he can be properly judged. While he matures, Price should be the starter.
Montoya has quietly done his job as the Habs since last year by posting a respectable .916 save percentage. However, with the emergence of Lindgren, it’s hard to imagine how much longer he will stay with the Habs.
Once he and Price return from their injuries, there is a chance that Montoya will be placed on waivers. I would prefer to see Lindgren sent to the Laval Rocket so he can have more starts, but I would understand if the organization decides to keep Lindgren and send Montoya to the AHL.
The only real way I can see Montoya sticking with the team is if a trade takes place, which brings me to…
I’ve already touched on Lindgren’s exceptional play, but with all the goalies in the system, I would not be against trading him now that his value is high.
Most goaltenders tend to take over the number one spot on a team when they are twenty-five, but with Price likely playing excellent hockey for another four years, Lindgren would have to wait on the sidelines until he’s twenty-seven. It’s only once Price is thirty-five or thirty-six that he can usurp Price for the starting role. But by then, McNiven may also be ready for the starting position.
Lindgren would have wasted some prime years on the bench only to have to compete with other promising netminders.
Though Fucale struggled in the ECHL last season, the jury is out whether he can still be successful. He has won several accolades over his career including the U-20 World Juniors Gold Medal in 2014 and the Spengler Cup last year.
In my opinion, McNiven has even more promise considering he made the OHL All-Star Team twice and he won the OHL goaltender of the year award last year.
It just seems to me that Lindgren is stuck in the middle.
Therefore, I would try to package Lindgren with a couple first-round draft picks and Galchenyuk to make a push for John Tavares who is poised to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Even if Tavares is out of the picture, the Habs could fix their defence by packaging Lindgren.
Either way, with the imminent return of Price and the emergence of younger goalies, someone is going to have to be moved.
We’ll have to see what Bergevin has in mind for these netminders, but with all the available talent (and the 8.5 million in cap space), this is a good problem to have.