Dustin Tokarski, who earned his first career National Hockey League shutout last night, was sent down to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League today.
Tokarski is now 2-0-0 in his Montreal Canadiens career, after helping the Habs defeat the league leading Anaheim Ducks last week, and playing well in relief against the San Jose Sharks, before blanking the Sabres.
Dustin was called up immediately following the Olympic break when Carey Price missed seven games with a lower body injury. He was brought up once again yesterday for a spot start, when Price was left in Montreal after playing his first game back since the Olympics.
The question now is, has Tokarski usurped Peter Budaj as the Canadiens backup? Sure, he is being sent back down, but that is mostly due to logistics, as Budaj would need to pass through waivers if he were to become a Bulldog. If Tokarski earned the start yesterday over Budaj, wouldn’t a shutout ensure he gets the call next time Price takes a seat?
When I look at the Canadiens upcoming schedule, the next logical game to give Price a rest is against the Buffalo Sabres next Tuesday. Considering Tokarski just shut them out, I would give him a few starts with Hamilton on the weekend and bring him back up to face the Sabres once again.
Beyond that game, the Habs play a pair of separate back to back games as the season winds down. There is a game on April 10th against the lowly New York Islanders one night after the Canadiens take on the Chicago Blackhawks. Clearly Price will get the call versus the defending Stanley Cup champs, but I would give Tokarski another chance against the Islanders before his contract runs out at the end of the season.
Looking ahead to the offseason, Tokarski will be a restricted free agent, and Budaj still has one year left on his deal at 1.4 million dollars. If the Canadiens are serious about keeping Tokarski around, all they have to do is give him a qualifying offer at slightly over his current $575,000 cap hit.
However, to keep Tokarski happy, he may need more of a promise of having NHL games in his immediate future. He will be 25 years old before next season begins, has been bombarded all season in Hamilton and is posting solid numbers (2.34 GAA and .919 SV%.) He has already won a Calder Cup as the AHL champion with the Norfolk Admirals in 2012, and has shown to be capable at the NHL level, albeit in a small sample.
If Montreal wishes to get rid of Budaj in the offseason, they would have no problem finding a team willing to move a late round pick for one year of a solid veteran backup at a reasonable cap hit.
Even though Tokarski was sent to the minors today, it appears he has passed the Slovakian incumbent backup. Don’t be surprised to see Tokarski back with the Canadiens next time Price takes a seat for a night.