Peter Budaj has performed admirably as the backup goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens over the past three seasons. However, when Carey Price was injured in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Final, head coach Michel Therrien elected to go with Dustin Tokarski the rest of the way.
Tokarski was the starting goaltender for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League all season, and though he has a lengthy resume of winning at every level below the NHL. However, it was a bit of a surprise to see Budaj in his usual spot at the end of the bench when a 24 year old with only a handful of NHL games was starting in the Stanley Cup semi-final series.
The young netminder played exceptionally well, winning a pair of games but ultimately falling to the New York Rangers in a hard fought six game series.
Budaj has been solid in his three seasons with the Habs, and has another year left on his contract at 1.4 million dollars. The Slovakian netminder is 23-16-9 in spot duty with Montreal, and his easy going attitude and willingness to accept his role have made him very popular with him teammates.
However, Tokarski recently signed a two year extension and would have to pass through waivers to return to Hamilton next season. You have to think after his stellar postseason performance that a team like the Calgary Flames or Buffalo Sabres would grab him for free and give him a chance to play.
With Price still firmly entrenched as the obvious number one guy, the Habs have to trade or send down either Budaj or Tokarski. The Canadiens could expose Tokarski to waivers and lose him for nothing, but you have to think they will be more wise and shop a goaltender this offseason.
Neither goaltender would fetch a hefty return on their own, but getting something is better than getting nothing for them. The decision becomes, do you keep the veteran Budaj who has proven to be great at starting a game when needed? Or, do you hang on to Tokarski, knowing with Price starting, and Zach Fucale in the pipeline, he is unlikely to ever be the starter on the team?
With players such as P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Lars Eller and Brian Gionta needing new contracts, and other holes to fill on the team, deciding on a backup goaltender is admittedly not the biggest task on general manager Marc Bergevin’s to do list. However, it is an intriguing decision nonetheless, and one that I think will see Budaj shipping out of town.
The Canadiens are lucky to have Carey Price as their starter and only need a backup who can handle about 20 starts per season. Budaj has proven to be able to do this, and I have no doubt that Tokarski could handle the role as well. The difference is your backup has to be a goaltender you can rely on if Price goes down with an injury. Who did the Habs go with in the Eastern Conference Final when Price was injured? Tokarski, and he is the same guy they will go with next season as their backup.
I predict Budaj will be dealt, and soon for a late round draft pick to a team that barely missed the postseason last year and don’t have a solid number two option. Perhaps that is the Dallas Stars, Washington Capitals or Phoenix Coyotes, but there is definitely a market for a proven solid backup like Budaj.
This move would also save the Habs nearly one million in cap space, as Tokarski is set to earn just $562,000 compared to Budaj’s $1,400,000. With so many great players to re-sign and other free agents to chase, an extra million dollars could go a long way this offseason.
It won’t be Marc Bergevin’s biggest move of the offseason, in fact it will go mostly unnoticed by people who are not Habs fans, but Peter Budaj’s shellacking in relief of Price in Game 1 against the Rangers, was his last appearance as a Montreal Canadien.