The Canadiens organization is faced with a problem as we head into the off-season. This problem though, is one many organizations surely covet – who will be our backup goaltender? Having this problem means finding a starting goalie is not a concern. Every team needs a solid backup goalie. A backup is someone who can take the reins on nights when the starter needs to rest and make it seem as if nothing is different. Marc Bergevin and his staff will be focusing a good amount of their time this summer on the backup role between the pipes. This is a hot topic around the Canadiens right now, so here is an opinion of a different variety.
Since the day his name was called 5th overall in the 2005 NHL draft, Carey Price has shouldered the unique pressure of being a highly-touted prospect in Montreal. It is hard to believe that it has been almost 10 years since the B.C. native entered the NHL. The combination of Price and the pressure-cooking fishbowl that is Montreal turned out to be a match made in heaven.
He is arguably the coolest and calmest in the crease and seems to stomach the most difficult of situations with ease. After the season he recently had, there remains not a single doubter of his elite status. He is a Superstarter. Surely, the Canadiens are pleased and proud of this accomplishment. This recent group has been able to develop their Superstarter to where he is today and they have also brought in a group of promising goaltenders to fill the quota. But they cannot all stay forever.
Peter Budaj has been one of the best backups in the NHL since signing with the Canadiens in 2011, posting a 23-16-9 record in three seasons. He has earned the trust of Michel Therrien over the past two seasons (18-9-4) and has gotten the job done when thrown into the mix on any given night. Impressively, he owns a 4-1-0 record against the Boston Bruins over the past two seasons. It not easy being a backup – especially in Montreal. (It is not easy being any position in Montreal.) Performance aside, equally important as his strong play in a supporting role to Carey Price, is his character.
A backup’s role goes deeper than his on-ice performance. Strong character is needed to play the part, and Budaj has certainly demonstrated his capabilities. But – there is a but – this is a business and Peter Budaj‘s job is not safe.
Enter Dustin Tokarski.
The 24 year-old whom his teammates call “Ticker” has quickly arisen in Montreal. He recorded two wins in three games in the regular season, one by shutout. Although his game was encouragingly strong, it was a brief showing. Few people thought they would see him starting come the playoffs. Well the inexperienced Tokarski was thrust into the most difficult of scenarios. This was his checklist:
- Dress for and start game 2 cold
- …In front of a home crowd
- …At the Bell Centre
- …Against King Henrik Lundqvist
- …After a devastating Habs loss in game 1 (no pun)
- …In the playoffs
- …In the Eastern Conference Final
You cannot make this stuff up, much less expect it. When it was announced that Price would have to sit out the series, fans, and I am sure Canadiens alike, expected to see their backup between the pipes going forward. So I suppose Tokarski had to deal with the pressure of that as well. A friend of mine who is a goaltender at the collegiate level always tells me that it is a backup’s role to be ready to come off the bench cold, no matter what the situation, and perform. Well, he did. It was almost eerie how closely his persona in the net resembled Price’s. With every reason to crack he held himself together and ultimately held the team together. Even when the players in front of him were at their worst, he gave them every chance to win in the series against the Rangers. He was stellar. Starting him over Peter Budaj is the kind of decision on which coaches are judged. It was a high-risk, high-reward gamble and Michel Therrien’s coin landed reward-side up. That being said, the taste sample of Tokarski’s ability was still small, and we have not yet seen all sides of him on the ice.
Now the emotional rush is over and the time has come to pause, evaluate and act. The Canadiens have two options since there is not room for two backups: They can trade Tokarski who has a strong return value and keep Budaj, a proven backup and teammate. Or they can trade Budaj and make way for a promising young goaltender in the backup role. “Backup” being the operative word, because Dustin Tokarski will never be a number one goalie in Montreal. Not so long as Carey Price is here. Tokarski’s full potential will never be revealed with the Canadiens. That is why moving him this summer is the best option.
Details notwithstanding, this is similar to the Jaroslav Halak situation: The Canadiens and GM’s around the league saw what he was able to do when called upon in the spring and we subsequently moved him while he was hot. That would be the wise decision here. Then again, the Canadiens rolled the dice when they threw Ticker in against the Rangers. Who is to say they will not gamble again?