The Montreal Canadiens are currently in the midst of a rebuild, the first legitimate one the Canadiens have undergone, maybe ever. Naturally, with that comes plenty of roster turnover as more talented players join the fold. Technically speaking, that is true for every position, but I wonder if that actually needs to be the case. For example, do the Habs need to stress over the goalies right now? Or is that the last piece of the puzzle that can be decided on later?
Personally, I say it’s not a priority for a multitude of reasons, which we will discuss here. This isn’t to say I don’t think it needs to be addressed later, just that it isn’t a priority right now. Some of you by now know that I’m a bigger supporter of Samuel Montembeault than most, but even with that in mind, I’m not convinced, by any means, that he can backstop a team to a Stanley Cup. But I’m not opposed to giving him more time to find out for sure.
Should the Canadiens use the Florida 1st-Rounder to draft a goalie?
I’ve seen some people suggest the Canadiens use their second pick of the first round on a goalie, seeing that as a viable opportunity to improve the position without disrupting the timeline of the rebuild. That isn’t the worst idea, as getting a really solid goalie in the pipeline can’t hurt, but it’s not a home run, either. Unlike some previous drafts, there doesn’t seem to be a “can’t-miss” prospect that’s all but guaranteed to go in the first round as we’ve seen in years past.
Don’t get me wrong, there are decent prospects, ones that could become solid NHL starters in this year’s draft, but I’m not sold on any of them to the point where I feel as though the Habs should draft one. As of today, Carson Bjarnason, out of the WHL, might be the best goaltending prospect available, but honestly, that depends on who you ask. The NHL’s Central Scouting has him ranked first amongst North American Goalies, but other sites might disagree.
Adam Gajan might be a name you remember from the World Juniors back in January, as he was Slovakia’s best player, stealing the net and catching everyone’s attention with multiple stunning performances. But one tournament might not be enough to go off of. I think you could argue that if the Canadiens were to make an effort to upgrade the goalie position, this is the most realistic way to do it, at least this off-season. For me, I’d be okay with it if the board plays out in such a way that a goalie is the best player available at that spot. If the board falls differently, though, and a high-quality player is still available at 29-32 (there almost always is a case like this), I’d lean towards going with that player instead.
Goalies are Just Too Unpredictable
Raise your hand if you thought, before the playoffs started, Sergei Bobrovsky would be the frontrunner for the Conn Smythe trophy this deep into the playoffs. Seeing as he began the playoffs as a backup, I’m going to assume none of you thought this; I know I didn’t. Funny enough, he gets paid $10 Million a year, so he should be playing well, but he’s been horrible for the Panthers thus far, so this is surprising. That’s the reality of goaltending in 2023. It’s unpredictable and unreliable. It doesn’t make sense to pay a goalie a ton of money, nor would it make sense to build a team around them.
That’s why, as of right now, drafting a goalie is really the only acceptable way to “upgrade” the goaltender position for the Habs. If you draft them, they can come along slowly, waiting until the Canadiens have a good enough squad where a goalie isn’t asked to do too much. In the meantime, I’d much rather the Canadiens use their cap space and resources to build a competitive and skilled team. The Habs need scoring, and lots of it. That’s why I’d still rather use the Florida pick on a player who can provide that or package it in a trade for one, as opposed to using it on a goalie.
Get the Goalie Last
When Carey Price was in his prime, I feel like he masked a lot of the Canadiens’ problems. The Habs were almost anemic offensively, especially come playoff time, but they didn’t need much offense when Price was in net. But when the Habs came up short, and they always did, they lost a low-scoring game where one goal was the difference. I’d much rather have the inverse problem, where I couldn’t get a save when I needed one. That’s typically an easier problem to fix, as it doesn’t require bringing in multiple players to correct the issue.
Now this isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy Carey Price’s time in Montreal and let me be clear about something. Price is not to blame for any of the Canadiens’ shortcomings while he was here; that all falls on Marc Bergevin. All I’m saying is, this time, I’d build the team differently. The best teams in the NHL had a solid core before they found their goalie, and the Habs should do the same. If they want to draft him now, to groom him, that’s fine, but even then, I’d rather do what Colorado did.
After Philipp Grubauer left the Avalanche in free agency to join the Kraken on a huge deal (a smart move by Colorado to not give him that contract), they were left scrambling to find his replacement. Having traded for Grubauer a few years prior, the Avalanche would once again trade for a goalie, this time acquiring Darcy Kuemper from the Coyotes. The Avs knew they had a solid core that could win now, so they didn’t cut corners. They got one of the best goalies in the NHL, and as we know, it worked.
I’d love Montreal to hold off on addressing the goalie position for now and focus solely on the skaters. Put together a team that can win first and add the final piece later. There is just too much risk in trying to sign someone or instantly upgrade the position via trade just because of the inconsistencies. To me, Jake Allen and Montembeault have shown they can handle it for now, and if you feel like you need an improvement later, then you can make that move. What you don’t want to do is tie down a significant percentage of your cap to a goaltender, only for them to fall flat on their face, like we’ve seen happen a few times before.
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