As Marc Bergevin revealed in his year-end press conference, Antti Niemi will not be returning next season. This means the Canadiens will be looking for a quality backup goalie to play behind Carey Price. Backups are becoming more important each and every year. First of all to take some of the load of the starting netminder so they’re not worn out by the time playoffs roles around. As well, you need to have a goalie who you’re confident that if you put him in, there’s an opportunity for you to win that game. In the salary cap era where the competition is all relatively close, there are no easy games any more. You need to be able to trust your backup. That trust was lost between the Canadiens and Niemi this season. With that said, here are some potential candidates to be the Montreal Canadiens backup goaltender.
Montreal Canadiens Backup Goaltender Candidates
The most obvious candidate would be Habs goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Lindgren is currently under contract with the Canadiens for another two seasons. He also backstopped the Canadiens in their series finale, which was a 6-5 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Lindgren has shown he has the ability to play in the NHL, however, the sample size is small. Lindgren has appeared in a total of 18 games with the Canadiens, where he has posted a record of 8-8-2 with a 2.89 goals-against-average and a .912 save percentage. He has also recorded two shutouts.
The Canadiens will have the make a decision regarding Lindgren as he will require waivers to go back to the Laval Rocket next season. If they decide to go with a veteran backup goaltender, they will have to look at exploring trade options for Lindgren as he would surely be claimed if he hits the waiver wire. With a $750,000 cap hit for the next two seasons, Lindgren is the safest and cheapest option for the Canadiens.
If the Canadiens decide to look to the open market for a backup goalie, Keith Kinkaid would be an excellent choice. Kinkaid has 151 games of NHL experience, all with the New Jersey Devils. He has a career record of 64-55-17 with a 2.90 goals-against-average and .906 save percentage. He has also recorded seven shutouts. Kinkaid split goaltending duties with Cory Schneider and MacKenzie Blackwood over the past two seasons and helped carry the Devils to the Stanley Cup Playoffs just a season ago. He has proven he is capable of an expanded load and would certainly serve as a quality backup to Carey Price.
Another viable option would be the current Carolina Hurricanes backup, Curtis McElhinney. McElhinney was the Hurricanes 1B option this year as he basically split duties with Petr Mrazek. However, Mrazek took over as the team entered the playoffs. As the younger goalie, there is a good chance the Canes look to lock up Mrazek with a new contract, leaving McElhinney’s status up in the air.
McElhinney has proven to be a reliable backup over the years for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs and most recently the Hurricanes. He has a career record of 82-82-15 with a 2.81 goals-against-average and a .909 save percentage. He also recorded 10 shutouts. Most recently, he posted a record of 20-11-2 with a 2.58 goals-against-average, a .912 save percentage and two shutouts. He’s certainly someone Bergevin will take a look at if he decides to look outside the organization for a backup goaltender.
A much riskier option but a quality one would be Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth has proven to be a quality back up goaltender for multiple teams over the years. However, his recent injury problems present some concern. Neuvirth had hip surgery last off-season and was limited to only seven games due to that surgery and multiple other injuries during the season. However, his numbers over the years are quite respectable. He holds a career record of 105-93-26 with a 2.71 goals-against-average, .910 save percentage and 11 shutouts. The injury history, however, is a bit scary. It might be best for Bergevin to stay away from Neuvirth.
The most experienced and prove goalie of the group is Brian Elliott. He holds a 225-139-43 career record with a 2.48 goals-against-average and .912 save percentage. Elliott has also recorded 38 shutouts. Elliott has either been the starter or the 1B option throughout his career. He’s never really been considered a backup. However, as his career winds down Elliott may be looking at a lesser role moving forward. This makes him a solid option to back up Carey Price.
The only issue regarding Elliott would be that because of his track record, he could require more money than the other names mentioned. The Habs have a ton of cap space, however, it would be better used on bigger needs. They may be able to find a quality back up for cheaper than what Elliott is going to be asking for. For this reason, it might be best Bergevin stays away.
A ton of Options for the Canadiens
Marc Bergevin has some tough decisions to make regarding his backup goaltending situation. Fortunately for him, he has a ton of options. With talented backup goaltenders available, as well as one already sitting within the organization, Bergevin will have a quality backup whichever way he decides to go. There were rumours teams had inquired about the availability of Charlie Lindgren in the past. If he gets an offer he can’t refuse, he will certainly move him and dip into free agency. If not, Bergevin’s best move might be to stick with Lindgren moving forward.
Main Photo: Laval Rocket goalie Charlie Lindgren (35) tracks the puck during the Syracuse Crunch versus the Laval Rocket game on January 24, 2018, at Place Bell in Laval, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)