Monday afternoon the Montreal Canadiens announced that the team had agreed to terms with goaltender Samuel Montembeault on a new two-year, one-way contract extension. This comes after a summer of contradicting reports regarding the health and future of star goaltender Carey Price. Price opted to receive a plasma injection in his knee instead of undergoing a second surgery in hopes of returning to action full-time next season, but there are still many question marks around his health, and this signing confirms that the Canadiens share those doubts.
Montembeault was claimed off of waivers by the Canadiens from the Florida Panthers last fall in the absence of Price, and while many fans may have been less than enthused with the performances he showed throughout his 38 games with Montreal, his presence allowed Cayden Primeau to continue developing in the AHL with the Laval Rocket. Many fans assumed Montembeault would be backing up Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen to start the season, with Allen taking on the bulk of work in net and Montembeault giving him breaks when needed. However, due to an unfortunate string of injuries, Montembeault ended up playing just under 50% of the Canadien’s games last season, appearing in more games than any other goaltender for Montreal throughout the 82-game stretch.
While his stats may not have been anything to write home about, putting up a 3.77 goals against average (GAA) and a .891 save percentage, Montembeault managed to win over the hearts of certain Habs fans with flashy saves against the likes of Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, Nashville’s Ryan Johansen, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, and Vancouver’s Brock Boeser.
To blame Montembeault for the Canadien’s woes last season would be unfair, to say the least. The entire team suffered from a mix of sub-par coaching combined with a lack of true leadership in the locker room, and it certainly doesn’t help that they were hit with a relentless wave of injuries. Montembeault made the best out of a bad situation and has been rewarded with a contract extension as a result, but with Price looking to make a full-time comeback next season, and Jake Allen still under contract for next season, who will be the odd man out in this trio of goalies?
So What’s the Situation
The Canadiens have Carey Price under contract for the next four seasons at an average annual value (AAV) of 10.5 million dollars, and given the concerns over his health and decline in play, it’s highly unlikely that his contract is being moved anytime soon. Unless Price’s injuries force him into retirement, he will more than likely stay in Montreal. With Montembeault having just signed a two-year extension with the Canadiens at a very reasonable 1 million dollar AAV, it would seem as though Montreal has their goaltending situation taken care of, if not for one thing.
Ever since coming to Montreal two seasons ago, Allen has stepped up in every way possible. For the first time in years, it looked as if the Canadiens would not only have an actual NHL-caliber goalie as their backup but one who could contend for the starting spot on half of the teams in the league. Boasting a .927 save percentage in 24 games for St. Louis the year prior, Montreal fans were finally optimistic about the outlook of their goaltending duo, and it seemed as though they had found the guy who could help ease the workload for Carey Price. Allen certainly did more than backup Price the following season.
Price’s annual injuries caught up to him, and as a result, Jake Allen was deployed in 29 contests throughout the 2020-2021 NHL season, just over half of the Canadien’s games. In a higher-scoring Canadian Division, Allen would post a 2.68 GAA and a .907 save percentage, which by all accounts is not bad considering the uptick in his workload, playing more games in a condensed schedule. Many members of the Montreal hockey scene credit Allen’s efforts between the pipes with Montreal making the playoffs, where a then rested Price would take over and lead the team to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1993.
With Allen playing as many games as some starters, or at least most 1A goalies throughout 2020-2021, many Canadiens fans were confident in his ability to play the following season as Montreal’s starter in Price’s absence, yet the Hockey Gods had other plans. Allen was hit with his own bout of injuries during the 2021-2022 season, leaving Montembeault to take his place. While Allen would put up the better stats, Montembeault would go on to finish the season with the most games played by any Canadiens goalie.
With Carey Price optimistic that he can start the season healthy, and both Allen and Montembeault having nearly identical playing time last season with somewhat similar stat lines, the Canadiens have a big question to answer.
Who’s the odd man out here?
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What do Their Contracts Look Like
As mentioned earlier, Montembeault signed a two-year deal with an AAV of 1 million dollars. On the other hand, you have Allen, who’s in the final year of his own two-year deal worth 2.875 million dollars annually. Neither cap hit hurts the team at all, with both contracts holding very team-friendly values which could be easily moved if needed. Yes, Allen makes more than twice as much money as Montembeault, but many Habs fans would argue he’s the better goalie and is deserving of such a contract. It’s important to note that Montembeault’s contract is a one-way deal, meaning Montreal cannot send him to the minors without him having to clear waivers first. That’s exactly how he fell into Montreal’s lap in the first place, and after the season he just had, any team desperate for a goalie would love to take a swing at him on the waiver wire.
The duration of these contracts must also be taken into account here, as Montembeault has one more year on his contract than Allen does. This makes Allen a bigger target for a trade deadline rental, and given his establishment as an NHL caliber goaltender as well as the scarcity of quality goalies on the market right now, teams would absolutely pay more for Jake Allen than they would for Samuel Montembeault.
There’s also no guarantee that Jake Allen wants to stay in Montreal after his contract expires this off-season, and it would be uncharacteristic of Canadiens General Manager Kent Hughes to let Allen walk away to free agency without getting a piece or two in return.
What Makes the Most Sense for Montreal
The Canadiens certainly aren’t looking to win this upcoming season, and it’s no secret they need to move money out. While Jake Allen has gone above and beyond his expectations during his tenure as a Hab, it might make more sense for Montreal to move on from him and acquire more assets to help their rebuild while allowing Montembeault to take over the full-time backup spot in the crease, and continue his development.
This would not only allow Montreal to get a return for Allen at their desired price, but also allow Montembeault to play a full NHL season where he isn’t being overworked. In addition to this, the Canadiens avoid having to put Montembeault on waivers, where they run the risk of either losing him to another club or having him join Laval, where he would take away playing time from a still developing Cayden Primeau.
At just 25, Montembeault is still young for an NHL goalie. A full year of backing up Carey Price would not only allow him to play a reasonable amount of games but also learn from one of the greatest goaltenders to ever play the game of hockey. If managed properly next season, Montembeault could truly blossom into a full-time National Hockey League goalie, and Montreal can save themselves some much-needed cap space.
This will all come down to whether or not Kent Hughes fully believes that Price can stay healthy for the entire season. If Price cannot start the season with Montreal, we’ll more than likely see a duo of Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault guarding the net for the Habs. However, if Price is good to go then the chances that we see Jake Allen moved elsewhere in favor of Montembeault are much higher.
This is certainly an issue Hughes would like to get sorted out sooner rather than later as he still has to resign restricted free agents Kirby Dach and Cayden Primeau, with just under $250,000 in cap space. For now, we’ll just have to play the waiting game while Hughes works the phones.