For years, Habs fans have wondered what the post-Carey Price era was going to look like.
That grim reality is starting to sink in before anyone was truly ready for it.
Price’s miracle playoff run in 2021 was likely the last true competitive hockey we’ve seen from the man that has owned the crease at the Bell Centre since 2007. It was a rocky road at times, but in an era where the Canadiens rarely contended for the Stanley Cup, he was always a bright light.
Montreal got a taste of life after Carey last season, with Price playing in just five games, winning the final one before a standing ovation from the Bell Centre faithful. He’s expected to miss all of 2022-23 with a knee injury, and at 35, his playing days are likely behind him.
Six goalies got into at least one game with the Habs last year, and three — Jake Allen, Sam Montembeault and Cayden Primeau — will return this fall. When healthy, Allen was the starter last year, but Montembeault — a waiver pickup — ended up playing more games due to Allen’s injuries. Primeau played in 12 games with a measly 1-7-1 record and a .868 save percentage. Ugly numbers, but he didn’t exactly get goal support, either.
Allen should be the No. 1 once again, but if there has ever been a time for Primeau to take the opportunity by the horns, it’s now.
Fresh off of signing a three-year contract, Primeau finds himself having to prove himself capable of more playing time this season after years of bouncing between the NHL and Laval of the AHL. He still has a mountain to climb, and he hasn’t proven himself capable of being a No. 1 yet, but the path to that role has never been clearer.
He just has to prove that now.
Primeau was a Northeastern University commit but was just coming off of a season with middling stats with the USHL’s Lincoln Stars. Primeau wasted no time showing what he was capable of in the NCAA, though, winning the top Hockey East goalie title twice and the NCAA’s overall top goalie award in 2019 before going pro for the 2019-20 season.
So the talent is there. And while his pro numbers have been a bit all over the place, there’s hope Primeau can be the long-term guy — he’s just 23, after all.
“At every level, there’s an adjustment phase,” Primeau said on a media call on Thursday. “The AHL was no different. It took some time to get used to. But I’ve done pretty well to adjust and acclimate to the pace to the next level.
“I’m confident that I can do that in the NHL and I have performed well. It’s just sometimes a little inconsistent. So the biggest thing is just trying to be consistent moving forward.”
Allen, 32, has one year left on his $2.875-million AAV deal, while Montembeault has two years left at $1 million. Allen could end up being a trade target down the line, and Montembeault is expendable, and he was a bright spot at points last year in a crease situation that had so few.
In Primeau’s case, he’s one the first one-way contract of his career, which shows a sign of commitment from GM Kent Hughes. With the three-year deal, it can be a sign of patience by management for a team that is going to have a better chance of contending for Connor Bedard’s services than a playoff spot. For a young goalie, the pressure of playing for a team that’s going to be pummeled can be a tough one — but his contract suggests the team thinks he’ll be part of the long-term solution, and that can be a huge relief for a young goalie still trying to find his legs.
Don’t expect Primeau to get the net right away – he has to earn it, and there are others ahead of him in the depth chart. But if Primeau is going to be the team’s goaltender of the future, and if Price is indeed not returning, this season will be an indicator of whether or not that ends up happening. They don’t need Primeau to strike gold immediately, but it would be beneficial if he did for all parties involved – luckily, the three-year deal gives a bit of breathing room.
But now, everything is in Primeau’s hands.