Rabid Habs

Position Review – Goaltending

Habs' Carey Price Photo - CCM Hockey

For those of you who caught the Peter Mansbridge interview with Carey Price, originally airing during the Stanley Cup playoffs, you might recall the truck that provided a backdrop upon which the host and guest leaned. Much more than a resource to ergonomically improve posture, the truck appeared sturdy and well used – much like its owner. It was neither flashy nor overly complicated, but it appeared reliable and tested. Thankfully it also boasted sufficient cargo space to carefully transport what would ultimately be four separate awards, a most deserving bounty recognizing one of the greatest goaltending seasons in NHL history. In an organization which boasts the best player at the pinnacle of his career, one might assume that goaltending would be the least volatile of all positions, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, entering the 2015-16 season goaltending, at the professional level, could undergo more significant changes than any other position within the Canadiens organization.

What more can be said of Carey Price? He is the alpha male, dominating the most exacting of all positions in professional sports. No other position has the ability to so greatly influence the outcome of a game and Price seemingly handles this pressure with the air of royalty reserved for the game’s greatest – past or present.

Off the ice, Price appears collected and mature. He is soft spoken, but has an undeniable quality of leadership. He is the glue that held the Canadiens together last year and is most deserving of any additional support that can be provided.

To continue to analyze Price, however, would be to risk overlooking an intangible – an asset that he affords his team – separating him from his peer group. All this is simply to say that Price is the number one starter in Montreal for the foreseeable future. Although the top position within the organization’s depth chart remains unchanged, the underlying changes could be sweeping.

Dustin Tokarski entered the 2014-15 as the uncontested back-up, following the departure of the very popular, but ultimately less than average Peter Budaj. Although the decision was debated at length, the outcome fully justified the actions taken last summer.

Budaj struggled at the AHL level and never showed the potential that initially brought him to Montreal. Tokarski battled all season, however was plagued with inconsistent results. Perhaps this is more reflective of the defensive support that he received, further showcasing the exceptional season that Price enjoyed. However, there are a number of underlying issues that are a cause for concern.

Primarily, Tokarski is among the smallest goaltenders in the league. Further, he plays deep in his crease. The combination of a lack of size and an inability to challenge shooters opens up soft locations for opponents to exploit. Most troubling, however, is that there isn’t a single area in which Tokarski requires improvement. He is susceptible to shots high, low and in-between. It is only his athleticism and willingness to fight every puck that has allowed him to succeed thus far. So much as I have a small connection to this player, having first watched him live in Ottawa during the World Junior Championships, I believe his time in Montreal can be measured in days and weeks and not months and years. I fully expect that either Mike Condon will be provided the opportunity to unseat Tokarski in training camp, or the Habs look for help from outside the organization. Either way, I believe the Habs open the season with a new backup in place.

The primary concern with a player like Tokarski is that he will be lost on waivers, as he is no longer fully exempt. However, I believe that this is more a matter of perception than reality. A team claiming Tokarski would need to keep him on their NHL roster and although his salary is attractive, his recent performance may not have rival GMs tripping over each other to make room for him within their organization.

Should the Habs wait and make him a final cut on the last day before the season started, I believe he would pass unclaimed. Condon is a much bigger, much more technical goalie. He has taken significant strides the past two seasons and holds greater upside potential than Tokarski at this stage of their respective careers. Although it remains to be seen whether or not he can perform in the fishbowl that is Montreal, I have every reason to believe that he can meet and exceed the challenge.

Should Condon not make the Habs out of training camp, he is very likely to move into the starter’s role in St. John’s replacing Joey MacDonald. Eddie Pasquale, should he return to previous form, will provide strong support via the backup position. In reserve, Hayden Hawkey looks to join Pasquale on the road to recovery following a season ending knee injury.

All this is to say that there could be as many as four moves within the top five on the goaltending depth chart. Although none of these moves are seismic in scope, it does represent a major organizational shift on the heels of the not so distant departure of Robert Mayer and Peter Budaj. The projected 80% change in seeding supports the theory that the position remains in flux. Dealing from a position of strength, I would not be surprised if GM Marc Bergevin decided to open trade negotiations and eventually moved one or more of his backstops.

2014-15 Depth Chart    2015-16 Depth Chart

Price                                      Price

Tokarski                               Condon

MacDonald                         Tokarski

Condon                                Pasquale

Fucale                                   Hawkey

Hawkey                                Fucale

Do you believe the Canadiens have confidence in Dustin Tokarski? Do you believe that the backup position remains Toker’s to hold? I invite your feedback. Please consider sharing your opinion.

Follow me on Twitter @rabidhabs_CJ.