Who is going to play goal for the Montreal Canadiens down the stretch?

Who is going to play goal for the Montreal Canadiens down the stretch? There are two candidates.

Sep 30, 2023; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens goalie Samuel Montembeault (35) looks on
Sep 30, 2023; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens goalie Samuel Montembeault (35) looks on / David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens have had a disappointing 2023-24 season, posting a 27-32-12 record for 66 points. They are in seventh place in the Atlantic Division. There have been a few bright spots though, as both the young defense and goaltending have been solid.

Both feature younger players playing big roles with plenty of hockey left to play. The main question is who do the Canadiens trust enough between the pipes to bring back next season?

On one hand, there is Samuel Montembeault, who is 27 years old, 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds. He was originally drafted 77th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers. On October 2, 2021, he was selected off waivers by the Canadiens and has been with the franchise since then.

This season, Montembeault has a record of 14-13-7 with a 3.05 goals-against-average and a .905 save percentage. His career numbers include 47-58-19, a 3.37 GAA, a .898 save percentage, and 1 shutout.

The Montreal Canadiens have two guys that can play goalie for them

On the other hand, there is Cayden Primeau, who is 24 years old. Drafted by the Canadiens 199th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, he has compiled a record of 7-7-2 this season with a 2.85 GAA and a .901 save percentage with 2 shutouts.

He has been spectacular in most of his starts but with the lack of offense, he has suffered unnecessary losses.

The Canadiens face a dilemma this off-season as they have a projected cap space of $0. They cannot afford to sign a goaltender or take on another contract through trade. Montreal does have promising goaltenders in their pipeline but none are close to being ready for a number one spot with the Canadiens.

Therefore, unless they can get crafty, the goaltending duo of Montembeault and Primeau looks to be the goaltenders Montreal will run with next season. If that is the case, they are playing the rest of the season to see who has the advantage of being named the starter going into next season.

Why are the Canadiens deciding between these two young netminders? Goaltender Carey Price is out long-term, and possibly thinking about retirement, due to an injury that will not heal. He underwent knee surgery in 2021 and has never fully recovered, thus putting his career in jeopardy.

While he was a top-tier netminder in his career, coming back to being a full-time starter is out of the question. Jake Allen, who assumed the starter duties while in Montreal, was traded during the trade deadline. On March 8, 2024, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils for a conditional 3rd round pick.

Montreal has goaltenders in the system but they are still developing through the organization. Jacob Fowler, Quentin Miller, Yevgeni Yolokhin, Emmett Croteau, and Joe Vrbetic are at different points in their careers, and forcing them to come up too early can hurt their development.

With Montreal's projected cap space of $0, General Manager Kent Hughes will need to find a way down the line to re-sign Montembeault and/or Primeau to new deals to keep them in the fold.

Montembeault has four years left on his current deal, which has a $3.15 million AAV, in which he will then become an unrestricted free agent. Primeau, on the other hand, will be a restricted free agent in 2025-06. His last contract had an AAV of $890,000.

The goaltending duo the Canadiens have now may not be elite but they are still young and in line with the rebuild for Montreal and capable of putting wins together. If General Manager Hughes were smart about the rebuild, he would bring in more offensive firepower.

He has a solid defensive group that is young and learning and the goaltending is above average. The forward group needs more scoring behind captain Nick Suzuki and Brendan Gallagher. If changes are made around the defense and goaltending, this will make the entire team better.

If Hughes can open up some money, he could re-sign both Montembeault and Primeau for the price of an elite goaltender.