Two months ago the Canadiens goaltending situation seemed set for years to come. In mid-April GM Marc Bergevin signed potential restricted free agent Dustin Tokarski to a two year contract. He was playing in Hamilton at the time.
The structure of the contract was a masterpiece of advance planning. The first year of the contract was two-way, meaning he would be paid a pro-rated 550-thousand dollars for any time he spent in Montreal or 135 thousand as a member of the Bulldogs. Coincidental to the first year of the two-way portion of the Tokarski contract Peter Budaj would be completing the second year of his two year deal in preparation for unrestricted free agency a year from now. At that point the Tokarski contract becomes one way NHL money.
A monument to long term planning. The goaltending pecking order was Price & Budaj with the Canadiensi and with Robert Mayer returning to Switzerland, Tokarski and Wheeling’s outstanding rookie Mike Condon in Hamilton.
Ah…..the best laid plans.
Carey Price got hurt in Game One of the Eastern Final against the Rangers and Michel Therrien bypassed Budaj for Tokarski, and we all know the rest. What seemed to be cut and dried became anything, but.
In the minds of most, Tokarski has legitimately bumped Budaj out the Canadiens backup role. This is not a catastrophe of course. Any general manager would gladly have this problem. But it does present some organizational difficulties.
The first thing that comes to mind is the thought that Tokarski might be too good to be limited to only 20 games a season as Price’s backup. At what point does his presence become a distraction, especially if Price has one of those ‘off nights’ that crop up periodically? Inevitably the media will be howling ‘goaltending controversy’ and choosing sides.
Don’t forget that Tokarski has a two-way contract for the coming season and then a straight NHL contract in 2015-16. If the Canadiens elect to let Budaj work off the final year of his current two year deal, will Tokarski be a happy camper in Hamilton playing for a 135 thousand dollar pay cheque? Another controversy.
Budaj is tradeable. There are more than a few teams that would be happy to take a team player like Budaj to back up their number one. If the Canadiens take that path it would the team with only three available goaltenders for next season. Price and Tokarski would be 1-2 in Montreal and Mike Condon, entering his second pro year, would be the one and only in Hamilton. With Wheeling last season, Condon led the ECHL in save percentage, was goaltender of the week three times and twice rookie of the month. (Zach Fucale is also under contract but he must be returned to Halifax for his final year of junior hockey after training camp).
Everything hinges on Tokarski. There are some, including one or two goaltending coaches I’ve talked to, who think his playoff performance might be a flash-in-the-pan. You might take that with a grain of salt. His unorthodox style certainly doesn’t fit the near mandatory cookie cutter – butterfly style of today’s goalkeeper. Neither did Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek or Tim Thomas. All they did was stop the puck and win Stanley Cups.
Still Tokarski’s current capital couldn’t be higher. Would the Canadiens consider putting him into some kind of trade package? Four years ago the Canadiens had to make a similar goaltending decision. In today’s NHL two number one goaltenders is a crowd. Was it to be Jaroslav Halak, who had carried the Canadiens on his back to the 2010 Eastern Conference final, or Carey Price, their high 2005 first round draft pick? They opted to keep Price, got Lars Eller from St. Louis in return for Halak and the rest you know.
Two might be a crowd again. Carey Price is firmly established as number one, but off his playoff performance against the Rangers, Dustin Tokarski and his supporters could be forgiven for thinking he is 1A.
The Canadiens Goaltending Contract Status & Depth Chart
- Carey Price – Canadiens -UFA in 2018 6.5 million per season – Unquestionably number one. Barring injuries, will play sixty plus games for each of the remaining four years of his contract.
- Peter Budaj – Canadiens – UFA 2015 1.4 million Price’s backup the last three seasons. Has one more year in his two year contract. Of whom, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said “One of the best backups in the NHL. He’s a great man. Loved by his teammates.”
- Dustin Tokarski – Hamilton (AHL) – RFA again in 2016 2014-15 NHL contract $550K – $135K in AHL. . One way $575K in 2015-16. Hamilton Bulldogs most valuable player 2013-14. Filling in for Price in the Rangers series was outstanding.
- Mike Condon – Wheeling (ECHL) – RFA 2015 NHL part of two-way contract $925K -6’3” – Undrafted Princeton graduate. Signed as free agent and sent to Wheeling. Twice ECHL rookie of the month and three times league goaltender of the week. First in league save percentage at .931. Fourth in the league in wins with 23. Sixth in GAA 2.18 and second in shutouts with six.
- Zachary Fucale – Halifax (QMJHL) – RFA 2017 $925K – First goaltender taken in the 2013 draft. Memorial Cup winning goaltender. Member of World Junior Team Canada. One more year of junior eligibility.
Robert Mayer – released May 22, 2014 (signed with Swiss National League Geneva-Servette)
Peter Delmas – RFA 2014 – 4 years in ECHL. Non-prospect.
Devan Dubnyk – UFA 2014 – Unlikely to get Canadiens offer.