BROSSARD, Que. — Ah, Montreal, where even a minor move made by the local professional hockey team inspires inferno-level debate.
In this case, we’re talking about the Canadiens’ decision on Monday to waive backup goaltender Keith Kinkaid and promote 20-year-old prospect Cayden Primeau.
It’s a decision that’s been met largely with scorn — we’re going by the hundreds of responses we’ve seen on social media since Primeau’s call to Montreal was made just after 5 p.m. ET—because there’s a perception that it’s the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a gaping head wound and that it’s a move that has the potential to do irrevocable damage to a young, promising player’s confidence if things don’t go well.
To all of that, we’ll respond by borrowing a line from Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, who once famously said, “chill out.”
We can fully appreciate that a move involving the backup goaltender position isn’t the one Canadiens fans were looking for following the team’s eighth consecutive loss. On a 1-10 scale of things general manager Marc Bergevin could have done to address this dire situation this probably registers as a two.
But even if we were among those suggesting in the aftermath of Montreal’s 3-1 Sunday loss to the Boston Bruins that it was imperative Bergevin do something, we weren’t advocating for him to do something stupid just for the sake of it. And we believe the moves he made on Monday were purposeful—and also the opposite of stupid.
By no means are we suggesting they will fix all that ails the Canadiens at the moment, but they have the potential to at least remedy one of their issues.
We’ll come back to that.
One fact we acknowledged in Sunday night’s column was that making a good, impactful trade—over 80 days out from the NHL’s February trade deadline and on the heels of eight consecutive losses—would be near impossible without doing some harm to the long-term health of the organization. That eliminated one outcome on Monday.
And another thing we felt strongly about was that the only reason for Bergevin to fire Claude Julien as coach would be to provide a spark, which is as bad a reason to fire a coach as any you can conjure.
The players haven’t quit on Julien. Some of them, Price included, have lauded his calming influence amidst this raging storm.
“He’s been really good,” said the Canadiens’ starting goaltender following Monday’s practice. “It’s not an easy situation to be in. We’ve got a lot of young players that he has to be mindful of. It’s definitely frustrating for all parties involved, but I think he’s doing a pretty good job of handling himself.”
The players are doing the same.
It would be understandable if they were completely demoralized, but that wasn’t the case on Monday.
“We got back to doing the right things over our last two games (a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and the 3-1 loss to Boston Sunday), and we know if we keep doing them we’re going to come out of this,” said Nick Cousins.
We spoke with Cousins, Brendan Gallagher, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot, and all of them were united in that message.
They were convincing, too.
We’ll see how the Canadiens feel if they play just as well against the visiting New York Islanders on Tuesday and end up with the same result.
As Chiarot noted, the players are keeping their spirits as high as they can possibly be under the circumstances, but only a win will lighten the mood considerably.
“You have to get the two points,” the six-foot-three, 225-pounder said. “You have to come out of the game feeling good with the win. It’s a contagious feeling when you’re winning games and guys are feeling good as a group. And individually, when you’re winning, you feel like you accomplished something. I think that until we get that feeling, it’s going to be tough to manufacture.”
So, back to Monday’s moves and the potential for them to help the Canadiens find that feeling.
It starts with Kinkaid, who was signed to a one-year, $1.75-million contract this past off-season to serve as an insurance policy for Price. It wasn’t all his fault—the Canadiens didn’t play particularly well in front of him for the most part—but he hadn’t inspired much confidence with his play. In six appearances, he had a 1-1-3 record, a .875 save percentage and a 4.24 goals-against average, and in each of his five starts, he allowed four goals.
Considering those numbers, it’s not hard to understand why the Canadiens don’t seem terribly concerned with the minute possibility another team will claim Kinkaid on waivers.
In the likely event that the 30-year-old clears on Tuesday, Julien explained what they hope to achieve in sending him to the AHL’s Laval Rocket.
“I think it gives him the opportunity, if he passes through waivers, to have a chance to play more often in Laval and hopefully to get his game back in sync,” the coach said.
The Rocket play Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and that gives Kinkaid (who was mostly idle in his time with the Canadiens) the chance Julien’s referring to. It will be good for them if he takes advantage of it.
As for Primeau, the idea that bringing him into this volatile atmosphere is a detriment to his development is patently ridiculous. This is a kid who has overcome the long odds of being drafted 199th overall in 2017 to ascend to hockey’s highest level at warp speed. Along the way, he’s done nothing but impress. Why anyone would think a poor performance in a single start is suddenly going to shatter his confidence for all eternity is baffling.
Because this, for now, is just about one start.
Primeau is not being brought to Montreal to be the saviour. He’s being brought in to show he can do what Kinkaid struggled to do over the first third of this season.
“We need a goaltender who—especially when we call on them infrequently—is making sure he’s on top of his game,” said Julien.
Primeau, who has a .910 save percentage in his first 12 games as a pro at the AHL level, is simply getting a chance to prove he’s up to that challenge in the short-term.
He’ll likely get his chance on Friday, with the Canadiens traveling to New York to play the second half of a back-to-back against the Rangers, and if does the job, the Canadiens might feel that they can rest Price some more for the time being.
That would be essential. They brought Kinkaid in for that very reason, and since he’s faltered Price has been on pace to make more appearances than he has in any of his other 12 NHL seasons.
Are the Canadiens concerned about the optics of this move? Are they worried that if Primeau plays well, fans will be clamouring for him to unseat Price?
We don’t think they’ve even spent a second thinking about any of that.
“I don’t care what’s on the outside,” Julien said. “What happens on the inside is all that matters to me.”
All that matters to the Canadiens right now is winning games.