Charlie Lindgren contract locks in Canadiens’ long-term backup goalie

Charlie Lindgren made his NHL debut on Thursday for the Montreal Canadiens. He did not just get his first NHL win, his family was all there to witness it as well.

MONTREAL—The Charlie Lindgren signing is a win for all parties involved.

The benefit to the 24-year-old goaltender is fairly obvious. He’s getting three years of security and being paid an NHL salary whether he plays with the Montreal Canadiens or in the AHL. Chances are he will be in the NHL, and that means up to three more seasons of learning from one of the best goaltending coaches in the business in Stephane Waite—and getting an opportunity to prove he can eventually graduate from a backup role to being a quality starter for any team in the league.

The contract, which comes in the final stretch of what’s been a trying season for Lindgren with the AHL’s downtrodden Laval Rocket, should give him confidence. You also have to think the length of the deal, which will bring him to unrestricted free agent eligibility, offers piece of mind.

There’s negligible downside to it for the Minnesotan, and there’s even less of it for the Canadiens. They were able to lock down the man who is arguably their top prospect, and it only cost $750,000 per season to do it.

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That’s a good number, especially when you consider the player has only improved since leaving St. Cloud State University to sign with the Canadiens in the spring of 2016. And they wouldn’t want to spend much more at the position, either, with Carey Price’s $84 million contract extension kicking in next fall and counting for $10.5 million against the salary cap in each of the next eight seasons.

Another benefit for the Canadiens is they can now rely on Lindgren to take a considerable bite out of Price’s workload. Considering Price’s long injury history and his age—he turns 31 in August—it can’t hurt to have that kind of security.

And there’s little doubt Lindgren is ready for the challenge.

“To me, he can be a backup anytime,” Canadiens director of player personnel Martin Lapointe told Sportsnet back in October. “For me, mentally, physically, he’s ready.

“There’s nothing for him to work on to become a professional at this level,” added Lapointe. “He’s proven he’s a mature kid. Coming from college—there is a difference coming from college than junior guys. You can have your exceptions in junior, but college guys usually are more mature and more pro-ready. [Lindgren] is definitely that.”

That high praise came after Lindgren’s exceptional training camp in Montreal, and was only further supported by his performance when Price was absent with a lower-body injury a month later. Lindgren posted a .500 record, a 2.43 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in eight starts with the Canadiens.

A lot has happened since, with Lindgren returning to Laval to play as many games as possible and fighting through the frustration that comes with backstopping the AHL’s 27th-best team.

The good news for Lindgren—and for the Canadiens—is that his NHL pursuits may resume in short order.

You have to think Antti Niemi’s revival with the Canadiens could lead to a deadline trade that would open up a job for Lindgren behind Price and net Montreal an asset at some point over the next 12 days — perhaps a fourth- or fifth-round pick, like they got when they traded backup Al Montoya to the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 4.

Niemi was a reclamation project, claimed off waivers by the Canadiens on Nov. 14 after he had bounced from Pittsburgh to Florida and put up an unsightly 6.72 goals-against average and an atrocious .822 save percentage in five winless appearances between both clubs. Montreal’s decision was widely met with derision, but it paid off in a way no one expected—with Niemi going 2-1-1 and posting a 2.47 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage in six appearances with the team.

Redeeming anything for Niemi’s services in a trade would be a bonus for the Canadiens.

But even if Niemi stays put, it wouldn’t prohibit Lindgren from taking over post-trade deadline, when teams no longer have to worry about active roster limits.

Whether that happens or not, Lindgren’s bright future with the club is now secure. That’s great news for everyone in this scenario.

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