MONTREAL — You’d need the strongest magnifying glass to find the downside of this deal. And even then…
The Montreal Canadiens announced Wednesday they acquired goaltender Jake Allen and a 2022 seventh-round pick from the St. Louis Blues for 2020 draft picks in the third and seventh round. It’s a move that buys Canadiens starter Carey Price some much-needed rest and future starter Cayden Primeau more time to develop in the American Hockey League, and it’s one that gives the Blues futures and at least some of the cap space necessary to potentially retain captain Alex Pietrangelo, who’s an impending unrestricted free agent.
The Canadiens gave up the third-round pick they received from the Washington Capitals when they traded Ilya Kovalchuk in February, and the seventh-round pick they got from the Chicago Blackhawks when they traded Andrew Shaw in 2019. They still have 12 picks in the upcoming draft, including one in the third round and one in the seventh round, and the Blues now have two in the third round and one in the seventh.
Win-win, no doubt.
On Montreal’s end of it, it helps that Allen is only under contract for one more season. That makes his $4.3-million cap hit digestible. And because he’s 30 years old and coming off a 12-6-3 season that saw him post the best goals-against average (2.15) and save percentage (.927) of his eight-year NHL career, the value isn’t particularly difficult to justify.
Neither is paying an NHL-high $14.8 million for a goaltending tandem. The Canadiens have 17 players signed and just over $14 million to play with under the $81.5-million upper limit of the salary cap, and the trade for Allen addressed one of their most desperate off-season needs.
Bonus: Allen spent a portion of his junior hockey career in Montreal. So even if playing for the Canadiens will be new for him, playing and living in this city won’t be.
“It’s funny how it’s come full circle now,” the 30-year-old said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “Playing for the Montreal Junior in Verdun and then playing in the NHL against the Canadiens and at the Bell Centre — it’s wild… I’ve had a few experiences in the building, and I lived in the city for a couple of years. I was a teenager and didn’t really know everything in the whole world, but definitely some familiarity about it. And I did have some people I keep in touch with in the city, and it’s a place that I’m more familiar with than most others in the league, and I think it’s definitely going to give me a sense of comfort.”
And Allen is certainly comfortable moonlighting as a starter in the event Price gets hurt. He proved it in the role for three seasons with St. Louis before being relegated to back up Jordan Binnington, and he showed he can jump back into it with a 2-1-1 record and a .935 save percentage in the 2020 playoffs.
Fit is also an essential part of the deal. You need a player who will mesh well with Price, one who’s willing to push his ego aside and do all the little things that come with being a good backup — from being okay with playing sporadically to taking the harder shots and spending a lot of extra time on the ice at practice.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Wednesday that Allen is that player.
“He’s a great pro,” Armstrong started. “And when Binnington came in here (in the 2018-19 season), he supported him. He understood that (Binnington) was going to be given an opportunity and ‘Binner’ went on a great run and obviously culminated through a great playoff run, and Jake was nothing but supportive. Nothing but supportive to Binnington as he cut his teeth in the NHL, but also supportive to his teammates.
“He would do whatever was necessary at practice to make sure everybody was ready to play and he’s going to be someone that the Canadiens organization — from Marc Bergevin down to the training staff — are going to relish having to be part of their group because he’s a quality person on and off the ice, a great teammate.”
The Canadiens hoped Al Montoya could be that player, but his level of play wasn’t up to snuff for a significant portion of the time he spent behind Price from 2016 to 2018. Antti Niemi proved to be an excellent teammate but not a good enough goaltender to help reduce Price’s workload considerably in 2019. Same for Charlie Lindgren, who remains under contract with the team for one more season at $750,000.
And Montreal’s bet on Keith Kinkaid last summer was officially chalked up as a huge loss by December, when the Canadiens sent him to the American Hockey League following a 1-1-3 start that saw him post a career-worst .875 save percentage.
Now the Canadiens have a goaltender who can play at least 20 games and be expected to win more than half the time, thus ensuring the 33-year-old Price can be used in a way that keeps him fresh and on top of his game.
It’s a role Allen says he’s prepared and excited to fill.
“Obviously really excited to be a Montreal Canadien now and today, and the role that I’ll be playing is obviously behind one of the best goalies in the world and a guy who’s been a dominant force in the league,” he said. “And it’s to provide just another assurance for the team. I feel like I played that role last year very well behind Binnington. I thought I had a solid season. And I’ve played quite a few years in the league (and gained) a lot of experience in different situations, and I feel like I can come into this spot and give Carey breaks when he needs them and play well for the team and go from there.”
The Canadiens clearly feel he can do it. They wouldn’t have turned away from what’s expected to be a saturated goaltending market this off-season if they had doubts. They gave up two assets to fill this need and took on Allen’s contract at full value.
But you get what you pay for.
“I think that if you look at Montreal’s goaltending right now, they might have a lot of money wrapped up into it but they got two good goaltenders,” said Armstrong.
He got the picks and some much-needed space under a cap that will be stagnant for at least the next year and possibly decreasing beyond that. He also cleared up some room for 25-year-old prospect Ville Husso, who signed a two-year, one way contract in January and has been waiting for an opportunity to show what he can do at the NHL level.
As we suggested, it’s a deal that’s hard to find fault with.