Stu Cowan: Future remains uncertain for Canadiens' Cayden Primeau

Three-goalie system isn’t ideal, but 24-year-old is making most of things this season and is coming off a career-high 46-save performance.

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The Canadiens aren’t ready to give up on Cayden Primeau.

That has become obvious as the team continues to carry three goalies — Samuel Montembeault, Jake Allen and Primeau — 31 games into the season.

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Primeau would have to clear NHL waivers before the Canadiens could send him down to the AHL’s Laval Rocket and GM Kent Hughes obviously believes another team would claim the 24-year-old.

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If Hughes is going to lose Primeau, it won’t be for nothing.

Montembeault is proving he can be a solid NHL goalie this season with a 7-4-2 record, a 2.79 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. Hughes rewarded the 27-year-old this month with a three-year, US$9.45-million contract extension that runs through the 2026-27 season.

Allen, 33, is a proven and reliable veteran in his 11th NHL season. He has a 4-6-2 record with a 3.43 GAA and a .904 save percentage. Allen has a 1-6-1 record in his last eight games, but the Canadiens have only scored 16 goals during that span and he is coming off a 30-save performance in Monday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Jets in Winnipeg.

Allen has one more season left on his contract with a US$3.85 million salary-cap hit and he could be attractive to another team looking for a veteran goalie ahead of the March 8 trade deadline. It seems very unlikely Hughes would be willing to trade Montembeault and the GM probably wouldn’t get much in return for Primeau, who has a career 6-15-2 NHL record with a 3.91 GAA and a .880 save percentage.

The three-goalie system isn’t ideal for any of the goalies, but they are making the best of the situation.

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“I’m super-lucky,” Primeau said during a one-on-one chat after a practice last week in Brossard. “Both of them have been great. We’ve had good relationships leading up to this year and then this year, especially, being able to spend time together. Jake’s been super-helpful and Monty’s just so care-free. They’re both great, so it’s been good.”

Primeau made a career-high 46 saves in his last start, a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres in Buffalo on Dec. 9, improving his record this season to 3-3-0 with a 3.40 GAA and a .902 save percentage.

The Canadiens, who are on a two-game winning streak, will be back in action Thursday in Minnesota against the Wild (8 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). The Canadiens announced after practice Wednesday in Minnesota that Montembeault will start.

The pressure on Primeau heading into his last start in Buffalo must have been immense. In his previous start, he allowed five goals on 29 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Nov. 30 at the Bell Centre. All five goals beat him on the glove side.

Primeau was still available in the seventh round of the 2017 NHL Draft when the Canadiens selected him 199th overall, so there were obviously some weaknesses in his game. But the 6-foot-3, 207-pounder went on to win the Mike Richter Award for the 2018-19 season as the best goalie in NCAA Division I hockey after posting a 25-10-1 record with a 2.09 GAA and a .933 save percentage with Northeastern University. He also helped Team USA win a silver medal at the 2019 world junior championship.

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Since turning pro, Primeau has played very well in the AHL, but has struggled in the NHL. He said he has learned this season to take things game-by-game and not let bad goals get into his head.

“There was one or two goals that weren’t great that I wish I could have back,” Primeau said when asked about the game against Florida. “But I want them all back. That’s the biggest growth that I’ve had is that goals go in, whether I like it or not, whether I think they’re good goals or bad goals. Just not dwelling on it. Just getting ready for the next shot.”

When asked about being beaten five times to the glove side by the Panthers, Primeau said: “I didn’t lose confidence. As a competitor, you want to make solutions and come up with solutions. I think I didn’t do a very good job of managing that, trying to make the solutions. I think I changed too many things and sometimes you don’t have to change anything. But it happened all so fast. It’s good that it happened so that I’ll be able to not do that in the future.”

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The future looks uncertain right now for Primeau, who has one more season remaining on his one-way contract with a salary-cap hit of US$890,000. He is earning US$800,000 this season and will earn US$1.1 million next season. If Allen is eventually traded, Primeau might work as a backup to Montembeault moving forward.

“You just got to take it day-by-day,” Primeau said. “Obviously, when you’re playing more it’s a little easier. But it’s been good. Been fun with the other two (goalies) any time we’re on the ice. We’re always having fun and pushing each other. Just get ready for the next start whenever that might be.”

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