Carey Price wasn’t nominated for the Vezina Trophy this year. The league’s general managers think that Ben Bishop of the Lightning, Tuuka Rask of the Bruins or Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov had better years and therefore are better candidates.
I’ll leave that for the Montreal water cooler crowd and the bar room debaters to handle, but it does give me a chance to look at the Canadiens future goaltending talent which, it can be argued, is as deep or deeper than any team in the NHL with All-Stars at every league level from the NHL down to the AHL, junior hockey and the ECHL.
Two weeks ago the Canadiens quietly announced the signing of Dustin Tokarski to a two year contract. Pretty mundane stuff on the surface. Just another minor league contract extension. It was clear the Canadiens liked Tokarski , especially what they saw in the couple of games he played for them near the end of the season. But in the minds of most outside of the organization, even though he was named Hamilton’s MVP, he was still a minor leaguer. That is until one examines the details of his contract, which becomes a window into the long-range plans of the Canadiens front office.
The first year of Tokarski’s two year deal is the standard two/way NHL/AHL contract in which Tokarski actually took a salary cut.
In return, the second year (2015-2016) is a one way deal, meaning the Canadiens have to pay him an NHL salary ($575,500) no matter where he plays.
So what does that mean? All that’s required is a little linear thinking to figure it out.
Also at the end of next season, Peter Budaj’s two year contract expires and he can take unrestricted free agency at the age of 32. With Tokarski in the organization, it’s logic that he moves into the Price backup role after one more year in the minors.
Simultaneously with the projected promotion of Tokarski to the Canadiens, highly regarded 2013 second round draft pick, Zach Fucale will have ended his junior eligibility with the Halifax Mooseheads and will be entering the professional ranks with Hamilton where he will be part of a goaltending tandem with Mike Condon .
Who’s Mike Condon, you ask?
Let me tell you about Mike Condon’s first year as a professional in the East Coast Hockey League. Marc Bergevin signed Condon to an entry level contract after he graduated from Princeton University. After training camp, he was sent to Wheeling and the Bulldogs opted to keep veterans Robert Mayer and Tokarski.
With Wheeling this season, he was named goaltender of the month for April, three times he was named ECHL goaltender of the week and twice he was rookie of the month.
At season’s end he led the league in save percentage at .931, second in the league in shutouts with six, and 6th in goals against average at 2.18.
Friday night the Nailers finished off the South Carolina Stingrays in a four game sweep in the Eastern Cnference Quarterfina playoff roundl. Condon registered shutouts in two of the four games and allowed one goal in another and wound up with a 0:57 seriesgoals against and a .980 save percentage.
It is always said, you have to dominate at one level to move up the hockey food chain. What Condon has done in the ECHL his opened everyone’s eyes in much the same way that Jaroslav Halak did in the ECHL and later David Desharnais.
It should be mentioned that, but for the drafting of Carey Price, all of this has been the work of Marc Bergevin and his staff. Bergevin traded goaltender Cedrick Desjardins to get Tokarski; drafted Fucale in the second round last year and just a month before that signed Condon to a two year entry level contract as a free agent right out of Princeton.
Nothing is definite in hockey but the writing is on the wall for 2015-2016. Carey Price with Dustin Tokarski as his Montreal backup. Zach Fucale and Condon in Hamilton with the Bulldogs. Sounds like a plan to me.