Montreal Canadiens backup goalie Mike Condon will get the start Friday night when the Canadiens visit the New Jersey Devils, which apparently would have been the case had reigning MVP and Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price not left Wednesday night’s win over the New York Rangers with a right leg injury.
Condon proved that in the short term that he could be almost as good as the No. 1 man, going 4-0-2 with a 1.81 goals-against average and registering a .932 save percentage in the first six games he played after taking over the net when Price went down with an upper body injury in October.
What the Canadiens don’t know, though, is whether Condon can handle the load of a No. 1 goalie in the long run. They obviously hope they don’t have to find out, but they’re also not about to rush Price back into the net after his second injury in less than a month. And when Price went down with his mysterious injury, he was supposed to miss only a week. That stretched out to three weeks and involved him traveling to get a second opinion.
So we really don’t know how long Price will be out with this injury. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien told reporters after the game that the Canadiens would call up another goalie, almost certainly Dustin Tokarski, who will likely back Condon up Friday night in New Jersey.
Here’s the thing with unproven players such as Condon. Almost anyone who plays in the American League can come up for a short stint in the NHL and be very impressive. For a couple of games, they look as though they can fit right in with the level of competition and often leave us wondering how it was they were buried in the minors in the first place. But then reality often hits and those same players start to struggle to keep up their level of play. After their short burst, they often fade and revert back to the players they were, and often find themselves back in the minors.
Is Condon one of those players? Well, nobody is sure, really. After those first six games, Condon’s play took a definitive southbound turn. He went 1-2-0 and was pulled in one of those games, with a 3.73 GAA and an .825 save percentage. His level of play and his numbers certainly suggested that he was wearing down from all the work.
Perhaps that was an anomaly and Condon will rebound starting Friday night. One thing the Canadiens do have going for them is that Tokarski has ample experience and is a good insurance policy against Condon faltering. But if Price’s injury is a serious one that will keep him out of the lineup for a long stretch, is it possible the Canadiens might go out and look for another NHL-proven goalie?
Well, if they do, would James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs be an option. Reimer is attractive not only in the fact that he’s on an expiring contract and there’s no commitment to him beyond this season, but he’s also playing some of the best hockey of his career. The Maple Leafs have been playing much better of late and find themselves six points out of a playoff spot, which is a lot harder to make up than you might think. And if you subscribe to the theory that most of the playoff teams are set by the American Thanksgiving, the chances of the Leafs making a charge for the post-season are rather thin.
So would it not make sense for the Leafs to deal Reimer sooner than later to capitalize on his terrific play of late? As the trade deadline gets closer, the potential return for pending unrestricted free agents decreases, meaning James Reimer in November would be worth more on the trade market than James Reimer in February. (And the notion the Leafs wouldn’t trade within their division is nonsense. They’ll trade to the team that offers them the most and the Canadiens just happen to have a little used young defenseman named Jarred Tinordi, who is a regular healthy scratch and can’t find his way into the lineup. That would be a pretty good deal, no?)
If the Canadiens were to make a pitch for Reimer, they’d be able to send Condon down to the minors without having him clear waivers, a privilege they have until the 60-game mark this season. Tokarski has already cleared waivers once so they likely wouldn’t be worried about sending him down as well.
Even if Price were healthy, that would give the Canadiens a tandem of Price and Reimer entering the playoffs, which would provide them insurance against the possible implosion of an unproven player such as Condon.
All of this is contingent upon Price being out for the long term. But it’s a deal the Canadiens should consider making whether Price is on the shelf for an extended period of time or not.