When news broke on July 1 that the Montreal Canadiens had made a signing, the fan base held their breath collectively. Their reaction to the news was mixed, to say the least, and a deep sigh soon followed.
After all, there were plenty of other free agents that fans were hoping for and Keith Kinkaid wasn’t somebody most expected the Canadiens to pursue.
Still, while not a flashy signing by any means, especially when compared to the remaining free agent pool, Kinkaid could be another one of Bergevin’s shrewd moves that help out the Habs in more ways than it initially seems.
Canadiens’ Need in Net
The Canadiens have gone through several backup goaltenders during Bergevin’s tenure with the club. Names like Dustin Tokarski, Mike Condon, Al Montoya, and Antti Niemi all got splinters from parking their keisters on the bench for long stretches during seasons in which star goalie Carey Price played the majority of games. Niemi looked like he was all rust on a few occasions last season and games that he lost were precious points in the standings that could have been the difference between making the playoffs or missing them by two points.
With Niemi’s contract not getting renewed, most fans thought Charlie Lindgren would become the defacto backup for the 2019-20 season. But a 5-4 shootout loss in the regular-season finale against the Toronto Maple Leafs likely didn’t do enough to convince Bergevin.
Lindgren either needs more time to establish himself, or he’s shown the organization what they’ve likely already known: he’ll be a successful American Hockey League goalie, but won’t ever crack the lineup in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Canadiens turned their attention to finding a backup, amongst other players, and one that could be relied upon to at least give the club a chance to win when Price needed a rest. Hence, the signing of Kinkaid.
With Price now over the age of 30, the Canadiens needed to find someone they can rely on to reduce their starter’s workload. From here on out, the Canadiens need to get the most out of Price going forward and can’t afford to lose him to injury or wear him out during a long, grueling 82-game schedule. It’s all about quality over quantity at this stage of Price’s career, and Bergevin is well aware of this fact.
The league itself is now seeing starters across teams play fewer games than they did before, which is why the Canadiens desperately needed a back-up goaltender this summer to help for next season. Seeing how precious two points in the standings can be, depth between the pipes is more important than ever. Whether or not Kinkaid is the right man for the job is still being debated by fans as we inch closer to training camp, but all they must do is take a closer look at his body of work.
Undrafted, Kinkaid broke into the league as a relatively unknown goaltender with the New Jersey Devils back in 2013 and has worked hard to make a name for himself in the NHL.
Kinkaid’s career numbers aren’t overly impressive and suggest that he is a career backup, but during the past few seasons, he’s proven to be a reliable goalie who can step in if and when a starter gets cold.
The Devils fretted over the fact that Corey Schnieder was being nagged by a lingering groin issue, an injury that can be detrimental to any goaltender’s career. With Schnieder out, the Devils counted on Kinkaid to carry the load, and he played an important role for them down the stretch back in 2017-2018 when the Devils made the playoffs for the first time in several seasons.
Kinkaid has played in over 80 games during the past couple of seasons. While not an elite goalie by any means, Kinkaid’s ability to handle a high workload is a sure bet that he can be a decent option to fill the net should anything (knock on wood) happen to Price in 2019-20.
Kinkaid’s proven to be someone who can fill a starter’s role at a moment’s notice, if only for a short period of time, and a resume like that was exactly what Bergevin wanted in a backup netminder.
The Contract at a Glance
A one-year deal for a backup goaltender is a reasonable contract for the Canadiens to take on as it presents little risk to their payroll and future plans. What might be a tad repugnant for Habs fans is the fact that the contract is valued at $1.75 million, but they should realize this is fair value and a reasonable cap hit for a goaltender of Kinkaid’s standards.
Bergevin has done well to address his offseason need for a backup behind Price and also likely views Kinkaid as an asset for not only the short-term but perhaps as a trade chip if any goalies from the farm team look like they deserve some time in the NHL. Lindgren, or perhaps even fellow Laval Rocket teammate Michael McNiven, may soon get their chance to prove themselves of being the backup of the future, but until then its Kinkaid’s job to lose.
From Bergevin’s perspective, he gains a stop-gap veteran who could be a commodity at the trade deadlinethat allows some more time for other netminders in the organization to develop. And if Kinkaid falters, burying his contract in the minors won’t be too much of a burden on the club and the deal will be done by next summer. It’s yet another piece of safe business from the master of low-risk signings.
How 2019-20 Might Play Out
What’s the worst possible outcome of this signing? Kinkaid plays like Niemi did last season and ships himself out of town. An even worse possibility would be that Kinkaid can’t stop pucks at all and Price goes down with another season-ending injury. Then the Canadiens goaltending depth will really be tested.
The best-case scenario would be that Kinkaid proves himself worthy of playing close to half the season and compiling twenty wins. Better still, if Price ever does get sidelined, Kinkaid carries the Canadiens to a playoff spot much like he did with the Devils and proves Bergevin right for snatching him up on July 1.
A more realistic expectation for Kinkaid, however, is that he’ll provide the Canadiens with solid goaltending behind Price. Even if Kinkaid only manages to win half of his starts, it’ll be more than helpful to aiding the Canadiens in their quest to return to the playoffs and a significant improvement over his predecessor.
But make no mistake Canadiens fans, Kinkaid has the ability to provide the team with far more than what they’ve come to expect from a backup goalie. It’ll just be up to him to prove it.