Florida Panthers: The Most Important Sam Montembeault Question
Sam Montembeault’s first four Florida Panthers starts have been largely a success. He’s 3-0-1 with a .911 SV% and a GAA of 2.24.
With a look under the hood, Sam Montembeault’s numbers are a vast improvement from other Panther goalies this season.
Thanks to the great Sean Tierney, here is a shot map viz with stats for Montembeault’s first four games. He’s not been hugely taxed, and he hasn’t over or underperformed either. He’s faced about 9.2 xG and given up 9 goals.
For the Panthers, that’s a far cry from both Luongo (105 goals on 90.54 xG) and Reimer (89 on 79.04 xG) in a good way.
Four games are too small of a sample size to derive anything franchise-changing from, but him getting these starts and not looking out-of-place in most of them is a start of something.
What that’s the start of remains to be seen, but whatever is starting could be franchise-altering for the Panthers in short order.
After a shaky first start, Montembeault has looked solid in his last three. Two of them were against teams that didn’t show up, but the win at San Jose is a positive step forward.
The team in front of him is also defending a tad bit better than usual, and some of his and his teams’ performance could be regression from the awful goaltending Luongo and Reimer have provided this season, but the early results and impressions are encouraging.
With twelve games left in the season, Montembeault should realistically be starting eight or nine of them. Florida is out of the playoff hunt, so giving minutes to the prospective future franchise goaltender is a necessity.
In today’s NHL, it’s more common than ever to see young goalies come in and assert themselves right away, and even get on big hot streaks, and while Montembeault hasn’t had that happen yet, his skill set suggests its possible.
But those streaks, such as the one Jordan Binnington had in the last couple of months, do tend to obfuscate what a goalie’s real level is, especially as in the Binnington example, where he’s had an amazing defense core in front of him. Montembeault’s early play is not at that level, which in this case is not a bad thing.
However, once the season ends for Montembeault and the Panthers, his play needs to answer a critical question for the franchise: what’s the future of the goaltending position?
James Reimer is likely to be bought out this summer, and Luongo is turning forty in April, with his best days looking increasingly behind him.
One will be gone, and for the Panthers to be in the best cap position, both need to be off the books.
The question Dale Tallon and company must answer is whether Montembeault is necessarily ready to be the full-time number one goaltender, but whether he can start thirty games at a similar level to which he’s played in his first four games has yet to be seen.
If the answer is yes, and the next eight or nine starts will help better answer that question, perhaps the Panthers don’t need to go all out for Sergei Bobrovsky.
He’s had a wildly inconsistent season, complete with him being a healthy scratch for multiple important games for a Blue Jackets team scrapping to get into the postseason.
He’s also had notable struggles in the postseason, for which his teams have not won a series. He will demand a hefty contract, and he already has the third highest cap hit for any goalie in the league.
Would the Panthers need to give him, for example, a seven-year, $70 million contract if Montembeault is ready for more than a third of the starts next season?
In short, if Sam Montembeault is as good as the organization believes he can be, he should be the full-time starter.
Being in a battery with the incredibly expensive Bobrovsky would make it increasingly difficult with time to take that step.
If Montembeault is good enough now to be given a chance to take that next step, then wouldn’t a signing like Bobrovsky be expensive and unnecessary?
Goalies like Jimmy Howard, Semyon Varlamov, or even ones like Anders Nilsson are available as free agents and could easily be equally good options to warm the seat for Montembeault on shorter-term deals with a lesser cap hit while offering somewhat similar production.
Thus, when he takes over that starter’s job, the contract of the goalie he’s usurped will be easy to get out from under. That goalie would also come a lot cheaper than Bobrovsky and would offer up another valuable asset: cap space.
Said cap space could be used to address other major needs, such as depth scoring and a No. 2/3 defenseman, while also allowing space for additions to be made at the trade deadline next season to make a run if the Panthers are in contention.
Until two weekends ago, it looked like the Panthers would be playing out the string with meaningless games leaning to meaningless results only notable for draft positioning and stat stuffing.
But with Montembeault playing and playing well, the organization’s big plans for the summer may change. And if they do change, perhaps they change for the better.