Montoya’s Waiting Game

An article in last Friday’s New York Post brought good and bad news to Michigan hockey coaches, players and fans.

The bad news is that Al Montoya may be willing to leave Michigan after two years for the New York Rangers’ system.

The good news is that the New York Rangers may not give him the contract he is demanding and, in the process, may push him back to Ann Arbor, Mich.

With an NHL lockout all but a certainty, there will likely be a more restrictive salary system for draft picks than the one that currently exists. According to the Post, Montoya wants a deal similar to what New York gave Dan Blackburn, a goaltender it selected 10th overall in 2001, while the Rangers are offering less money.

It remains unclear how badly New York wants to sign Montoya. Last week the Rangers hired Benoit Allaire, considered to be one of the top goaltending coaches. If the NHL isn’t operating, it would be an excellent opportunity to have him work closely with Montoya in Hartford.

Though the wait for a decision has been torturous, Michigan associate coach Mel Pearson thinks that the longer it takes, the more likely Montoya will return to Michigan.

“He’s really taking his time, and I think the more time he takes, the better it is for us,” Pearson said. “He’ll probably hear from people who think he should go back for at least one more year and then look at the situation.”

Two of those people are current NHL goaltenders who were four-year starters at Michigan, Steve Shields and Marty Turco. Though they were both picked in the fifth round (Montoya was drafted sixth overall), they can tell him why spending four years in Ann Arbor was the right decision for them and may be for Montoya.

Hearing this from Turco may be especially convincing. Turco won two national championships, set the NCAA record for career victories and then quickly advanced through the minors and into the NHL. In his first season as a starter for the Dallas Stars, Turco set the single season goals-against average record.

“We feel that there are things he can work on here,” Pearson said. “Marty Turco could have left after his sophomore year. I don’t care what round he was drafted in. He was as ready as any goalie I’ve seen. But he still came back and continued to mature and he accomplished so much. Al could do the same thing. There’s a lot of unfinished business for him here at Michigan.”

While seven Wolverines have left early in the last five years, they all left thinking they would immediately play in the NHL. Montoya would be playing in Hartford next year, lockout or not.

“We’ve always said, ‘Why give up a chance at a national championship at Michigan to go play in the minors?'” Pearson said. “Once you turn pro — lets face it — it’s a business. You’re either doing the job or they’re bringing in someone else to do it. There’s not a lot of love. Here there’s a really stable environment and he has a chance to really leave a mark before he moves on.”

Michigan and the Rangers also seem to agree that Montoya can make as much progress in Ann Arbor as in Hartford.

“We’ve had some correspondence with the Rangers just asking them if they have any problems with Al staying in school, and they don’t,” Pearson said.

“They’ve told Al that Michigan is one of the best places for a young hockey player to be. They’re not putting a ton of pressure on him to leave.”