Although the fanbase has rallied around Carey Price temporarily warding off the spirit of Jaroslav Halak, there is still a lot of hostility bubbling beneath the surface waiting to arise should the Canadiens stumble.
I can understand why the Canadiens made the decision they made. If they had waited 5 months and Halak struggled, would they have missed the window of cashing in on his post season success? 40-50 games can significantly alter the perception of a player around the league. Look at Tomas Plekanec and how the fanbase viewed him in October and how they viewed him in February when he was in the top 10 in scoring and averaging a point per game. When Halak first went public with his trade demand, fans were expecting a 2nd round pick, four months later they were angry with a 1st and 3rd rounder. So perception can change quickly and drastically alter trade value.
Looking back to June, the Canadiens would have been foolish to trade Price after 3 years of investment in his future growth when he is coming off a 13 win season. The return on investment would be too low. When adding in the ability to contractually control him for another four seasons, the cap implications of possibly losing Plekanec had they kept Halak and Price had advantages that made the decision harder than most fans perceived.
I am not here to present the decision to keep Carey Price as the obvious choice. I favoured trying to re-sign both goaltenders and waiting until the trade deadline to make a decision. I didn't think it was wise to deal either goaltender during the summer because of the possible franchise changing elements of such a deal. If Price continued to struggle in 2011 after a disastrous 60 games, it would be a continuing sign that at 23 he is not ready to pay the price to meet his potential. If Halak continued his post season success your decision becomes easy. If the situation plays out opposite, once again the decision is easy. If they both excel, your decision is easy. It was definitely the risk averse method to dealing with the Canadiens goaltending depth with the added bonus of not alienating the impatient fanbase.
Pierre Gauthier decided to be aggressive and with his decision left himself open to massive criticism should the Canadiens struggle in 2011. While the majority of the media and fanbase feel he made a bad decision, I will not kill him for the decision he made. Ultimately, none of us will know if he made the right decision for 2-3 seasons.
What I do know is that there is plenty of evidence to justify his aggressive decision. Do I know if these were factors in his decision? No. I have zero inside knowledge about either players character, demands or work ethic. For all I know, Pierre Gauthier used the Eeny, meeny, miny, moe method. Even so, it doesn't make the following reasons any less valid.
REASON 1 - PRICE'S ABILITY ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
There is no doubt that Price has the ability, that has never been questioned. With his struggles it is easy to forget how highly touted he was just 20 months ago. Look at the various scouting reports on Price from 2007-2008, he still possesses that dominant skill set. Ironically the fanbases fear is based around his development being retarded by pressure that has increased with the Canadiens decision to fast track his development, pressure ultimately being placed on him by the fanbase.
Price has tremendous agility and reflexes and those attributes serve as the foundation for his game. Not only is he able to read and react quickly, but he is also able to steer rebounds into the corners with relative ease. Playing a butterfly style, Price is excellent at taking away the lower portion of the net, and relies on his quick hands to cover the upper portion. Beyond his prodigious physical skills, Price's strongest asset may be his mental make-up. The young goaltender is calm to the point of appearing aloof or dispassionate. But it is that ability to avoid the highs and lows of the position that allow him to remain focused on the game itself.
The Hockey News - Future Watch 2008
...selected as the No. 1 prospect outside the NHL by a panel of 21 NHL amateur scouts and directors of player personnel....Price has the size, poise and patience to excel at the NHL level. He is good at reading the play and has strong puck-handling ability. He doesn't possess any weaknesses, but requires maturity and experience.
Goalies' World - March 2008
When a goalie is drafted 5th overall and at age 19 becomes an MVP, in both the World Junior Championships and the AHL Calder Cup finals, he is obviously a special goalie....Price has already established one thing. He can win under pressure. He can make the big save and win the big game....Physically, not only is he big, but he is also very strong and powerful. Imagine Price at age 27 or 28! The power allows him to explode across the crease....Moving fast is tough for a big goalie. Moving fast while maintaining control is even tougher. Price can do both....Price has good edge control and he pushes hard. His butterfly is wide and high...He plays big...Price already moves better than superstar Roberto Luongo, but his puck tracking and quickness are not as strong. At times Price looks beat by the release itself rather than the shot. This is a matter of experience, not quickness.
Two of three reports brought up maturity and experience as Price's biggest weakness. With 130+ NHL games and close to 20 NHL playoff games under his belt he is in the process of hurdling his biggest weakness. Unfortunately patience is what most fans lack which has lead to a lack of understanding when Price suffers from growing pains.
2. PRICE'S PAST PERFORMANCE ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Past performance is not always an indication of future success, but when assessing an individual all you really have is their previous resume to judge them on and project them forward.
History is a major factor in assessing an individual talent. It provides proof of consistency allowing you to red flag players who cannot maintain an elite level of play. It can help in terms of assessing progression and growth. It provides a comparable for other players at their position and how they compare to their contemporaries at the position at the same point in their careers.
Fans live for today. They are not interested in investing in the future unless it is all they have to grasp on to.
That attitude has lead to the following resume being rendered meaningless in less than two calendar years.
- Named to the WHL West First All-Star Team in 2007.
- Won the Del Wilson Trophy (WHL Top Goaltender) in 2007.
- Won the CHL Goaltender of the Year Award in 2007.
- Won the Calder Cup with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2007.
- Won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy (Calder Cup MVP) in 2007.
- Won the Molson Cup in October 2007, November 2008 and October 2009.
- Named NHL Rookie of the Month in March 2008.
- Named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 2008.
- Named to the NHL All-Star Game in 2009 (starter).
- Named to the NHL YoungStars Game in 2009
At ever single stage of his career Carey Price has been among the elite at his position (including the NHL for a brief period of time). Through 60 games Price had accomplished more than every goaltenders his age not named Patrick Roy. Since the 2009 All-Star game his numbers have been in free-fall.
With the humbling experience of watching the Canadiens playoff run from the bench, Price addressed his regression during his post season interview. He mentioned that the turning point in his career was making the All-Star team in 2009. He questioned his own work ethic after achieving all of his goals to that point. It is an interesting revelation when you view Price's numbers before and after All-Star weekend 2009.
Looking at those numbers in the context that Price presented is shocking. Half the wins, zero shutouts and a SV% that is 15 points worse than his initial trip through the league. If he is genuine in his self assessment, then the Canadiens management and fanbase have to be optimistic he can rebound.
3. PRICE'S SIZE -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A major factor in the Canadiens decision to keep Price over Halak was his size. WIth the introduction of form fitting equipment to the NHL the four inches and 40 lbs. could not be ignored in the Canadiens long-term assessment. While Halak will likely have his equipment reduced, Price will likely see minor adjustments at most.
Price's size advantage allows him to cover more net when he squares up to the puck and his net coverage is more impressive when in his butterfly. This allows Price to remain deeper in his net than Halak, allowing for easier post save recoveries. It also shortens his lateral movements and with Price's quickness and economy of movement it becomes a huge advantage over the quicker, but smaller goaltender. This is not to indicate that Price will play the deep style that Melanson wanted him to adapt, but that Halak needs to cut down his angles more aggressively to compensate for his lack of size, forcing him into tougher recovery positions.
4. PRICE'S CAREER PROGRESSION ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It is very easy to lose context of what Price has accomplished at his age, especially when placed against the accomplishments of his peers. When I took a deeper look into the elite among his peers an interesting parallel began to emerge regardless of the age in which they debuted.
When researching his peers I only included goaltenders who played 35+ games in order to establish a starter or platoon role. Seasons with less than 35 games were not included. I also adjusted each goaltenders save percentage in order to give the proper context to their performance against the league average.
For example. It is disingenuous to look at numbers from the highest scoring season and try to create a parallel to numbers accomplished in one of the lowest scoring seasons. Take Tuukka Rask and Tom Barrasso as an example. The leagues average save percentage has fluctuated wildly over the last 42 seasons as the chart below illustrates.
With the perspective removed, when you place Rask's 2010 save percentage of .931 against Barrasso's 1984 percentage of .893 it seems pretty clear who had the better season.
When you take the yearly save percentage and average it out and straighten the line, you begin to see things in the proper perspective. It illustrates how far above the league average Barrasso was in 1984 even though a straight numbers comparison would show that Barrasso's Vezina winning season was inferior to Alex Auld's 2010 campaign.
Using these adjusted numbers and a league average percentage of .895, it allows us to view Price and his peers against the league average and not against a constantly fluctuating comparable. The results were eye opening with the majority of today's goaltenders suffering a steep decline from their first season as a starter to their second.
Price exploded onto the scene with a huge rookie season and looked to have lived up to the advanced hype of being the next Roy. Things began to unravel in his second season and his save percentage plummeted from among the leagues elite to below average before rebounding to the league average in 2010. Experience and league familiarity likely played a role in his initial decrease, but last season he began to show signs of a career rebound, a descent and rebound that the majority of his peers also experienced.
VEZINA TROPHY WINNERS
Ryan Miller the defending Vezina trophy winners numbers declined for two straight seasons following his initial campaign as the starter. He didn't rebound to an elite level until he was 27 years old. Brodeur had a solid rookie season, but his numbers also dipped to the league average during the Devils 1995 Stanley Cup season. Miikka Kiprusoff almost won a Stanley Cup and an MVP in 2004, but dropped to the league average or below in 5 of the next 6 seasons before rebounding in 2010.
VEZINA TROPHY FINALISTS
Out of this group, only Nabokov managed to avoid a substantial production drop in season two, although Nabokov only registered one of the next five seasons above the league average. The rest of this group suffered a regression before bouncing back among the elite.
Marty Turco's debut season looks like the outlier in his career as the rest of his career has floated around the league average. After a precipitous decline in year two, Turco has never been able to duplicate his initial success. Khabibulin also follows this consistent career arc.
NEXT GENERATION ALL-STARS
Marc Andre Fleury, a player who is considered among the elite of the game has been essentially average his whole career. Although he does not fit the same career arc as the rest of these goaltenders, he has suffered a major decline since his career season in 2008. Jonas Hiller, Pekka Rinne and Steve Mason suffered large drop offs in production after their impressive debuts.
What would the narrative be on the majority of these goaltenders after their second season in Montreal? Outside of Fleury, Luongo, Mason and Brodeur all of them registered these declines at a more advanced age than Carey Price. Would judging Miller's future after his decline in 2007 and 2008 provide a proper vision of his dominating 2010? Would the Sabres failures in those seasons be blamed on him and not on Briere, Drury and Vanek? Was Miller considered a colossal failure at the age of 28? Not that I recall.
I didn't see many burying Steve Mason, Pekka Rinne or Jonas Hiller as potential busts this summer even though all of their statistics suffered substantial declines. Also interesting to note that if goaltenders like Halak and Rask regress to the mean like 95% of his peers that their save percentage will iikely plummet in 2010/11.
It is part of life adjusting to the NHL. When a goaltender debuts in the league he is unfamiliar to the league. The younger they are, the more they rely on reflexes and instincts and this unfamiliarity. When the league begins to adjust to their tendencies and habits they become exposed until they re-adjust. The biggest challenge for a young goaltender is adjusting to the speed and skill level of the top players in the world. As they become familiar with the league they are able to adjust to the speed and tendencies, as well as aniticipate logical outcomes. They adjust to the travel, responsibility and expectations that come with being a professional athlete and this maturity is a huge factor in their progression. It is proven over and over again, yet easily forgotten by an unforgiving fanbase.
5. PRICE'S AGE -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It is often mentioned how young Carey Price is and it cannot be ignored when discussing his future and why the Canadiens put the franchise in his hands. Expecting Carey Price to be Ryan Miller at the age of 23 is unreasonable considering Ryan Miller wasn't Ryan Miller at the age of 23.
Using Jaroslav Halak's resume through 24 to justify why he is the better choice is beneficial to that argument, but glosses over the warts and inadequacies of Halak's game through the age of 22. While the fanbase is burying Price they ignored the fact that Halak's resume was not as impressive at 22 as the one he owns at the age of 25. Looking at their numbers provides almost identical splits with Halak recording more shutouts and Price having 116 more games of experience.
Age was a definitive factor in the decision to trade Halak. At 24 years of age, Halak is approaching the peak years of a goaltenders prime. Gabriel Desjardins at behindthenethockey.com came to the conclusion that goaltenders peaked at the age of 25. I also used the same method as above for adjusted save percentages and charted all registered save percentages since 1967 and came to a similar conclusion. Goaltenders peak between the ages of 25 to 30 years old. At this point their physical peak coincides with their mental maturity and understanding of the game at the highest level.
Contrasting the red area to the yellow can give you an understanding of how inaccurate it would be to judge a 22 year old Price to a 24 year old Halak and why age continues to be a constant in any conversation between the two.
It also has to be mentioned that Price ranks very highly in all statistical categories through the age of 22. Using every goaltender post expansion as a comparable, Price ranks in the top ten in most categories (75+ games played). Only 118 goaltenders even qualified by starting one game before the age of 23.
When comparing him to his peers in the NHL today he ranks even higher. NHL peers like Ryan Miller, Cam Ward and Marc Andre Fleury were miles behind his statistical accomplishments at this point in their careers.
Removing all emotion from the situation it becomes pretty evident why the Canadiens came to the decision they did. Unfortunately asking fans to remove emotion from their rationale is an exercise in futility. The whole idea of attaching oneself to a logo and sweater is entirely based on emotion and loyalty.
The euphoria of the Stanley Cup run is gone and the sentimental attachment to Halak is something that Price will have to conquer in order to be successful moving forward. As quickly as the fans and media shoved all of his previous accomplishments to the backburner, so to will Halak's playoff performance get shelved should Price meet his potential.
The pressure is on Price to perform this season. Looking at all these factors that I have listed, it is no longer acceptable for him to be average. He needs to finally match the ability that saw him ranked so highly as a junior. He needs to match his pre-NHL accomplishments at the games highest level. He needs to begin to ascend towards his goaltending peak like his peers before him. His 20 year old numbers were only surpassed by Roy and Barrasso, but historically they have begun to slip from top three to top ten through the age of 22.
Price needs to begin to morph into the dominant game changing franchise goaltender this season. That means making saves that nobody believed he could make. It means that he needs to carry the team on his back for periods when they struggle and take a leadership role on this team. No slumping shoulders on bad goals, no firing pucks into a group of players out of frustration and he needs to take responsibility for all of his actions. It is a ton of pressure, but Price needs to make his move this season.
The fanbase has taken out their anger at management on Carey Price. When factoring in the salary cap and the ability to control Price for another 4 years at a deflated salary, as well as the reasons stated, didn't Gauthier make the logical decision? The emotional decision would have been to keep Halak. It is what the fans wanted and would have been the easy, less controversial choice.
Whether Gauthier made the right one is yet to be determined, but I understand the decision he made.