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Carey Price Will Start Season In Montreal

Remember that no matter where you read this statement next, I am underlining it loudly now, as it is carved in stone in my mind.

For a bundle of logical reasons.

Yes, there are some hockey thinkers that propose not rushing a blue chip prospect such as Price. They subscribe to gently cradling this diamond in the rough in fear of a setback of sorts hampering his progress and having doubt seep into his confidence.

That is smart advice that is usually smack on - in 95% of cases.

Carey Price, if you have not already noticed , is the exception to the rule in a big way.

Consider the player's resume over the last season alone, his rock solid attitude, calm temperment and the fact that he is no longer 18 years old, and it all adds up to a goalie who is NHL ready.

Will he be able to handle the pressure, you worry?

If rising victorious from a multi - round shootout at the WJC in front of an audience of millions hasn't convinced you, perhaps his accomplishments in last season's Calder Cup can.

Pressure is being a fresh out of junior prospect parachuted into the hopes of a middle of the pack AHL squad and being told "lead us!"

The mandate was insane, in some senses.

In Habs history, Price's rise to the top of AHL glory was almost a carbon copy duplicate of Patrick Roy's heroics in Sherbrooke some 22 years prior. The difference is, Roy's was accidental - a tale of goalie's injured, another tending to a pregnant wife. Luck, fortune, and timing paved the way for Roy's brilliance to unfurl.

Price being catapulted into Hamilton's drive was very much deliberate, and he passed his insane test with flying colors.

It was as though the Canadiens organization said, "Take us as far as you can lead us, son, we've faith in you!"

Pressure and expectations aren't what rattles this young man. He is perfectly suited for the Canadiens steam kettle, moreso than any goaltender I can remember not named Dryden or Roy.

Standing in Price's way in Montreal are Jaroslav Halak and starter Cristobal Huet, a tandem with a certain amount of clout and merit in the eyes of many.

In only two seasons, Huet has been a discovery. A throw in from the Radek Bonk deal pre - lockout, he has done the unimaginable in short order. In succession, he chased a Hart Trophy winning goalie out of town, led the league in save percentage, and earned himself a place in last season's All Star Game. No mean feat! Were it not for two injuries, Koivu's eye in 2006, and his own last season, his evaluation, and that of the Canadiens, would be much more illustrious.

Lady luck can be a five letter word starting with B!

Halak has been just as much of wild card paying big dividends. Drafted in the ozone rounds, he leapfrogged all Habs goalie prospects in sight, to earn the callup as Huet's replacement last winter. His play chewed up and spit out David Aebischer in its wake, and he led the Habs to within a win of a playoff berth.

Guy Carbonneau might still have second guessing nightmares about choosing Huet over Halak in the final tilt, but that's a history lesson for another time.

Great as both Halak's and Huet's recent accomplishments are, they are part of the past.

Not to demean what they have done, but the present tense says that Huet is the number one goalie of confidence, with a deal expiring at year's end, and Halak has been a pleasant surprise with an interesting upside.

Nothing more, nothing less.

With Price being tagged the goalie of the future, his present assessment carries with it a great deal of weight. And that assessment have a trickle down of circumstances.

Some training camp watchers have attested to Price being the best Canadiens goalie in the last two training camps. Added to that, the Canadiens deciders know Price has passed every high ordered task handed to him so far.

Returning Price to the AHL would only serve to confirm what is already known about him. Confirming such things only wastes time.

Time is of the essense in determining not only Price's fate, but those of Huet, Halak, and then others.

Huet's impending free agaency offers the Canadiens the option of resigning him, trading him, or both. Examining how he co - habitates with a goalie fighting for his number one job will go a long way in determing his future usefullness, contract offer included.

Canadiens fans have just watched Sheldon Souray skip town with no return value, the Habs brass might shudder to think of fans perceptions should they let Huet slip away with no return.

In Halak's case, the Habs are dealing with a goaltender who has spent a half season at the AHL level, and a stint in the NHL. A just goalie evaluation normally occurs during a stoppers second go round with opposition shooters.

To explain in short, there is no flash in the pan quite like a goalie. Opposition shooters initially foiled due to unfamiliarity with a goalie, tend to smarten up the second time around. Perfect examples of this are Aebischer and Andrew Raycroft. Knowing all about a goaltenders tendencies, is the shooters book. A solid goaltender stymies shooters over a long period of time. A less sound goalie is exposed when shooters adapt to what foiled them at first glance.

This is the Halak connundrum at present. Neither the AHL or NHL shooters have yet to take a second shot at him.

Before you make a case for Halak, I'll make Price's case.

In four rounds of AHL playoffs, four teams, each one better than it's predecessor, had multiple looks at Carey Price without being able to solve him. Through five, six, and seven game series', Price continued to hold the upper hand.

Price has little to prove beyond that at the AHL level. Halak does.

Behind Huet, Halak, and Price are three goaltenders whose values have yet to be tested for endurance. Yann Danis has shown consistency, while being overlapped by exceptional students. His brief NHL stint showed promise, but he like Huet could be free as a bird at the expiry of the next season. For all intents, Cedric Desjardins, Loic Lacasse are well spoken unknown quantities.

What conspires to make all their invidividual scenarios so precarious, is that the Habs have drafted no goalies in 2006 and 2007. With goaltending a depth jealousy at the time, and defense a need, the Canadiens smartly focused on their most glaring future void.

Signing also ran goalie prospect is one time saving option available to the Canadiens in this eventuality, but replacing goalie needs in the case of injuries and free agent defecttions can deplete an organiation very quickly.

Examples of this are rampant. No need to look further than the Los Angeles Kings summoning up Sean Burke from the dead last season to see how quickly an organization can run through stoppers when Lady Luck sours.

Should the 2007-08 season end with the Canadiens depth chart at the goaltending position resembling a combination of Price, Halak, Lacasse, and Desjardins, the Habs have much pre-planning to do.

Having Price spend an AHL season in vain, will have consequences. Primordially, the fate of Huet and Danis lies in the balance of ascertaining the NHL readiness of Carey Price.
Ask yourself, those of you who still believe Price still needs a year of AHL seasoning, if Montreal can afford to wait out the circumstances.

Carey Price's time is now.

And you read it here first.