(Robert L Note: If this piece seems familiar to you, it is because it was posted at this site last winter, before the Hamilton Bulldogs won the Calder Cup. I thought it apt to rerun it today, with Price facing Crosby's Penguins in his NHL debut. The article has been brought into the present tense. Enjoy.)
A question for a nation of hockey afficianado's: Could Carey Price turn out to be a better draft pick than Sidney Crosby?
Seems like a ridiculous notion, doesn't it?
Maybe, then again maybe not!
Straight off the top, and honestly, I don't entirely buy my own question - at least not at present anyways. The fact that I find myself asking this question, begs a closer look.
The onus on the question is better PICK and not better PLAYER - if one chooses to split hairs.
I will though, admittingly acknowledge that myself or anyone reading this article in all knowledge, cannot predict the future.
On the other hand, draft day hindsight is always 20/20.Remember Montreal fudging on Mike Bossy in '77, taking Mark Napier instead? Or how about Doug Wickenheiser in 1980 in lieu of, nevermind Denis Savard - Paul Coffey?
Much of what is learned about banking on the future, comes from lessons from the past - and the examples are endless.
Those lessons, as often as they are revealing, can just as often be misleading. Occasionally, coincidences line up, allowing for hopeful excursions into dreamland in regards to player potential, however one chooses to build facts.
So I'll call this bit of intuition, just a hunch, based on fanatical hockey knowledge and a sense of deja voodoo.
If one cannot fathom such a highly touted pick as Crosby being bettered by a draft peer, let's just say it's happened before - not even the jerseys have changed!
Follow me back to the 1984 NHL entry draft, where a Laval Voisin centerman named Mario Lemieux had just finished destroying all Canadian junior hockey league records with a 133 goal, 149 assist season. Lemieux had broken a record for goals, 130, set by Guy Lafleur in 1971, while being two years younger. It's a no - brainer that he is the absolute best pick in the 1984 entry draft.
A blind man could see it, a mute could hear it, possibly even a dead man could sense it - it was that clear cut.
The Montreal Canadiens had their gaze firmly settled on Lemieux years earlier when they dealt disgruntled center Pierre Larouche to the Hartford Whalers for a 1st round pick they dreamed might become the 6' 6" Montrealer.
It was a nice try for Les Habitants, who ended up choosing 5th overall, and selected a shy and skinny Czechoslovakian defenseman with good puck moving skills named Petr Svobada.
In hindsight, Lemieux would become the second best player chosen that draft year. Svoboda wasn't even close.
The honour of the best player from the 1984 crop went to a goaltender, who flew so far under the radar that season, he wasn't plucked until the 51st pick.
This goaltender, who played for the perennial cellar dwelling Granby Bisons, had registered consecutive seasons in which his goals against average in three seasons of junior hockey read a horrifying 6.26, 4.44, and 5.55.
If you had then predicted that such a puck bruised goaltender could become a worthier player than Lemieux down the line, you'd surely be off your rocker.
The goalie in question was none other than Patrick Roy.
For trivia buffs, the Canadiens aquired the 51st pick in the 1984 draft in which they chose Roy, by dealing off Ken Dryden's backup goaltender of several years, Michel "Bunny" Larocque, to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenseman Robert Picard. The towering rearguard that was Picard failed to live up to expectations in his 3 seasons with the Habs and was dealt off to the Winnipeg Jets for a 3rd round pick in the 1984 draft whicht landed Patrick Roy in Montreal.
If it is a stretch of the imagination that a 51st pick overall can turn out better than an overwhelming first overall choice like Mario Lemieux, can it be that farfetched to consider that Carey Price, a fifth pick overall, may eventually top Sidney Crosby as far as career acheivements go?
In terms of who was better during the course of their careers - Roy beats Lemieux 4-2 in Cups, and 6-2 in Stanley Cup final appearances. All stats along the way are just storyline details.
Cups, my friends, are always the bottom line!
Just as Patrick Roy was promoted late in the season from a less than stellar junior team to join an AHL team who went on to a league title, Carey Price, with a gold medal in hand from the World Junior Championships, where he was a unanimous MVP choice, backstopped the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup championship.
So far both players resume's look eerily similar at the same stage. Roy even played his first NHL game against the same Penguins.
Mario Lemieux never won big games until getting his hands on the Stanley Cup in 1991, and again one year later. There are no junior league or World Junior championships in his resume, nor any Memorial Cups.
Sidney Crosby fared better than Lemieux, winning the QMJHL league title, as well being a member of the 2004 Canadian WJC winning team.
While the 20 year old Crosby has piled up the accolades in two short seasons and is destined for a Hall Of Fame career, Price made huge headlines of his own helping turn the Hamilton Bulldogs into giant slayers. Should Price continue his mimicery of Roy's ascention to greatness, and win a Stanley Cup in the not too distant future, it might leave many in the NHL's hockey braintrust second guessing their moves on the day of the 2005 draft.
I am not suggesting that Price should have been chosen ahead of Crosby in 2005. Only a lucridously foolish and mentally incapacitated GM would have been willing to risk his reputation on such a gamble. Even Bob Gainey raised some eyebrows in choosing Price, considering that Jose Theodore, fresh off a Hart Trophy win three seasons earlier still took up all the space in the Montreal goal.
I vividly recall that summer day two years ago, when I played hooky from work in order to place myself in front of the TV for the NHL Draft Lottery. Heart pounding, palms sweaty (I'm not exaggerating!), I watched the Canadiens last until the fifth pick, when all my hopes of seeing Crosby in a Habs jersey came crashing down.
The upside was, of course, quickly apparent. The fifth pick in place of what normally would have been a middle first round choice, was a big bonus from the Gods of the hockey world to the Canadiens.
My disappointment quickly turned to titilation when I realized that this was one very deep draft, and that the Canadiens would be getting their hands on what could amount to a franchise player. While this player would be no Crosby, he would certainly be the foundation of something prosperous.
Scanning the reading material found in hockey publications such as The Hockey News and other paper sources, I held out hope that the Habs would grab either Gilbert Brule, or a longshot from the under developed hockey nation of Slovenia named Anze Kopitar. Knowing full well that Jack Johnson and Bobby Ryan wouldn't be around by the 5th pick, that Benoit Pouliot's late bloomer tale was too risky for me, and that Luc Bourdon had an longshot outside chance, I still pinned my hopes on Brule or Kopitar.
Carey Price wasn't even in my thoughts - the Habs hardly needed a goalie, and that notion was quickly dismissed.
I anticipated the draft for a good week, pondering all scenarios until the day arrived.
I was absolutely floored, THN magazine in hand, when Timmins announced, "The Montreal Canadiens select, from the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, Carey Price."
Commentators on TSN predicting Brule were caught off guard. My reaction was to helplessly fling my THN copy straight up into an awaiting ceiling fan, that slashed several pages, before sending it across my living room.
I was repulsed and disgusted. Confused, betrayed, and stumped. "What do I know", I thought.
Soon after, I began learning of who Carey Price was, his background and parents, and his hockey pedigree. It spoke volumes in terms of character, coolness, dedication, and perseverance - one of Patrick Roy's favorite words.
I quickly started thinking that there was alot more to choosing Carey Price than I first imagined.
Fast forward to the present, where Price is about to begin his NHL career after making quite a name for himself in the WJC and with Hamilton. I think of all that I've learned about him in two years, and I cannot help but think that I've seen this movie before.
Roy and Price are, oddly enough polar opposites personality wise. Price's fire is a constant, persuant simmer, where Roy's drive was electrically combustable inferno at the flick of a match.
Recently, Washington Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig, who owns part of the Tri City Americans attested that he knows Carey Price has never broken a stick after a bad goal. Kolzig, who has tutored Price on occasion, has offered to his star, that a goaltender must never be visable in frustration to the opposition. It's a very deep piece of advice!
Seemingly, Price comes about his composure quite naturally, that it is almost a self taught reflex.
Added all up, we can surmise that Price is much more than a goalie of talent and imposing size. The boy has the mental capacity for greatness and achievement. Words associated to him most oftenly are: calm, stoic, unflappable, dedicated, disciplined, and focused.
These are the traits of greatness in a hockey player, and one does not learn them while playing for brutal to average junior teams as a teenager. Point blank - one does hardly aquire these qualities, they are part of the being of a person.
These are, in essense, the makeup of the goalie that is Carey Price, and it could play out that these traits make him a better pick in the long run than Crosby.
Crosby, the number one pick in the 2005 draft, record breaker, phenom, Art Ross trophy holder, and newly appointed youngest captain ever, shares a good majority of the traits and qualities used to describe Carey Price mentioned above. As great as he has been, he will undoubtably only get better, and soon enough his name will be hammered into the silver of Lord Stanley's mug. It's inevitable.
But Crosby does have the odd character flaw that allows him to become undone.
I recall cheering Crosby on in the 2004 Memorial Cup final against the powerful London Knights, Crosby thrived in the spotlight, carrying his team to the championship game. Once there, the Knights committed all their boundless energy into tying him up and bogging him down, using every possible irritation on ice to crawl under his skin and render him ineffective. It worked wonders, and the Knights walked off with the Cup. It was no random game strategy, the Knights coach was none other than Dale Hunter, a career pest capable of the worst indiscriminations on ice in the name of winning at all costs.
A long time Crosby opponant and irritant, has been none other than the Habs Maxim Lapierre, who knows a thing or two about finding the Crosby ire. Lapierre was very effective at certain times, in getting Crosby's focus compass to spin like a tornado. Crosby is hardly an unknown quantity to Lapierre, as he has faced him for two his seasons in the QMJHL. "Mad Max", to his credit, even registered a hat trick in a game against him once.
Crosby posseses great media savvy, but on ice he wears a totally different game face that has worked for him for years. He is not beyond the occasional sideshow antic, when and where he feels the need for it. His propensity for whinning quickly became known in his rookie season, and he hardly toned it down in his sophomore year. It has garnered him a reputation among officials, that is not shared by fans, but is understood by foes. He may eventually learn to display a more focused gaze, but for the time being, he's offering an open wound for salt.
Having said all that, I love the player, and look forward to witnessing his career unfold over the coming years with tremendous delight.
It's just that he has that chink in his armour to work on.
Carey Price will never lay his cards on the table in the same exposed manner that Crosby, in all his nature, cannot avoid doing.
Coolness under fire will always win out over gas poured on fire.
Shutting down a forward easily unfocussed is much easier to deal with than a goaltender unsolved, whose mysteriousness gets inside a players head.That might make all the difference.
It might also make Price a better pick in long run that Crosby.