Carey Price has a monumentally tall mountain to climb back up next season if he hopes to improve upon his performance last year. The base of that peak started in Kelowna, BC -- over 4,000 kilometers from Montreal’s Bell Centre -- where he’s been skating since August. Price is back on the ice among an overflowing stable of other NHL veterans, stopping pucks, preparing for the Montreal Canadiens’ upcoming campaign, and taking the first steps of an arduous climb.
"It’s been like every other [summer]," Price said. "I’ve just been skating this month, trying to get my feet under me again before things start getting really intense."
However last season was not like every other previous one for Price. It was the epitome of dominance.
He set the Montreal Canadiens’ franchise record for most wins at 43, leapfrogging legends Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden’s previous mark of 42, as well as registering the most wins in the NHL (44).
Along the way to those milestones, he also earned the league’s best save percentage (.933), goals against average (1.96), and goals saved above average (36.70). Those statistics had a big influence on votes at the 2015 NHL Awards ceremony, where Price was recognized by every selection entity as the NHL’s best player – not just best goalie, but best overall hockey player. His numbers swayed the NHL’s general managers, who granted him the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. The league’s players were convinced his season was worthy of the Ted Lindsay award as the NHL’s most outstanding player. Even members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association were onboard, as they passed him the Hart Trophy for league MVP.
And apart from the subjectively voted accolades, Price objectively earned his share of the Jennings Trophy, finishing the season even with Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks for the fewest goals allowed (189).
So how exactly does Price plan to top a performance like that next season?
"I think the idea is not to try to top it," said Price. "Every season is different, everything always unravels differently. You’ve just got to prepare, and take it in stride. Try to keep everything in perspective, and not look too far ahead."
If the plan isn’t to top his personal accomplishments this season, then surely the goal is to help lead his team past the second round of the playoffs, or even past the Eastern Conference finals, which incidentally is the furthest Montreal has gone since Price came on board in 2007-08, and since the team’s Stanley Cup victory in 1993.
But for Price and the Canadiens, the trouble as always is that there will be 29 other teams attempting to stifle their ascension. Price isn’t looking that far down the road just yet.
"It’s a step by step process in my mind, right now I’m just in phase one. Just like every year I prepare the same way, and once you get to training camp you start on that process, and it just continues all season long."
Price knows that familiar process is a recipe for success. This year though they’ll be hoping it’s enough to get them to their 25th Stanley Cup – the trophy that the Olympic gold medalist and four-time All-Star desires most.
"That’s the idea every season," Price said. "Trying to do a little bit better, trying to give a little bit more, find that one tangible that makes the biggest difference. That’s a season-long process."
That process may be expedited this season by some of Montreal’s off-season acquisitions – most notably forwards Alexandre Semin from the Carolina Hurricanes and Zack Kassian from the Vancouver Canucks. Though Price is relatively unfamiliar with his new teammates, he knows they both bring unique skill sets to the Canadiens’ table – perhaps just the pieces needed to finally complete the puzzle.
"I don’t know much about the two guys that we’re getting," Price admitted. "Obviously Semin has been in the league for a while and played very well in Washington and has some offensive talent. Kassian brings a grittiness that we traded straight across for Prust."
Price will get very familiar with his new teammates on September 17 at the Canadiens' training camp, where they will all prepare together for their pre-season opener on September 22, and regular season opener on October 7 – both contested against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
A big thank you goes out to Dave Cunning for volounteering to publish his interview with the league's MVP on Eyes on the Prize.