There was a time when the Montreal Canadiens had what was unequivocally the best goaltender in the world on their team. Ironically, this was during a period of years when the rest of the team was nowhere near on the same level. But that was the thing; with Carey Price in net, you didn’t need much more than a little sliver. He would take care of the whole business himself or, on a down night, at least provide you with a permanent feeling that your team always had a chance to win against whatever opponent was on the other side.
The Price was indeed right, and after winning multiple accolades across his career – including a Hart Trophy for leading his franchise to a deep playoff run in 2015 – he deserved to get paid as the difference-maker he was.
There was absolutely no chance that Marc Bergevin was going to let the best goaltender in the league walk out into free agency with his golden years still on the table. If Bergevin didn’t get Price signed long-term, there were just about 20 other franchises that would be willing to pay top dollar for a goalie such as him. Price deserved a big payday, and he got it.
Sure, toward the end of the contract there would probably be a few years when the cap hit would overstay its welcome and be a nuisance, but so be it. Price was signed to remain an elite presence in a Habs uniform throughout his early 30s.
Price signed his contract on July 2, 2017. Since then, he has played 193 games, including the playoffs. During this period, he stopped 5230 of 5746 shots, giving him a goals-against average of 2.72 and a save percentage of .911. He also posted 11 shutouts during this time, including two in the playoffs last summer.
During the four years prior to signing the eight-year deal, Price played 229 games. He saved 6334 shots of 6829 possible, with a GAA of 2.16 and a save percentage of .928. He posted 22 shutouts during those years.
During the playoffs this summer, Price suddenly played better than he had in years. He seemed rested and sharp, like a winner in his true element. With that in mind, Marc Bergevin brought in reinforcements during the off-season. The Canadiens wanted to go for a Cup run while Price still had some juice left in the tank, and had now seen first-hand that all Price needed was more days off for both body and mind. With more rest, he would plausibly be able to stay laser-sharp for a full season, without risking his own health for the greater good of his team.
With a more proven netminder in Allen backing him up, Price would now have the opportunity to sit out when he needed to and be a difference-maker in a lesser percentage of the games throughout a season. The Canadiens could now win games both with and without him.
It seemed like a great plan, and I for one supported it heavily on several episodes of our own podcast Habsent Minded. In theory, it should be working out on a sublime level for both Price and the franchise. But so far it has not. What is missing this time?
In the last few days, both the firing of Julien and perhaps especially the video of a student heckling former NFL MVP and current free agent quarterback Cam Newton have made me think of a few things, which equally apply to the Canadiens’ situation with Price.
As spectators and analysts, we have a tendency to remember accolades as well as how good an athlete or coach was when he was on top of his game. We want to think that excellence is persistent and longlasting. Whenever you discuss Newton, you remember his MVP season, where he was a quarterbacking Megatron with superhuman powers. Whenever we discuss Julien, we remember that he took Boston to a Stanley Cup and made them perennial contenders.
Whenever you discuss either Newton or Julien in sports circles, they still have considerable cache, because people remember how significant they used to be. Therefore, the general perception is that they are always just one small step from turning disaster back into greatness again, even if there have been numerous examples telling us the opposite during recent years in their careers.
Still to this day when outlets such as The Athletic do anonymous surveys among NHL players and coaches about who is the best goaltender in the league, Price’s name is among those most frequently mentioned. Similarly to Julien and Newton, people remember how extaordinary he used to be and think that he is just one small adjustment away from getting back to his former self.
Claude Julien used to be a great head coach. Cam Newton used to be a terrific quarterback. Carey Price used to be the best goaltender in the world.
Perhaps it’s time that we once and for all learn to separate the past from the present and lower our expectations on what Carey Price can be for this Canadiens team moving forward.