Carey Price is unprotected.
I said it. I don’t think it was completely real to me until now.
Over the past few years, Price has had his ups and downs in the regular season, leading to a lot of speculation that he’s washed up. But, every year, come playoff time, he proves those narratives wrong. This year, in particular, I don’t think that the Montreal Canadiens make that run through the playoffs without the absolutely stellar goaltending he provided.
I’m not saying that Price alone was the reason because ultimately you have to score goals to win games. However, Montreal ranked 10th in scoring rate of any team in the playoffs, so he had a lot to do with the post-season success.
He had the second-best goals saved above average (GSAA) according to Natural Stat Trick and the third-best goals saved above expected (GSAx) according to Evolving-Hockey. Evolving-Hockey’s definition of GSAx is virtually the same as Natural Stat Trick’s, both taking their individual “expected goals” model and then determining how many shots a goalie saved above or below a league-average goalie.
We thought the reason that Montreal was leaving Price unprotected was because he has five more years at an average annual value of $10.5 million, while Jake Allen looks like a better option for a salary-cap team. I’m not sure that the cap alone would deter me if I were Ron Francis, but on Sunday we learned that there was concern that Price might need knee surgery that would keep him out for the season. Price himself was the one to suggest the exposure to make sure the Canadiens at least had Allen to start the season.
If that medical news doesn’t deter the selection team in Seattle, the most obvious comparison is the Marc Andre Fleury situation in the last expansion draft, when he became the face of the Vegas Golden Knights franchise in 2017 at the age of 32.
Price is 33 and his contract runs until he turns 38. I don’t think anyone’s expecting him to perform at a top level until then. After all, Pekka Rinne just announced his retirement at 38 after a disappointing season.
Rinne did carry his team to a Stanley Cup Final at age 35, and Fleury brought his team to a conference final this year at age 36. Not everyone can be Martin Brodeur stacking the pads in the finals at age 40, but it’s not unheard of for a goalie in his mid-30s to hold the fort for a contending team. If Carey and his team play their cards right with load management and good conditioning, there’s probably at least three more years we can expect him to be able to perform at a high level.
Depending on how Francis builds his team and how competitive he wants it to be out of the gate, this may be the best trade-off he could hope for; overpay for a goalie for a couple of years to buy yourself a playoff round or two while you build up a farm system to establish long-term success.
Before this news broke I was preparing an article as to why I wasn’t certain Francis would nab Jake Allen, but Price leaves me a little bit more concerned. Maybe it’s good to be out from under this contract, maybe it’s not. All I know is that it would leave a gaping hole in the roster after a playoff performance like what we just saw.