We didn’t deserve Carey Price

“If the end really is near for Carey Price, what an absolute privilege it was to watch him play all 15 seasons of his NHL career in a Canadiens sweater. He was a generational goaltending talent who should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer ASAP, and his #31 still deserves to be raised to the Bell Centre rafters.”

I’ll never forget being 14 years old and watching TSN to see the Habs select Carey Price at the 2005 NHL Draft.

This was the draft following the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004–05 campaign, and the Habs had been awarded the fifth overall pick in a draft lottery literally any team could win. The grand prize that year? Sidney Crosby, of course. Though Pittsburgh would end up with the golden goose, the Habs got pretty damn close, securing the fifth selection.

When Trevor Timmins announced the Habs picking goalie Carey Price from the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, my reaction was mostly that of bemusement and perplexity. This was not helped by TSN analyst Pierre McGuire subsequently losing his shit (and offending Indigenous communities in the process).

McGuire — who was not successful as either a head coach or a senior VP of player development in the NHL — would harp on and on about how we had “so many other needs” in our prospect pool, and how we already had José Théodore (my favourite Habs player at that time), Mathieu Garon, and Yann Danis (mispronounced as ‘Yawn Donnis’) as our goaltending depth.

At first, I agreed with him. We didn’t need a goalie. In fact, we had the chance to draft a flashier offensive forward, such as Gilbert Brûlé — a pick that would’ve made sense partly thanks to his francophone name — or Anze Kopitar (whose career definitely turned out better than Brûlé’s). 

Carey Price, 2005

As nice as Kopitar would’ve been, all of this explains why I’m not an amateur scout, and never will be. Anyway, back to Carey Price.

From his junior career with the Americans onward, Price showed boatloads of promise — especially while backstopping Canada to World Juniors gold and the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs all the way to the Calder Cup, both in 2007. Price’s years of flying to and from practice as a youngster with his licensed pilot father, Jerry, clearly paid off.

His rookie NHL season during the 2007–08 campaign — where he split the load with Cristobal Huet — made good on some of that promise, with the then-20-year-old Price posting a 24-12-3 record with a .920% save percentage and a 2.56 goals against average that season.

But things weren’t always rosy when he first entered the league. Frankly, how could they be in a hockey market like Montreal, whose sheer toxicity matches its feverish passion for the game?

Price would struggle to find consistency during the two seasons following ’07–08 — while also living alone in an Old Montreal condo, rather than with one of the team’s elder statesmen like other franchises do to help rookies settle in. He’d also be spotted partying and exploring Montreal’s famed nightlife in his earlier years with the club — you know, things any guy in their early 20s would do.

Then, 2009–10 happened. Most Habs fans remember this as the year the other half of the Habs’ young goalie tandem, Jaroslav Halak, stood on his head to bring the CH to their first Eastern Conference Final since ’93, eliminating Ovechkin and Crosby along the way.

This, of course, would stir up a divisive discourse locally about which of those two young goalies would stay, and which one would be moved. Despite Halak’s sensational performance in that postseason, the Slovak goalie was traded to the St. Louis Blues, while Price stayed in Montreal.

You know how the story goes from here.

He’d become the world’s best goalie during his prime, making some truly gobsmacking highlightreel saves along the way — and looking effortlessly cool as a cucumber while doing it. Numerous individual accolades would follow, including a Hart Trophy for league MVP and a Vézina Trophy for the league’s best goalie (for which he’d also twice be a finalist), sealing his place among hockey’s elite. If that weren’t enough, he’d become the Habs’ winningest goalie in club history in March 2019.

He’s left one hell of a legacy off the ice, too. As one of the most recognizable Indigenous athletes in pro sports, Price has shown various kinds of support to those communities. This includes encouraging First Nations children to become community leaders during his Vézina Trophy acceptance speech; meeting with residential school survivors; and wearing the logo of the Ulkatcho First Nation — of which his mother serves as chief — on his helmet. 

Carey Price press conference 2022
Carey Price press conference, Jan. 30, 2022

Price’s philanthropy has also gone all the way back to his hometown, where he donates hockey equipment and is involved with the Breakfast Club of Canada. His announcement last October that he needed time away from the game to focus on his mental health and substance abuse issues led to him entering the NHL player assistance program, and eventually helped him capture the Bill Masterton Trophy. But it also sparked a dialogue among fans about the importance of mental health — an even bigger victory, as far as I’m concerned.

Of course, there’s a caveat here: his chronic physical health issues. His knee will require another surgery if he’s to ever play again, since it reportedly hasn’t improved during his rehab process. The recent acquisition of Sean Monahan — he of a $6.375-million cap hit — confirms that Price will be placed on LTIR (long-term injury reserve) to start the 2022–23 season.

GM Kent Hughes’ recent announcement about Price’s health status being “discouraging,” plus the admission that he likely won’t play at all this season, makes it hard not to feel as if it’s time to start bidding farewell to the best Habs goalie this city has seen since Patrick Roy.

Remember that this isn’t a formal retirement announcement, and we could very well be talking about the death of a career whose body hasn’t actually turned cold just yet. But hearing Hughes’ remarks during his Zoom media availability this past Thursday feels like the end is a near-inevitability for Anahim Lake, B.C.’s favourite son.

Marc Bergevin  Montreal Canadiens
Marc Bergevin

If nothing else, his career ending this way makes the legacy of Marc Bergevin’s tenure as GM — one that was already checkered and tumultuous — look like more of a failure in retrospect. Across an entire decade, Bergevin couldn’t surround Carey with a deep enough squad to win him a drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup. He’d only get close on two occasions: a run to the ECF in 2014 (a run that would end prematurely for Price due to injury, which I’ll expand on later), and last summer’s thrilling run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Bergevin was also a GM known for seemingly lacking ambition. Having the luxury of Carey Price as his team’s backbone would be a poisoned chalice for him, as he’d become overly reliant on Price to elevate teams that otherwise would’ve been bottom-feeders. His “make the playoffs and anything can happen” mentality was also not music to the ears of fans wanting to see the team become true contenders, nor to those who would’ve preferred to see a full-scale rebuild.

He’d also parrot platitudinous excuse after platitudinous excuse (“Trades are hard,” “This isn’t PlayStation,” “If you want loyalty, buy a dog”) for not acquiring the pieces to make the team more competitive, while also blaming players for a perceived lack of effort despite virtually neglecting their development. There’s also his warped definition of the word “character,” but that’s a different essay for a different day.

Regardless, it’s hard not to feel as if the former journeyman NHL defenseman could’ve done a lot more as Canadiens GM to get Price hockey’s ultimate prize. In fact, Bergevin almost lost him entirely when he chose not to protect him from the Seattle Kraken for last year’s expansion draft (the Kraken ultimately passed on him, despite heavy internal debate).

Bergevin isn’t the only scapegoat here, either.

There’s also Michel Therrien and Claude Julien. Both were recycled former Habs bench bosses on their second tours of duty with the club. Both also had overly defensive and old-school tactics that weren’t conducive to competing in the modern NHL. 

We can also point fingers at former head amateur scout Trevor Timmins for not hitting on most of our first round picks in the 2010s, and for having mediocre draft success in general despite some late-round gems (Brendan Gallagher and Jake Evans, for example).

Two players Timmins did draft in the first round, Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev, would be traded away for ultimately underwhelming returns, while they’d both find success elsewhere and eventually win Stanley Cups in Tampa.

Chris Kreider
Carey Price and Chris Kreider

And then, there’s Chris fucking Kreider. The New York Rangers goon slipping and falling skates-first at full tilt toward the net caused him to violently collide with Price, midway through game one of the 2014 ECF. Price suffered a knee injury from the incident, ruling him out for the rest of that series. (No, Rangers fans, Alexei Emelin did not trip Kreider — try googling the word “gravity.”)

The consequences of the Kreider incident for Price were at least twofold. One, his lingering knee issues that have led to his long-term injuries today may very well have been caused by Kreider’s skates. Two, if he’d stayed healthy and won that series against the Rangers, who’s to say Price — at the peak of his powers during that time — couldn’t have brought the Habs all the way to defeat the Los Angeles Kings (a hypothetical 1993 rematch we were all robbed of) in that year’s Stanley Cup Final?

Perhaps the buck here really stops with owner Geoff Molson, who — Kreider incident notwithstanding — could’ve probably prevented certain events from happening, or at least fired certain people sooner. In that sense, Carey Price saved not just pucks, but also the jobs of influential people within the organization.

Not only was Price a bonafide elite #1 goalie, he was one built for those big moments. We saw it not only in the AHL and at the World Juniors, but also at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and 2016 World Cup of Hockey. At his best, Price was a goalie you could count on to make mind-blowing saves and give your team a chance to win every night, including in clutch situations. It’s almost poetic, in this sense, that his probable last game ended in a 10–2 victory.

Carey Price

Unfortunately, just like that Daft Punk album title, he’s human after all. This reality would occasionally come through during inconsistent runs of form. Such was one of various criticisms and complaints Habs fans would have about him — his $10.5-million cap hit, his perceived inability to speak French, and/or whether or not he owed us an explanation for his leave of absence last season being other ones.

There are also some who argue that his prime only lasted three years, or that he doesn’t even rank in the top five among goalies of his generation (even if he normally had worse teams in front of him than other comparable goalies of his era). Some notable figures in the hockey world are already pushing arguments for who they thought was better than him.

Even if this isn’t a formal retirement announcement, you can expect the discourse about Price’s legacy to get even more annoying and frustrating — both with fans and local media — when he officially hangs them up for good.

What isn’t debatable, though, is that he’s one of the best goalies to ever wear the bleu blanc et rouge, even if he’s ultimately the best Habs goalie to never win a Cup. He still deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer as soon as he’s eligible, and his #31 still deserves to be raised to the Bell Centre rafters. Spare me your “BuT he hAs nO cUpS So THeREfOre HE DoEsN’t dESeRve iT” arguments — the league has grown and evolved too much for that criteria to really matter anymore.

Either way, if the end really is near for Carey Price, what an absolute privilege it was to watch him play all 15 seasons of his NHL career in a Canadiens sweater. He was a generational goaltending talent, even if it will be eternally frustrating that he could never quite bring the team to the top of the mountain.

I hope that, should he want it, there will be a comfy place in management or coaching waiting for Price when he’s ready. After everything he’s done for the Canadiens fans and organization, while not necessarily getting the same in return from either, it’s only fair.

There aren’t many one-club men left in today’s NHL, but Carey Price is a player I couldn’t be more grateful for this city to have all to ourselves. We truly did not deserve him. ■

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