“Some people take great goaltending for granted — until they don’t have it.”
That’s what one NHL scout told me last season when we were talking about Carey Price, who at age 32 is now heading into his 13th season with the Canadiens.
Price’s 321 career regular-season wins are more than any goalie in Canadiens history. He has won a Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, a Vézina Trophy as the top goalie, an Olympic gold medal, a World Cup of Hockey, an AHL championship and gold at the world juniors.
Last season — in the first year of his eight-year, US$84-million contract — Price almost carried the Canadiens on his back into the playoffs, playing in 28 of 29 games down the stretch before sitting out the final game after they had been officially eliminated. Price finished with a 35-24-6 record, a 2.49 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage with four shutouts, showing he was far from finished after a brutal 2017-18 season for both him and the Canadiens.
The only thing missing from Price’s resumé is a Stanley Cup and he’s starting to get frustrated.
The Canadiens have missed the playoffs the last two years and three of the last four. They were eliminated in six games by the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2017 playoffs as Price’s career postseason record fell to 25-31 with a 2.53 goals-against average, a .914 save percentage and five shutouts. In the six games against the Rangers, Price had a 1.86 GAA and a .933 save percentage.
After last season ended, I asked Price what he would say to free agents to try and convince them to play in Montreal.
“I would tell them that, obviously, my window is growing smaller and I really want to win — more than ever,” Price said. “So I think that should be a pretty good indication of how bad we want to win here.”
Speaking with Arpon Basu of The Athletic in Kelowna, B.C., two days before free agency began on July 1, Price said: “Of course, in a selfish way, I wish we’d sell all of our assets and just go all out next year.”
Price laughed and then added: “But I totally understand you can’t do that. This is a real thing and you need to plan for the future. Obviously, I want work to be done to give us the best opportunity to win because ultimately that’s what I’m here to do. I don’t want to wait. I just don’t.”
Price watched this summer as GM Marc Bergevin was unable to land any big free agents and an offer sheet to Carolina Hurricanes centre Sebastian Aho blew up in his face. Bergevin did sign free-agent goalie Keith Kinkaid to hopefully provide better support for Price than Antti Niemi did last season, and also added defenceman Ben Chiarot.
Price must have been hoping for more when he met with media at the end of last season and when he spoke with Basu in Kelowna.
At the Canadiens’ golf tournament on Monday, Price was asked about Bergevin’s offseason moves.
“In our locker room, we definitely have more experience,” the goalie said. “I think a lot of guys know what it takes to make the playoffs now. Nothing’s a guarantee. We lost a couple of parts, we added a couple of parts. I like the core of our group going forward.”
When asked if just making the playoffs was too low a bar to set for the Canadiens, Price said: “I think every team wants to be (a Cup contender), but in order to be a contender you need to make the playoffs. That’s kind of I think the mindset of most guys. I don’t think anybody’s coming here to be average.”
As for that personal window he talked about at the end of last season, Price said Monday: “We got a lot of years left, but the reality is it’s not like that many years if you think about it. A lot of guys you see go through their whole careers and not get an opportunity. I don’t want to be one of those guys. I want to get there. It’s going to be a process, though, we know that right from camp. Just try and lay it all out there all season long.”
When I think about Price’s career with the Canadiens, I’m reminded of former NFL quarterback Dan Marino, who spent his entire 17-year career with the Miami Dolphins. Marino never won a Super Bowl, despite being a nine-time Pro Bowler, setting 29 NFL records, winning the 1984 MVP and leading his team to the Super Bowl before losing 38-16 to the San Francisco 49ers. He had his No. 13 retired by the Dolphins and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Price should end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame with or without a Stanley Cup, but he wants one badly.
“I think he has more good years left than he realizes,” Bergevin said about Price on Monday.
The GM shouldn’t take that for granted.
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