As the calendar turns over to September, the Canadiens still don’t have their number one netminder signed. Is it time to panic in pressure-filled Montreal? Unless Carey Price is still without a contract two-to-three weeks from now, then no. If you read into recent reports, though, it doesn’t sound like anything is close to getting done.
According to CBC out of Montreal, Price is reportedly asking for $3 million, so says reporter Michel Goudbout. And if he doesn’t receive that amount, the recently-turned-23 goaltender will ‘go on strike’. Bold words, eh?
Whether this report is true or not is anyone's guess. If it is true, is Price – currently a restricted free agent – asking for too much from the Canadiens? You can make points from both sides.
From Price’s point of view, there is some validity to asking for that kind of coin. He’s played in over 150 games (including playoffs) before turning 23, was drafted fifth overall in 2005, and still has an awfully high ceiling of potential… and some probably still think he is the next Patrick Roy. That we get.
But everything else is going against him in this case.
Price has failed to live up to expectations and the immense pressure in nearly three years in the league. Though he has appeared in the playoffs every year, his results in the ‘second season’ are unimpressive: 5-11, 3.17 GAA, .894 SV%.
Furthermore, Price has been pulled in favor of Jaroslav Halak at one point or another in each postseason. In 2008, he was benched against Philadelphia due to a soft glove hand. In 2009, Halak was summoned for Price in Game 2 of a four-game sweep at the hands of Boston.
Then this past year Price had a chance to grab the starter’s spot in the first round, only to watch Halak become the king of Montreal with memorable performance after memorable performance. This series of events involving Price in the playoffs (particularly here in 2010) was further proof that the team was more confident in Halak.
If you date back to his rookie year, the club traded then-reliable Cristobal Huet at the deadline to give Price the spotlight. It was like letting someone drive a car alone in Los Angeles rush hour with just a learner’s permit.
Since the 2009 All-Star Game – started by Price in Montreal – the goaltender is an incredibly shaky 20-31-10 with a 2.83 GAA and .909 save percentage.
It’s safe to say Price has been given more than enough opportunities to succeed, which is pretty rare for a backstop his age. In fact, the organization gave him another chance to prove himself by electing to keep him over Halak this summer as both were restricted free agents. The playoff hero was dealt to St. Louis instead of arguably the most scrutinized goaltender in the NHL.
Seeing how these negotiations have gone between the Habs and Price, GM Pierre Gauthier may have wanted to make sure one was under contract before trading the other. Now he’s in a predicament: pony up to Price or seek another goalie.
Ex-Blackhawk Antti Niemi is seeking a job as we speak, and could be close to making a decision. Is Montreal a team in the hunt to sign the Finn? Niemi’s asking price in Chicago was $4 million through arbitration, but those demands may be lower now that his options are few and far between. If Montreal goes this direction, they would not have enough cap space to sign both without a trade of some sort ($4.12 million in cap room according to CapGeek.com).
The longer this situation drags on with Price, the better chance Gauthier will try to find a better netminder than current backup Alex Auld.
With all of this being said, Price needs to come to the realization that he must prove his worth before cashing in big. Has he done that yet in his young career? Absolutely not. I would not pay Price over $2.5 million for more than two years.
When you look around the league this off-season, teams have spent less money on goaltending than any other position (Halak has been the highest paid at $3.75 million with St. Louis). Newly-signed goalies (UFA’s and RFA’s) that are expected to see an abundance of playing time this season received an average cap hit of $2.3 million this summer.
Price playing hardball with the Habs (according to this single report) will only further increase the pressure that will be placed on his shoulders this season. And we all know how he’s performed under pressure since arriving in Montreal.
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