For the sake of transparency, I’ve been a goaltender for the last decade; therefore I might be a little biased when it comes to my position’s role in hockey. Okay, more than a little biased. VERY biased. But it’s hard to disprove the importance of a great goalie when the Montreal Canadiens have hockey’s prime example in the spotlight; a goalie named Carey Price.
Price was drafted fifth overall by the Canadiens back in the 2005, and has seen his share of ups and downs throughout the last decade with the club. There’s always been tremendous pressure on him to succeed, thanks in large part to being dubbed “the next Patrick Roy” like every young Canadiens goalie has been since 1996. With a history spanning over a century, Les Habitants have won a record 24 Stanley Cups with some of hockey’s greatest netminders like Roy, Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden. But with no championships since 1993, there’s widespread belief that Price is the man to pull Montreal of their longest championship funk in team history.
But believe it or not there was once a time when Price was close to being considered a bust. The climax of that narrative came in the 2009-10 season, when Jaroslav Halak took Price’s starting role and practically carried Montreal to the Eastern Conference Finals. That summer both goalies became restricted free agents, and the Canadiens elected to resign the younger Price and trade Halak to the St. Louis Blues.
The Canadiens took a huge gamble that fateful June, and it’s paid off for the franchise in spades. Price has blossomed into one of the league’s top goalies after a breakout season in 2013-14, when he led Montreal to another conference final and Team Canada to Olympic gold in Sochi. But it was the 2014-15 season where Price cemented his place as a bonafide superstar, earning a league high 44 wins and helping Montreal to the second best record in the NHL. Despite the Habs being eliminated in the playoff semifinals that spring, Price cleaned up at the summer’s NHL Awards; the biggest of which was the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.
After such an amazing season, the expectations from fans was that Price and the Canadiens would improve on their 110 point finish. But those plans came to a crashing halt early into the 2015-16 campaign when an MCL sprain ended Price’s season. Without their star goalie the Habs went plummeting back down to earth, finishing with 82 points and second to last in the Atlantic Division. Canadiens management once again decided to make a major change, and it involved trading superstar defensemen P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators in exchange for veteran Shea Weber.
Hockey analysts and fans, including myself, thought the trade signified the beginning of a rebuild. But when the new season opened, the Canadiens burst out of the gate. Through the first eleven games of the season the Habs have compiled a 9-1-1 record, earning them 19 points and top spot in the NHL. Price himself remains undefeated through just six starts, but holds a remarkable .964 save percentage while letting in just seven goals.
Those numbers might be slightly unsustainable, but it’s a telling stat. Price has proven time and time again that his play is one of, if not the most, important pieces to the success of the Canadiens. Since 2013-14, the Canadiens own a lackluster 49-51-14 record when Price isn’t net. Compare that to the amazing 94-38-11 record when Price has played over the same stretch, and the numbers tend to speak for themselves.
But despite the great goalie in Montreal’s crease, it’s clear to many that Price’s injury last season exposed major holes in the Canadiens lineup. Habs GM Marc Bergevin worked to fix those flaws during the summer with the acquisition of Weber, whose hard hitting, hard shooting style of play matches up perfectly with head coach Michel Therrien’s plan of attack. Andrew Shaw also fit that mold to a tee, and he joined the Canadiens in June thanks to a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Montreal still has a few problems to solve, but if Price continues to post superstar numbers the Habs will be able to mask some of those holes. But one thing is for certain; no goaltender is more important to the success of their franchise than Carey Price. Calling Price the “next Roy” isn’t a stretch anymore; in fact, when the next Canadiens prodigy comes along, there’s a great chance we’ll be referring to him as “the next Carey Price”.