Monday, April 26, 2010
Only two years ago Montreal fans were calling him Jesus and now he’s booed with shocking regularity. Price’s fall from grace has been steep and swift.
The major problem is that Hab fans anointed him the saviour of the franchise way too early. That’s not the type of pressure any young player needs, let alone a goalie.
It’s even worse to anoint him saviour of a franchise that has the game’s most demanding fans.
Leaf fans are relentless, but not having won a Stanley Cup in 43 years has almost left us broken and defeated. Since we’ve experienced such a long time in between championships there is a sort of glum resignation to the entire situation. Being beaten down by inept upper management from Harold Ballard to JFJ will do that. Of course, this resignation is nowhere every pre-season when fans, including me, are delusional about the team’s chances (p.s. I'm already delusional about next year's chances). The difference in Montreal is that there is such a long history of winning, so the team’s 1993 championship seems like it happened in 1893. They aren’t accustomed to long stretches of failure.
Last season the shine started to wear off Carey Price once the Habs faltered down the stretch after starting the year 8-2-1 and looking like a potential Stanley Cup finalist. People make fun of Leaf fans for their preemptive parade planning, but I’m pretty sure Montreal fans were ready to start their playoff riot after last season’s dominating October.
The season thankfully spiralled out of control for the Canadiens with rumours of rampant partying plaguing the team. Price's name popped up in rumours as one of the main culprits in the matter and his play on the ice reflected this. Montreal fans voiced their displeasure.
The new Carey Price, shaken and doubting, is the creation of Canadiens fans. By overreacting to his initial success (calling him Jesus) they set him up for failure considering their lack of patience for any sort of struggle. Being a goalie is the hardest position to play, especially behind Roman Hamerlik, and especially in Montreal. It isn’t overly surprising that Price struggled after his first season. The dreaded sophomore slump happens to a lot of young players, Steve Mason being the most relatable example.
Last year was Montreal’s “centennial” year (technically it wasn’t) and they were winning the cup. It was ordained and you couldn’t tell a Montreal fan otherwise. When Price struggled, along with the rest of the team, it was entirely his fault in the eyes of many Hab fans. He’s been on a very short leash ever since.
I’m sure most Hab fans gave him the benefit of the doubt heading into this year. After all, it was only one bad season after a tremendous one. And it wasn’t like he was the only player who played poorly. But after being badly outplayed by Jaroslav Halak this season the scrutiny Price faces is even more intense. The rare games he plays must go perfectly or else Montreal fans boo him.
Over his last five games of the regular season Price had one awful outing where he was pulled early, but in the other four games he averaged only 2 goals against and close to a .940%. This wasn’t enough for the majority of Hab fans because the team only won once, despite Price’s best efforts. Price couldn’t win over the fans even when he played well. If he didn’t win the game then it was an abject failure and it was his fault. Knowing you must be perfect isn't the vote of confidence a young player needs.
Montreal fans seemed receptive of Price as he replaced Halak for game 4 against the Capitals this playoffs, but he gave up 4 goals on 36 shots and has once again been banished to the bench in favour of Halak. Not sure if anyone in Montreal really cares. Price certainly cares. And it’s showing.
In Montreal’s game 4 loss to the Capitals, Price took two stupid unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that reveal how frustrated the young netminder is feeling. The first penalty was for shooting the puck at a crowd of Washington players celebrating a goal, while the second came for making contact with Nicklas Backstrom after an empty net goal.
This is the second time that Carey Price has let his frustration show in the playoffs. It was only last year during the Canadiens eventual first round defeat that Price raised his hands in mock celebration after being jeered by the crowd for making a routine save. This was the same type of gesture that Patrick Roy made as the Montreal faithful mock cheered him during a rout. That would be Roy’s last game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Could game 4 against the Capitals be Carey Price’s last game for the Canadiens?
Carey Price seems to have lost everything that made him so successful in his rookie season. These emotional outbursts show the pressure is getting to Price and he is incapable of handling it. He’s clearly a young player lacking in self-confidence at the moment. Unfortunately, Montreal isn’t a place where a young player can work through their struggles. Everything is relentlessly dissected and the constant pressure in Montreal is engulfing Price. The party lifestyle of the city probably isn’t helping either, if you choose to believe those rumours.
I’m not suggesting Carey Price’s career is over. His is still very young and actually improved his numbers this year from 2008-2009 (08-09: 2.83 GAA, .905%; 09-10: 2.77 GAA, .912%). It’s foolish to think that a 22-year-old drafted fifth overall is incapable of recovering his game, especially since he’s already shown an ability to play at a very high level. I think Carey Price can still develop into a star goalie, but I don’t think it will be in Montreal. He seems like a player in desperate need of a change.
The best situation for Price would be to play in a less intense market and either back-up or split time with a veteran goalie who can help mentor him. The ideal team that fits this description is New Jersey.
Martin Brodeur will turn 38 next week and could benefit from a reduced regular season workload considering his post-lockout playoff performances. Price could learn a lot from Brodeur and when Brodeur decides to retire the Devils would have a number one goalie ready to step in. Brodeur has two seasons left on his current deal and this seems like a perfect time frame to groom Price as a number one goalie, rather than shoving him into the role as a rookie under the scrutiny of the most demanding fan base in hockey.
This is not a trade rumour, merely a thought.
The Canadiens will have a big decision to make this summer as both Price and Halak are restricted free agents. It’s clear they will re-sign Halak after his tremendous year. I’m sure they will re-sign Price as well, but whether or not they actually keep him is a different matter. If Price is made available there will be plenty of suitors for the 22-year-old former first round pick who could potentially be had at a reduced cost.