Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

The Montreal Canadiens need a former starter to back up Carey Price

With the Montreal Canadiens golfing this spring instead of once again pushing for the Stanley Cup, Habs fans dream of the idea of acquiring some big name free agents to change their goal scoring woes. But the Habs are not picking ninth overall in the NHL Entry Draft because they didn’t score enough. They are out because Carey Price got injured. Again.

The subject of Price’s health is a sore one for Habs fans because nobody wants to admit the guy has been hurt several times already in what is a spectacular nine year career. Price’s first injury was to his ankle on Decmeber 30th, 2008, where he missed nearly a month. Price next missed time in the 2011-12 season for a concussion. Carey Price then took a groin injury in the 2013 playoffs against Ottawa where the Canadiens were eliminated in five games. It’s worth noting that Price’s play oddly dipped in the final games of that season and finished with a subpar .894 save percentage against the Sens in the games he did play, which many suspected was him playing hurt. After the 2013-14 regular season, Price was run over by Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final, once again being injured in the lower body. Price returned better than ever and stayed healthy throughout the 2014-15 season, winning the Vezina and Hart trophies, only to follow it up with an injury riddled 2015-16 where he was hurt twice and only played 12 games.

With two aborted playoff runs and an entire season going to waste, Price’s injury woes remind one of defenceman Andrei Markov, who was arguably the team’s best player until injuries began to flare up for the blueliner in 2008-09. He played only half a season in 2009-10, missed all but seven games in 2010-11 and would play only 13 more in 2011-12. Without their best defenceman, the Canadiens were a limited team. Markov would rebound with full seasons following, but the Habs could never make a serious run for the Stanley Cup without their best blueliner. To constantly be sidelined due to an injured player and react after the fact was a huge reason for the Canadiens struggles under previous general managers.

So what’s the solution? In Markov’s case their saving grace ended up a right handed defenceman coming up in the form of P.K. Subban. In Carey Price’s case, it would be to bring in a backup goaltender who knows how to be a starter. The idea of the Montreal Canadiens bringing in a veteran goaltender to back up Carey Price has been a common conversation since Price was a rookie. When the club traded away Cristobal Huet, many wondered why the Habs were fine with two youngsters in Price and Jaroslav Halak instead of bringing in a proven veteran who could handle the workload if things got heavy for Carey. Back then it was about his inexperience. Today it’s about his resilience.

For many fans, focusing on anything other than adding top six forwards is the wrong way to go. Already the Canadiens spend too much money on average forwards like David Desharnais and Lars Eller, and have $3.9 million burning into their cap for defenceman Alexei Emelin. The Canadiens need two top six forwards, why spend any cap on a back-up goaltender? The problem comes in the fact that it doesn’t matter if the Habs add two 20+ goal scoring wingers to the club with the current available cap space. If Carey Price goes down again, the team folds up. Every year Price goes down is another year of players like P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty wasted and the window of the Habs, whatever window a team that is drafting ninth overall this year, closing up.

One look at the NHL playoffs this year sees teams like the Philadelphia Flyers nearly beating the Washington Capitals with backup Michal Neuvirth, Pittsburgh Penguins nobody Matt Murray replace a concussed Marc-Andre Fleury to lead the Pens over the New York Rangers, and the New York Islanders surprising the Florida Panthers with backup Thomas Greiss (yes Isles fans, I know he already looked like he was going to take the job from Halak mid-season, the point still stands). We also saw Brayden Holtby get injured and Washington Capitals fans ready to kiss their Cup chances away if he never returned. We see the Dallas Stars spending over $10 million on two goaltenders hoping one of them can take them to the championship (neither goalie played well this year but if they only went with one, their chances would be far slimmer) while still amounting a serious offence.

Fact is, the days of one goalie or bust may be going away. It’s pointless to spend $65 million dollars assembling a team if your entire season will go to waste on the back of a goaltender making $5 million plus. Pittsburgh would be dead in the water without Murray stepping up. Dallas probably wouldn’t be the second best team in the regular season with only Kari Lehtonen in net. The Los Angeles Kings are probably wishing they kept a hold of one of the goaltenders they have moved who now start, one leading the San Jose Sharks in Martin Jones. And the Sharks, despite a great season from Jones, still acquired James Reimer from the Toronto Maple Leafs for insurance. Insurance the Canadiens are going to need in the coming years.

There are several options for the Canadiens to take. One could be moving Eller, Desharnais, or Emelin to the Philadelphia Flyers for Steve Mason. Mason could be done in Philly after Neuvirth stole games against the Capitals. Other trade options could be Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets, Ryan Miller of the Vancouver Canucks, or former Price backup Jaroslav Halak. With several goaltenders who used to start hitting free agency like Cam Ward, Jonas Hiller, Niklas Backstrom, and James Reimer, one of them might not get signed long term and be looking for a club to back up. With Price’s injury history, it could be enticing for them to come in at a low price knowing Carey could miss some games.

The truth is, the Canadiens could add a backup and it won’t change the fact that their chance at the Cup will likely live or die on #31’s back. The Canadiens players this past season were frustrated with the pressure that they were all about Carey Price, and there was unfounded speculation that Price returned too early from one injury to just get hurt again. By adding a veteran backup, the team could have far more confidence to know that if Carey Price goes down, they don’t have to put their entire season on the back of a rookie. Mike Condon played 55 games last season. If the Canadiens had acquired a veteran to play those games instead, who could improve on a .903 save percentage (you know, instead of Ben Scrivens), the Canadiens could have made the playoffs, and may have had enough time for Price to return from injury and Hart trophy form. It’s a lot of if’s, but at least it could have been hope. There’s no hope with Mike Condon between the pipes again if Carey Price can’t play.


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