By Richard McAdam aka RGM81

At the conclusion of the 2009-10 season, the future for Carey Price as a Montreal Canadien was a giant question mark. Coming off a 13-20-5 record with a 2.77 GAA and .912 SV%, he had lost the starting job to Jaroslav Halak, who helped carry the Canadiens to their deepest playoffs run since 1993 and had fans Photoshopping “HALAK” on stop signs. Hockey was not a lot of fun for Price, as he’d often find himself producing 35+ save performances only to have an L in the ledger, resulting in many sticks being smashed and many pundits seriously questioning Price’s maturity. With the Canadiens’ salary cap situation untenable to re-sign both Price and Halak, coupled with the belief held by each player that they deserved to be a #1 NHL goalie, one of them was going to be leaving town and for a while, it seemed like it would be Price.

So when Jaroslav Halak was traded to the St. Louis Blues on June 17th, the Canadiens organization decided to go “all-in” on Price. Projected back-up goalie of the future Cedrick Desjardins was traded to Tampa Bay, and the Canadiens signed veteran journeyman Alex Auld to serve as Price’s back-up. The fans, to say the least, were sceptical. Many of them were apoplectic. Here went Gainey and Gauthier, shuffling along the playoffs hero to make room for a goalie they (the doubters) felt was lazy, immature, and simply not up to the task. Management made sure that everything was handed to him on a silver platter, the doubters said, so why stop now?

Carey Price Lets One By Against the Bruins, leading to a Chorus of Boos from the Montreal "faithful" in September 2010.

Needless to say, all eyes were watching Price when the Habs took to the ice for their first pre-season exhibition game against the Boston Bruins. What happened that night was the nightmare scenario for Price and his supporters: he got torched for 4 goals on nine shots. The fans quickly showered the goalie with boos and jeers. It was all the evidence they needed that the Canadiens made the wrong move, and were going to be stuck with a dud goalie while the Blues would surely rise to prominence and glory riding Jaroslav Halak. Price himself did not hide from reporters after the game, and had the following message for the fans: “Relax, chill out. We’ve got lots of time. We’re not winning the Stanley Cup in the first exhibition game.” And with those two words—“chill out”—Carey Price took ownership of his actions and made it clear that he was in control of the situation. It was a different Price right from the get-go.

Those words feel like they were uttered so long ago.

The performance of Carey Price in the 2010-11 season has been remarkable, not only in itself but also as a contrast to last year. He has been in control of his emotions and demonstrated a maturity that was seemingly lacking previously. He has been consistently good-to-great, virtually eliminating what he referred to as the roller-coaster of ups and downs that have been prominent during his recent campaigns. He has not gotten down on himself during the very infrequent slumps he and the Canadiens have endured.

Carey Price robs Chad LaRose of Carolina, arguably the Save of the Year

Most importantly of all—Price is having a lot more fun this year. “It’s been fun really. That’s pretty much the only word that I can think of. I’ve had a lot of fun playing hockey this year, these guys have been awesome in this locker room. It’s probably been the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey.” As his certifiable number one fan, this has been a truly fantastic year for me to be watching Price play hockey.

As a fan, those words bring a huge smile to my face. The 2010-11 campaign has been highly enjoyable for me as I’ve watched Price demonstrate to everybody what the Canadiens saw in him in 2005 when they went off the board and selected him 5th overall. While I greatly enjoyed the team’s success in last year’s playoffs, it was often painful to see Price sitting on the bench and not being a full contributor to the team’s victories. I was legitimately worried that he would be traded to some Western Conference team, and would find his success in a different market. I breathed a great sigh of relief on June 17th, I laughed during the rest of the summer while people tried to make hay out of him not signing a contract until early September, and I have enjoyed my VIP seat on the bandwagon while others scramble to get their spots. I REALLY enjoyed my seat across the table from him when he attended my thirtieth birthday party. I would also like to bring attention to some comments made by a certain Hockey Night in Canada “analyst” at the start of the season:

“Carey Price is a good goaltender, don’t get me wrong. He will not be a good goaltender in Montreal. They should have kept Halak and it’s a shame this kid is going to get the treatment in Montreal.”

It brings more than a small smile to my face to see the 1970’s furniture upholstery-wearing “great Canadian” be proven so very, very wrong. I have defended and stood by Price through thick and thin, and as a fan there is a great satisfaction to be taken in knowing that all of the doubters and skeptics were simply wrong in their assessments.

Former Canadiens GM Bob Gainey once described Price as a “thoroughbred.” He has lived up to that billing this season. He has played in all but a handful of the Canadiens’ games this season, and set a new team record for appearances by a goaltender. The increased action means that Price ranks second in the NHL in games played, first in wins (tied with Robert Luongo), second in shots against, third in shutouts, and is in the top ten in both GAA (10th) and SV% (7th). He has played more hockey this year than ever before, and he is playing it better than ever before, having set new personal bests in games played, wins, and shutouts. His 38 wins are the most for any Canadiens goalie since Jacques Plante in 1958-59. He’s also contributed two assists and even had his first NHL fight. He has been recognized by the NHL, having been selected to his second All-Star Game appearance and was the League’s 2nd Star for the month of November. He has been recognized by the Montreal fans—those same fans he told to “chill out”—as he has earned the Canadiens’ Molson Cup in five of the six months of the season (in Montreal, the nightly 3 Stars are voted by the fans via the Internet or by texting), and chants of “MVP” were heard after a spectacular save during the Canadiens’ home finale.

Coming Soon?

There is serious talk of him being nominated for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the League’s best goaltender. There is also a legitimate discussion of him being considered a candidate for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the player deemed to be most valuable to his team. While Tim Thomas has had a fantastic season for Boston, and is the odds-on favourite to win the Vezina, his workload is reduced due to the strong play of Tuukka Rask. Thomas has certainly been a key to the Bruins’ success this year, but I do not see his performance being as integral to the Bruins’ fortunes as Price has been to those of the Canadiens. For starters, the Bruins have scored 31 more goals than the Canadiens and rank 5th in offence, compared to the Canadiens at 23rd. Of Price’s 38 victories, eight have been shutouts and in fourteen other games he has allowed only a single goal. His play has been the difference for the Canadiens, and he is the primary reason that they were in the hunt for the Northeast Division title until mid-March instead of being a non-playoffs team. If Thomas has an off-night, the Bruins have enough scoring punch to overcome it; if Price is not stellar, the Canadiens tend to lose. For that reason, I think that if a goalie is to be nominated for the Hart this year, it must be Price.

Regardless of how this season concludes for the Canadiens, whether it’s a first-round playoff exit or a Stanley Cup, Carey Price has exceeded the expectations that nearly everybody had of him this year. While some may have had low expectations to begin with, even the most optimistic among us are still often surprised at just how good he has been. His teammates have been quick to praise him, with one even stating that he is single-handedly responsible for at least 4-5 wins for the Canadiens. Price himself demurs to the team concept instituted by coach Jacques Martin, and regularly praises his defencemen for their efforts to protect his crease and clear away rebounds. What was once a question mark is now an exclamation mark: this is Price’s team! In every possible way, this season has been a vindication for Carey Price, and also for the Canadiens for standing by their goaltender.

Carey Price Season Highlights
• Set new Canadiens team record for a goalie with 72 appearances
• Was named the NHL 1st Star for the week ending on March 6 with a 3-0-0 record, a 1.00 goals against average and a .974 save percentage
• 38 wins are the most for any Habs goalie since Jacques Plante in 1958-59, and ranks as the 7th highest total in Canadiens history
• New personal bests in games played, wins, shutouts, GAA, and SV%
• Participated in 2nd NHL All Star Game
• Recipient of the Molson Cup for 2010-11 season, winning the monthly award in every month except for January